Owner of tigers, other exotic animals seized in Ohio wants them returned from other states

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The owner of six tigers and four other exotic animals that were seized by the state and were moved from a holding facility to sanctuaries across the country asked a court on Tuesday to order that they be returned.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture overstepped its authority last month by relocating the animals to facilities in Arizona, Florida and South Dakota without notifying owner Kenny Hetrick, his attorney said in a Wood County Court filing. Hetrick wants the animals returned to the state holding facility in Reynoldsburg or to his property near Toledo.

"ODA has violated their own transfer order, (Hetrick's) constitutional rights and all sense of good faith and fair dealing," attorney Karen Novak wrote, noting that Ohio's law on dangerous animals doesn't address multiple transfers of seized creatures.

Department spokeswoman Erica Hawkins has said the animals — including a bear, a leopard, a cougar and a liger (part lion, part tiger) — were moved for their benefit after they spent seven months in what was meant to be a temporary holding facility and it became clear they needed more space. She said veterinarians who saw the animals also recommended the move.

She said the department retains custody of the animals but they're being cared for under contract at sanctuaries in Tampa, Florida; Spearfish, South Dakota; and Valentine, Arizona.

Hetrick's attorney on Tuesday filed subpoenas for records, pictures, test results or other information kept about his animals by the out-of-state facilities.

The Department of Agriculture said the animals would remain at those sanctuaries until the resolution of Hetrick's court challenges over their seizure and his attempts to get permits to keep them.

Hetrick's court filing raises concerns about health problems he says several of the animals experienced after they were taken.

The department took Hetrick's animals from his small, roadside sanctuary after concluding he ignored warnings that he needed a permit and that his cages weren't secure enough to prevent escape.

His attorney alleges he has been treated differently than other owners who were found to have compliance problems under Ohio's tightened regulations for exotic animal ownership, which were enacted after a suicidal man released dozens of animals, including African lions and Bengal tigers, from his Zanesville-area farm in 2011.

Hawkins has said the deadline passed and the law doesn't allow the state to issue the permit Hetrick sought.

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