Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes in the Harsh Light of Reality

Introduction

On March 8, 2012, Senator Troy Balderson (R) of Zaneville introduced SB 310, which seeks to enact a sweeping law to establish requirements governing the possession of multiple species of animals, which will be designated as “dangerous wild animals” as well as multiple species of snakes which will be designated under the law as “restricted snakes.”    Sen. Balderson stated in his December 8, 2011 Update on Wild Animal Ownership in Ohio, his goals are, “First and foremost . . . [to] ensure the public’s safety from possible danger.  Second . . . to preserve the ability of small businessmen and women to maintain operation in our state. Finally. . .to ensure that the dangerous and wild animals in Ohio are properly cared for and kept from harm.”

Snakes should be stricken from SB 310.

Sen. Balderson’s goals are admirable and are policy goals befitting a public servant.  However, SB 310 over reaches, and it  over reaches to the detriment of Ohio citizens.  The world of animals SB 310 seeks to legislate cannot be crammed into a one-size-fits-all solution in terms of protecting the public or protecting the animals.  Snakes do not belong in the same legislative scheme as lions and wolves.  A chimpanzee that can apprehend a human being running at top speed and do substantial damage in a matter of seconds is very different from a python or a boa constrictor, which at top speed can slither along at approximately one mile per hour.  A dawdling human being can easily out-walk a python or a boa constrictor. (http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-python.html and http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-boa.html , last accessed April 9, 2012.)

In addition, SB 310 wholly fails to preserve the ability of Ohio business owners dealing with reptiles to continue to operate within the State.

What is Dangerous?

Statistically, snakes pose no danger to the Ohio public.  Since 1990, there have been two snake related deaths in Ohio.  In both cases, owners of venomous snakes were killed by their own animals.  There have been two snake injuries in the same time period. In one case, it was another owner of a venomous snake who was bitten.  In the last case, a venomous snake bit a zookeeper.   Owning venomous snakes is analogous to sky diving.  Certainly, sky diving is dangerous to the participant, and if something goes wrong, death or serious injury to the sky diver is likely.  It is also possible that the sky diver, in the course of plummeting to the earth, could take out a pedestrian or crash into a car.  Nonetheless, sky diving is legal in Ohio and throughout the U.S.

There has been no documented case of a non-venomous snake of any species causing injury or death in Ohio since 1990. In fact, on a nationwide level, there have been only 17 deaths resulting from snakes of all varieties since 1990.  According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association (APPA), Industry Statistics & Trends, in 2005/2006 there were approximately 11 million reptiles living as pets in private hands in this country.  The percentage of deaths or injuries is therefore miniscule.

Conversely, during the period 1990-1998 alone, there were 39 horse related deaths in the state of Ohio. Eleven of these deaths were  children.  American Medical Equestrian Association News, June 2000, Vol. XI, No.2.  According to the Center for Disease Control, there are more than 100,000 horse related injuries per year throughout the country.  Ohio’s solution to the inherent danger associated with equine activities is a legislative scheme requiring participants in equine activities to assume liability for participating in an inherently dangerous activity. Ohio ST § 2305.321 states in pertinent part that “an equine activity sponsor, equine activity participant, equine professional, veterinarian, farrier, or other person not liable in damages in a tort or other civil action for harm that an equine activity participant allegedly sustains during an equine activity and that results from an inherent risk of an equine activity.”  Ohio imposes all liability upon the participant who chooses to engage in equine activities, and horses have been far more dangerous to Ohio residents than any species of snake or reptile.

There are approximately 5 million people bitten by domesticated dogs in the U.S. each year with approximately 900,000 of those bites requiring medical attention.  Ohio also has a provision for that:  strict liability on the part of the owner.  Ohio ST § 955.28(B) states in pertinent part that, “The owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog.”

Statistics demonstrate that snakes pose no measurable risk to Ohio residents, and if the legislature feels that a protection needs to be preemptively put into place to protect its residents, it should be one of strict liability of the owner in the event of injury, not an elaborate legal quicksand of permitting and criminalization that will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars to run and will still be impossible to enforce.

Commerce

The Ohio reptile industry is worth $30 million in annual revenues and it is a livelihood to the thousands of small business owners.  These business owners not only make their own living, they employ others and pay income and sales taxes in Ohio.  One reptile breeder in Ohio alone earns $2.5 million in annual revenues supplying reptiles, including boa constrictors and pythons, to major retailers nationwide.  This same individual has an annual payroll of $750,00 and he breeds 230 species of snakes.    Ohio’s projected budget shortfall for 2012 is estimated to be $3 billion and its unemployment rate as of January 2012 was 7.7%.  Ohio cannot afford to put thousands of small business owners out of business.

