Ohio judge stays order to return seized tigers, 5 other exotic animals to sanctuary owner



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TOLEDO, Ohio — State officials who seized six tigers and five other exotic animals from a sanctuary will be able to keep them at least until next week after a judge on Friday put an order to return the exotic animals on hold.

The judge issued a stay to his earlier order that he handed down this week and set a hearing on the matter for Tuesday.

The state removed the animals Wednesday after denying the owner a permit to keep them. It also said there were concerns that the cages and fencing at the property near Toledo could allow some of them to escape. Hours later, the Wood County judge ordered the state to return all 11 — the tigers, a bear, a lion, a cougar, a black leopard and a liger.

The state formally appealed the order on Friday while also winning the stay.

Ohio officials argued in their court filing Friday that the owner never showed that seizing animals put them in immediate danger. They also said that Ohio's agriculture director has authority over whether to move exotics animals that are not registered with the state.

A message seeking comment was left with the owner's attorney on Friday.

The animals were tranquilized and transported on Wednesday and being housed in a high security building just outside Columbus.

Ohio law that requires owners to register exotic animals. The law came after a suicidal eastern Ohio man released dozens of bears, mountain lions and tigers from his farm in 2011 near Zanesville. Authorities killed 48 of the animals out of fear for the public's safety.

Part of the law also required exotic animal owners to have or apply for a permit by the beginning of 2014.

Kenny Hetrick, who has operated the animal sanctuary near Toledo for more than 30 years, didn't apply for a permit until October — nine months after the deadline — when he received a notice from the state saying he needed to voluntarily surrender the animals because he had failed to get the necessary permits, Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Erica Hawkins said.

Inspectors who visited the animal sanctuary in November found there were unsecured padlocks and chains on the cages, fencing that could be easily separated by the animals and not enough fencing around one enclosure, according to a letter sent two weeks ago from the Ohio Department of Agriculture to site's owner.

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