By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Beginning in January 2014, anyone who has a dangerous wild animal that falls under Ohio’s new laws governing those animals will need a permit from the state Department of Agriculture (ODA) to keep the critters.
Cognizant there might be complications with that situation, the agency has constructed a Dangerous Wild Animal Temporary Holding Facility.
“Knowing that we were going to be vested with this new authority, that there were probably going to be some complications with people trying to meet their permit requirements and people who weren’t going to want to meet the permit requirements, we had to think about what we were going to do if we had to confiscate an animal,” said Erica Hawkins, ODA spokesperson.
ODA needs an appropriate, secure facility to temporarily house those animals until a permanent home can be found at a rescue shelter, sanctuary or zoo. The animals cannot be left where they are in these cases because that might potentially be a risk to the public, Hawkins said.
“The Dangerous Wild Animal Facility is not intended to be a permanent housing solution for any of these animals,” she added.
The new building is almost 20,000 square feet with 30 large animal enclosures, Hawkins said. There is one room for smaller primates and a room for reptiles and snakes. The ODA has transport cages which slide into its livestock trailers for transporting the animals. A forklift can then slide the cage to the enclosure, where it can be attached so the animal can be transferred without ever being in the open.
“The building was very thoughtfully designed,” Hawkins said. “We worked closely with representatives from the zoos in the state and the USDA, trying to make sure that we had something that is incredibly secure, but is appropriate for the animals, a place that they are going to be comfortable, able to maintain in good health while they’re with us.”
Funds for the building came from the General Revenue Fund, not from ODA’s budget, she said.
ODA has veterinarians on staff; it is the only state agency that does, which is why oversight of the program came to that department, she said. An assistant state veterinarian was employed last year, who has extensive experience with exotic animals.
The facility will likely remain empty until the law takes effect in 2014 unless someone voluntarily gives up their animals before then, Hawkins said. Also, if police are investigating a crime and animals are confiscated, they may go to the temporary facility. There will be no public announcements, however, about the animals housed at the facility.
“We have some significant public safety concerns when we’re talking about the building,” Hawkins said. “As a policy, we won’t be commenting on the occupancy of the building. We don’t want to publicize what is being kept out there or the location of the building. We won’t be doing general public announcements, although the Reynoldsburg police and the Licking County sheriff will know what is there.”