Lawyer: Cages OK at site of Ohio exotics release

AP News
Posted: Apr 27, 2012 2:25 PM
Lawyer: Cages OK at site of Ohio exotics release

An attorney for a suicidal animal owner's widow who is seeking the return of exotic animals that survived an October release said she has adequate cages for them at her eastern Ohio farm, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Three leopards, two primates and a bear survived the release of dozens of wild creatures in Zanesville. They have been under a state-issued quarantine at the Columbus zoo. One leopard was euthanized after it was struck by a door at the zoo.

Attorney Robert McClelland wrote to Ohio officials last week on behalf of his client, Marian Thompson.

The state's agriculture director told him earlier this month that the Ohio Department of Agriculture required proof of the arrangements Thompson has made for the animals' confinement and care. The department has scheduled an administrative hearing for Monday on Thompson's request.

Thompson's husband, Terry Thompson, freed bears, lions, endangered Bengal tigers and other animals on Oct. 18 before killing himself. Authorities were forced to shoot 48 of the creatures as they moved into the community.

McClelland told an attorney for the agriculture department in a letter dated April 18 that the animals now held by the zoo were not harmed in the October release because they were in proper cages.

"A limited number of cages were harmed during the incident and there are plenty of alternative cages to safely secure the few remaining animals," McClelland wrote.

The AP obtained McClelland's letter and the April 4 letter from the state's agriculture director on Friday through a public records request.

McClelland asked the state for the animals to be returned to Thompson upon the return of negative test results.

Medical results released this week showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested. But the department said the animals would remain under quarantine at the zoo for continued observation for signs of rabies, which the agency said could only be confirmed after an animal is dead.

"No determinations regarding the status of the quarantine will be made before the observation period has concluded," the agency said at the time.

Erica Pitchford, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, says the standard observation period for the animals is six months, which ended Friday. She said Friday she did not anticipate changes to the status of the quarantine order before the Monday administrative hearing.

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Thompson asked for the hearing to appeal the quarantine order. She has questioned whether the state had the authority to quarantine the animals on the suspicion of potential dangerous infectious diseases.

"Marian Thompson never wanted the incident of October 18th to happen," McClelland wrote. "In the wake of the events, she never wanted to part ways with her animals."

Officials said at the time of the quarantine order that they were concerned about reports that the animals lived in unsanitary conditions where they could be exposed to disease. The order prevents the zoo from releasing the animals until it's clear they're free of dangerous diseases.

Tom Stalf, the Columbus zoo's chief operating officer, said in a sworn statement released Friday by department that he was at Thompson's property the day the animals were released, where he observed that two primates were held in separate, small bird cages. A brown bear was also kept in a cage that wasn't fit for its size, he said.

"The bear was very aggressive and was biting at the wire cage," Stalf said in the affidavit, which is dated Tuesday.