In a distressed economy, fiscal conservatism requires that the Ohio legislature look carefully at the financial risk that will be imposed upon Ohio constituents by SB 310.  Notwithstanding the economic recession that has engulfed the US, the pet industry experienced a 5.3% growth between 2010 and 2011.  Total revenues nationwide increased from $48.35 billion in 2010 to $50.96 billion in 2011. APPA projects a steady 3.8 percent growth rate through 2012, with nearly $53 billion in overall pet spending.

Ohio simply cannot afford to foreclose business and employment opportunities to its citizens based on an imagined risk that has never been demonstrated in this state or even in this country with respect to snakes.

The Welfare of the Snakes

SB 310 fails to protect the welfare of snakes.  Indeed, since 1998, there have only been three cases of neglect or abuse in Ohio involving reptiles that did not involve hoarding.  Of these, two were abandoned pet stores.  The third was a 10 year old child who stomped a 10′ python to death because he did not like snakes.  Ohio does not have an animal welfare problem relating to snakes.

The standards of care proposed in SB 310 are not defined and the people who are best qualified to make any such definitions are the small breeders that SB 310 will eliminate.  But the issue about snake or reptile welfare is moot.  Reptile abuse and neglect has simply not been part of Ohio culture.  If the legislature is truly concerned about animal welfare, Ohio should work on puppy mill legislation to ameliorate the demonstrated suffering of thousands of dogs in puppy mills in this state.

In addition, Ohio already has an animal cruelty statute (Ohio ST § 959.13) which makes it illegal to:

(1) Torture an animal, deprive one of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beat, needlessly mutilate or kill, or impound or confine an animal without supplying it during such confinement with a sufficient quantity of good wholesome food and water;

(2) Impound or confine an animal without affording it, during such confinement, access to shelter from wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight if it can reasonably be expected that the animals would otherwise become sick or in some other way suffer. Division (A)(2) of this section does not apply to animals impounded or confined prior to slaughter. For the purpose of this section, shelter means a man-made enclosure, windbreak, sunshade, or natural windbreak or sunshade that is developed from the earth’s contour, tree development, or vegetation.[;]

(3) Carry or convey an animal in a cruel or inhuman[e] manner.

Further defining standards of care for multiple species will create an bureaucratic nightmare, impossible and expensive to enforce.  It is legislative quicksand that will cripple the Ohio economy and still fail to protect the welfare of the animals.

There is a conservation concern with eliminating private snake breeders.  In snake breeding, the private sector breeders are ten years ahead of zoos in terms of the species reproduced and overall success rate.  Many of these species are threatened in their natural environments due to  extreme habitat loss and loss of species diversity and density. Without the private breeders, these animals may be forever lost.  With private reptile breeders, there are few species that cannot be successfully maintained in perpetuity in captivity. They can prevent extinction and preventing extinction is also part of animal welfare.

Conclusion

SB 310 was born out of a tragic incident.  On October 18, 2011, Zanesville, Ohio police began receiving 911 calls of lions, bears, tigers, and other large, dangerous animals wandering loose.  The animals, 56 in all, belonged to a man named Terry Thompson, who had kept them on a game preserve and who chose to turn them loose just prior to killing himself.  No humans were harmed by the loosed animals, but unfortunately, the animals were not so lucky.  49 lions, tigers, bears, wolves, mountain lions and a baboon were slaughtered. Most of these were shot and killed by law enforcement officers within 1500 feet of their pens.  One was hit by a car.

No reptiles were involved in the Zanesville incident.  No humans were injured by the animals that were loosed in the incident.  No sane person would like to see the Zanesville incident repeated.  It was an unimaginable tragedy and it was a blessing that no humans were harmed by the large and dangerous animals that were set loose from their enclosures.  However, no laws, no matter how strict, would have prevented what happened in Zanesville.  If Terry Thompson had all of the permits and insurance in place that SB 310 would require of him, he still would have been mentally ill.  He still would have loosed his animals, ensuring their demise, and then killed himself.  No matter how well-intentioned Sen.  Balderson or the Ohio legislature is, they will never be able to enact a legislative scheme that will prevent violent people with violent intentions from committing acts of violence.  If that were possible, Ohio would have no murders, no child abuse, no domestic violence.

SB 310 misses its mark with snakes.  It does not protect the public.  It does not protect Ohio business owners and commerce, and it does not protect the welfare of the animals.  Snakes should be removed entirely from SB 310.

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7 thoughts on “Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes in the Harsh Light of Reality

  1. Pingback: Wilkins et al. v Ohio Department of Agriculture – the Appeal is Lost | United States Herpetoculture Alliance

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