“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years; »Through the eyes of those who fought for the release of exotic animals in Zanesville


ZANESVILLE, Ohio (WJW) – Exactly ten years have passed since dozens of dangerous alien animals were intentionally released into this central Ohio community, sending shockwaves across the United States and changing to never have the rules regarding these animals in the state.

On October 18, 2011, Terry Thompson from Zanesville intentionally released about fifty animals including 18 tigers, lions, two grizzly bears, pumas, leopards and free primates before committing suicide.

In the days that followed, law enforcement officers and local and state soldiers literally hunted the animals. Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz remembers like it was yesterday.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years,” Lutz told Fox 8 on Monday. “It’s not one of those things that I really want to talk about, but I do it because I still think we were very lucky and lucky that we didn’t have anyone hurt that day.”

The incident caught the attention of animal rights organizations and advocates across the country, almost all of whom supported the sheriff’s authorization to shoot and kill the released animals on sight.

“Once you started hearing or seeing where these animals are, it was probably the easiest decision I made because you just knew it was the right decision,” Lutz said.

Among those in the community at the time was US Congressman Troy Balderson, who told Fox 8 he was going to a local gym when he got a call from the sheriff.

“What could have happened that night when these animals were released?” I don’t know if Sheriff Lutz shared with you earlier, but there was a high school football tournament that was going on less than a mile down the road, so the safety issue was the biggest one, ”he said. Balderson told Fox 8 News on Monday.

At the time, Balderson was a senator for the state of Ohio.

In part because the event occurred in his home community, Balderson became the sponsor of the Senate bill 310, sweep new legislation which made dramatic changes across the state, essentially banning all facilities, except those that were specially accredited, from having a long list of animals classified as “dangerous wild animals.”

“What we did in the legislation was make the regulations that we had stricter and that wasn’t going to be easy to do. There were certain things that had to be taken care of and that’s something that the Ohio state hadn’t been in place prior to this incident, ”Balderson said.

“There were no rules until it was wide open, you really didn’t need anything, there was no restriction for someone to have these exotic animals,” he said. added.

Balderson said he and other lawmakers had scoured the state for places that kept exotic animals.

“Myself and other lawmakers have been all over the state of Ohio and visited people who have these animals in their possession and something that hasn’t been talked about much is that “There were a lot of these facilities doing it right, that’s something we needed to have this conversation about,” Balderson said.

Among those who lost their animals was Cindy Huntsman of Stump Hill Farms in Massillon, where the state confiscated five tigers from her sanctuary.

Huntsman says since her animals were confiscated in 2016, she has not been able to have any of the animals on the state’s list and has found it more difficult to secure funds for the remaining animals, mostly birds of prey. who have been injured and cannot return to nature.

“Because the law has given animal sanctuaries a sort of black mark. So whenever something like that happens it really upsets the good people, as well as the bad, in the business, and when you apply for funding as a nonprofit and people have that idea that it’s all wrong, unless it’s a grant provider you’ve worked with in the past that really knows your facility, ”Huntsman said Monday.

For the most part, however, Sheriff Lutz and Congressman Balderson believe the law that emerged from the incident is law they are happy with.

“I’m not necessarily saying this will prevent an animal from escaping, but it won’t come close to the magnitude of what we had to deal with … having these visits and inspections and containment fencing, containment plans , tranquilizers on site, all of which we did not have present during our incident, ”said Lutz.

It is also a law that has been used as a model for similar legislation in other states and for federal regulations on exotic animals.

“We feel like we are in a very good position right now, there has been no incident since this legislation was put in place,” Balderson said.


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