A man who kept an alligator in his Huber Heights basement could face animal cruelty charges in a case that highlights the state’s ongoing efforts to identify and track exotic animals owned by private citizens.
The Humane Society of Greater Dayton pulled the animal out of the man’s home on Sunday after getting a tip about mistreatment. The home is in a residential neighborhood in the city. The man’s identity and address have not been released.
Although not yet bound by a new state law that takes full effect Jan. 1, 2014, state officials have been working to tighten its grip on Ohio residents who own dangerous wild animals.
Gov. John Kasich signed into law last June the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, which is being phased in. Aspects of the law went into effect Sept. 5, prohibiting the sale of dangerous wild animals, including alligators.
The new state legislation was sparked by an event in Zanesville in Oct. 2011 in which Terry Thompson killed himself after setting free 56 jungle cats and other dangerous exotic animals on the Muskingum County countryside. Sheriff’s deputies killed 49 of them to prevent them from escaping into the community and harming citizens.
Under the new state law, owners of dangerous wild animals had until Nov. 5, 2012, to register them with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and have them tagged with a microchip. The Huber Heights man had not registered the alligator in this week’s case.
“We wanted to get a snapshot of what was out there at the time,” said Erica Hawkins, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture.
According to the department, 142 private owners registered a total of 360 dangerous wild animals, including 33 alligators. Failure to register disqualifies an owner from receiving a permit by 2014.
Starting Oct. 1, owners of a registered dangerous wild animal may apply for a permit from the Department of Agriculture. A valid permit is required to maintain ownership of any dangerous wild animal beyond Jan. 1, 2014.
Owners also must pay fees, pass background checks, own at least an acre of land, establish and submit a plan if the animal escapes, and demonstrate through two years of experience or a written examination that they are capable of caring for the animal.
The state has the right to seize the animals if owners can’t meet the new requirements or they are denied a permit.
“Our laws primarily deal with public safety and animal care — things like nutrition and disease management,” Hawkins said. “The local humane societies will continue to have jurisdiction over cruelty and abuse issues.”
Local officials said the alligator in the Huber Heights case was not being kept in proper conditions nor was it on a proper diet. It is stunted in growth for its age and is showing other signs of health deterioration, including broken, missing and loose teeth and issues in its snout area.
“We can’t stress enough how dangerous these animals are,” said Sheila Marquis, lead humane agent for Humane Society of Greater Dayton. “They don’t belong in houses or basements. They belong either in registered sanctuaries or in the wild where they can thrive, grow and nature takes it course.”
Marquis expects to receive a full veterinarian report today.
Animal cruelty charges could then be filed against the owner as well as other individuals who appeared in a Facebook video that officials said showed them taunting the alligator, slamming its face against a cement wall and pouring alcohol on it. The owner’s face is not in the video, Marquis said.
The alligator was taken to Columbus for treatment Monday, then driven to Arrowhead Reptile Rescue in Cincinnati, where it will stay for a couple of days before being transported to a refuge in Florida, according to Tim Harrison, director of Outreach For Animals.
The alligator — believed to be a male — is 15 years old, nearly 7 feet long and weighs 130 pounds. An alligator that age should be 9 to 10 feet long and weigh 200-plus pounds, said Harrison, who noted that it had not been out in the sun its entire life.
“It was basically a prisoner,” Harrison said. “It’s going to survive. Once it’s out in the sun for about a year or so, it will really perk up.”