A federal appeals court has upheld Ohio’s restrictions on exotic animals, rejecting a challenge by owners who had claimed the law was too stringent and forced them to join organizations they disagree with. Among other things, the law requires owners to carry liability insurance or security bonds.
Seven owners had sued the state over the regulations, arguing that the law violates their free speech and free association rights.
The owners “believe that private exotic animal ownership, free from government intrusion, should be lawful,” an attorney for them wrote in a court brief in August.
But in its ruling, the three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said that the owners’ constitutional claims lacked merit.
Ohio has defended the law as addressing animal welfare, public health and public safety concerns associated with private ownership of dangerous wild animals.
In a brief filed with the court in July, the state’s attorneys said the owners’ “desire to keep animals they cherish is understandable; their constitutional arguments are not.”
State lawmakers worked to strengthen Ohio’s regulations after a suicidal owner released dozens of creatures from a farm in Zanesville in 2011. Authorities killed most of the animals, which included black bears, Bengal tigers and African lions, fearing for the public’s safety.
The law required owners to get a new state-issued permit by Jan. 1 of this year. They must pass background checks, pay fees, obtain liability insurance or surety bonds and show they can properly contain and care for the animal. Otherwise, residents are banned from having the wild creatures.
The law exempts sanctuaries, research institutions and facilities accredited by some national zoo groups, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Zoological Association of America.
The owners contend that joining such groups to get an exemption from the law means they would have to associate and fund organizations with which they disagree. They also challenged the state’s requirement that animals be implanted with a microchip, calling it government intrusion on their property.
The state likened the requirements to installing license plates on cars, exit signs in buildings or fences in yards.
The owners’ appeal came after a federal judge in Columbus sided with the state in upholding the law in 2012.