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Ohio's Dangerous Wild Animal Act Aims to Balance Public Safety and Animal Owner Rights

Q: What is the Dangerous Wild Animal Act?  
A: The Dangerous Wild Animal Act (“Act”) is a new law in Ohio that restricts and regulates the ownership of certain species of animals that are defined as either “dangerous wild animals” or “restricted snakes.”  The law defines dangerous wild animals to include most non-human primates, some reptiles, and many mammals that are not ordinarily kept in households or as pets. Examples include wolves, tigers, elephants, bears, gorillas and alligators. The law defines “restricted snake” to include all venomous snakes and most constricting snakes that are 12 feet in length or longer.

Q: What does the Act require?  
A: The Act, signed into law on June 5, 2012, addresses the ownership and use of dangerous wild animals and restricted snakes by providing for “reasonable regulation of a highly risky, unpredictable activity with the potential for sudden and widespread harm” to the community. The Act required owners of dangerous wild animals to register them by Nov. 5, 2012 with the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and to make sure they were implanted with a microchip for identification. 

The act also requires animal owners to apply for a license to keep their animals after January 1, 2014, and any facilities they may own and operate must conform to standards adopted by ODA. In addition, animals must receive appropriate veterinary care, shelter, food and water, and applicants for a license must demonstrate they have the appropriate training, insurance and enclosures for their animals. 

The rules pertaining to the Act were finalized on July 18, 2013, and are located in Ohio Administrative Code Sections 901:1-4-01 through 901:1-4-18. They include regulations about enclosure sizes, how animals are to be transported, record-keeping requirements, and information about the location and types of signs that are required on the enclosure, transport container and property where a dangerous wild animal or restricted snake is located.

Q: Why was the Dangerous Wild Animal Act passed in Ohio?  
A: Many states have preceded Ohio in passing similar laws. In Ohio, legislators proposed this law in response to a 2011 incident near Zanesville, Ohio, involving more than 50 exotic animals that were suddenly released into the community by their owner. Law enforcement officers ultimately killed the released animals to protect public safety.  

According to the language in Ohio’s Dangerous Wild Animal Act, this legislation was passed to provide a “reasonable balance” between the rights of exotic animal owners and the safety of the general public.  Animal care professionals have reviewed the language and spirit of the bill, incorporating “best practices” into its requirements so that the potential danger and volatility associated with exotic animal ownership is reduced and the general public protected.

Q: If I own only a few dangerous wild animals or restricted snakes, does this law affect me?  
A: Yes, unless you meet one of the exemptions under the law provided in Ohio Revised Code 935.03(B). Every Ohio citizen or anyone doing business in Ohio is covered under the Act. If you own any dangerous wild animals or restricted snakes, such as a wolf or a python, the law applies to you. In order to keep one of these animals after January 1, 2014, you must meet ODA licensing, training, and maintenance requirements which may be expensive depending on the condition of your current facility. 

Q: Where can I find more information about dangerous animal control laws?
A: You can find summaries of some of the dangerous animal control laws in various states across the United States at www.bornfreeusa.org and can learn more about Ohio’s law by visiting the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s website at www.agri.ohio.gov/​.

9/2/2013

This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Dr. Mark J. Bamberger, Ph.D., J.D., The Mark Bamberger Co., LLC (offices in Tipp City, West Chester, Enon and Spring Valley, Ohio) with input from Michael L. Rodgers, Chief Legal Counsel at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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