In one of his final official moves as governor, Ted Strickland took a practical and sensible step that has been long overdue. It is now illegal for people to buy dangerous wild animals in Ohio, and treat them as pets.
Hurrah. Kudos. Three cheers. High-fives all around.
It is a shame it has taken so many years and so much talk to finally get to the last couple of minutes before midnight in the Strickland administration, and now we have a ban on the further sale and ownership of creatures that always have been terrible choices as pets. It's like we got around to closing the barn door after thousands of dangerous exotic animals have already slipped out.
This always has been a safety issue, and not one of individual rights. A somewhat crude but accurate interpretation of the constitution is that you have the right to do what you want, as long as it does not harm or endanger others. In other words: make your choices, but if they are reckless ones, you should be the only one paying the consequences.
Strickland's order covers the buying and selling of big cats such as mountain lions and panthers, bears, crocodiles, wolves, primates and large constricting or venomous snakes. The bottom line is, that erratic guy down the street no longer can impress his friends by going out and buying a pet cobra or a pet bobcat. He was one careless moment away from letting those animals escape and putting the whole neighborhood in terror.
The governor's order also mandates that if you already own one of these exotics, you must register it with the state before May, and then each year you have the animal. This allows wildlife officials and law enforcement to have some idea where the exotics are located, and to track their movement. It's a safety thing.
Incoming governor John Kasich has indicated he plans to make Strickland's rule stick. Now that's bipartisanship. That's what we need Democrats and Republicans to do, to work together on sensible measures, instead of agreeing to scratch each others' back while voting for pet pork projects.
Ohio has been way back in the pack on this topic, and is one of the last states to enact such a ban. The new rules also dictate what kinds of facilities can own and rehabilitate dangerous wild animals.
This past summer, a 24-year-old man was killed by a bear in what amounted to a loosely controlled wild animal collection in Lorain that included seven other bears, wolves, tigers and a lion.
Current owners of these designated "dangerous" exotic animals no longer can breed them, sell them or trade them. If you own a banned animal, once it dies you will not be permitted to replace it.
The idea is to get these wild animals out of people's backyards, garages and basements. They often are poorly cared for and not properly caged, and there have been many incidents of potentially deadly exotics escaping from their owners. In other cases, that cute, little baby crocodile someone bought on the black market grows to 5 or 6-feet long and escapes or is released, creating safety and ecological nightmares.
Contractors who make their living removing raccoons and skunks from garages and private properties report more than a few incidents of finding boa constrictors or cobras hiding in the bushes after slipping out of their cages, or even a "pet" cougar running loose on the streets of one of Ohio's major cities.
Most of us heard about and saw the horrific pictures of an attack on a Connecticut woman by a so-called "pet" chimpanzee. Without warning or provocation, the 200-pound animal ripped off her nose, hands, an eyelid and her lips. As a result of the attack, the woman also was blinded.
Despite the claims of some, most animals do not make good pets. You can't domesticate a lizard, a grizzly bear or a boa constrictor. They belong in the wild, or in the control of experts at zoos and wildlife parks. Bringing dangerous exotic animals into your home, apartment building or neighborhood makes zero sense.
It's a shame we needed a law to keep people from putting themselves, their children and their neighbors at risk, but as we have learned so many times before, you can't assume common sense is all that common. Sometimes we have to go to the extent of protecting people from the most serious danger - their own lack of judgment.
Matt Markey is The A-T outdoors columnist.
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