Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Missouri is Not Ohio: New Exotic Animal Ownership Law

By now we've all heard about the owner of an Ohio exotic animal farm who released numerous wild animals from their pens before taking his own life. Over fifty of these animals, including 18 rare Bengal tigers, 17 lions, and 8 bears were shot and killed by local law enforcement officials.

The owner of this exotic animal farm had been in trouble in the past for allowing his animals to roam free and also for mistreating them.  He had a prior cruelty conviction and was recently released from prison for a felony firearms possession. 

It was alleged that the owner housed his animals in small pens and kept them in poor condition and fed his lions meat from malnourished horses.  Reuters reported, " 'When he was charged with animal neglect, there were complaints that he wasn't feeding his horses enough, and then when they would die he would feed them to the lions', said Larry Hostetler, executive director of the Muskingum County Animal Shelter. 'We've been trying to get him shut down since 2003,' Hostetler said, adding that authorities had made several visits to the farm since 2004 and found underfed animals with open sores."

I don't know about you, but I've been wondering is something like this could happen here.  Missouri is one of the few remaining places in the US where the exotic animal trade has flourished. According to Bob Baker, Executive Director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, MAAL has worked for years to establish regulations for ownership of large carnivores in Missouri.

In fact, during the 2010 legislative session, MAAL helped to pass the Large Carnivore Act (LCA). This law requires anyone who owns, breeds, possesses, or transports a large carnivore on or after January 1, 2012, to obtain a permit from the Missouri Department of Agriculture and to maintain a minimum of $250,000 in liability insurance. Verification of insurance must be provided annually. The LCA (Section 578.600 - 578.624 RSMO) includes the following protections for the animals:

  • Requires the Department of Agriculture to enforce the provisions of the Act to ensure that owners of such animals "practice best husbandry and health care protocols to ensure the humane and safe treatment of large carnivores on behalf of their physical well-being."
  • Requires owners of large carnivores to provide their animals with adequate care and treatment, as established by USDA, in the areas of housing, handling, transportation, sanitation, nutrition, water, general husbandry, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperature.
  • Prohibits the issuance of a permit to own or possess a large carnivore to anyone who has "been found guilty of, or pled guilty to, a violation of any state or local law prohibiting neglect or mistreatment of any animal..."
  • Prohibits the issuance of a permit to anyone who has any type of felony conviction within the previous ten years.

Regulations like those could have prevented that fellow in Ohio from owning a large carnivore based on his felony firearms conviction and his conviction for animal cruelty.

Another interesting thing about Missouri's new Large Carnivore Act is that it also prohibits law enforcement officials from randomly hunting down and shooting free-roaming carnivores.   In fact, the LCA requires that the officer observes, or has reason to believe, that the large carnivore is actually "chasing, attacking, injuring, or killing" a human being or another animal before killing the carnivore.

Missouri may be the puppy mill capital, but a tragedy like Ohio will not be legal in Missouri next year.

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