What happened in Zanesville two months ago has made the unthinkable… thinkable. The escape of four dozen wild animals led to a proposed state ban on exotic animals that would affect even the tiger cub that prowls the sidelines during Massillon’s high school football games.
Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger stadium hosts state championship games each year, whether or not the home team makes the playoffs. This year, the Division-II match-up between Avon and Trotwood created a virtual mascot zoo as the Eagles and Rams battled in Tiger Stadium. Fans had mixed feelings about the ban.
But for Karen Minton, the issue is clear. The Ohio director for the Humane Society of the United States says mascots should be banned both for public safety and the welfare of the animals.
"The problem with Obie is the fact that there's a new Obie every year. What happens after Obie's gone and done for the football season and grows up a little bit? Who's taking care of all the Obies through the years?
Cindy Hunstman runs Stump Hill Farm near Massillon. The property is a maze of enclosures and greenery. Two recent Obies, with female companions, are in adjacent cages. Lions and foxes lounge in cages nearby. Many of the animals are rescues, or come from defunct zoos or owners who could no longer care for the animals.
The farm has supplied Massillon with a new baby Obie each season for the last two decades. Several of the past Obies, including the very first, still live there.
Huntsman’s farm is certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Zanesville facility was not.
Huntsman says that’s a difference that should exempt Stump Hill from the new ban.
"If the Governor simply wants to take the large and dangerous carnivores out of the hands of the general public, all they do is implement a U.S.D.A. exemption that puts the monkey on the federal government's back to do the inspections, to pick up the tab for it. And Obie still exists."
Stump Hill has a generally clean record over at least 10 years. But it was cited for declawing a rescued tiger this year.
“The animal that he is going to buddy up with is already declawed. And she was already de-clawed before she came to our place. If I put a clawed animal in with a de-clawed animal, for a companion, then that animal has an advantage.”
The new ban makes an exception for facilities that are licensed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is more stringent than the U.S. D.A. Neither group approves of de-clawing.
Cleveland Zoo Director Steve Taylor says it highlights the difference between certified zoos and U.S.D.A. facilities.
“We would never de-claw an animal because the purpose of a zoo is to have an animal as natural as possible, and to provide an educational opportunity. The AZA goes into a lot more detail particularly on your efforts on conservation and education, not just animal welfare and human safety.”
Gov. Kasich’s spokesman, Rob Nichols, says the governor is still reviewing the proposed ban on exotic animals and has made no decision.
“We’ve received a lot of commentary and a lot of feedback on it. And I think a lot of the reaction from the public is, ‘Please do something about it, it’s the wild west of animal ownership out there’. Zanesville was tragic, it could have been worse, and we wanted to make sure something like that would never, ever happen again.”
The Humane Society’s Karen Minton says that mascots such as Obie might be acceptable if Massillon uses only one animal for its entire life, instead of getting a new cub from Stump Hill each year. She adds that the animal would also have to be kept in an enclosure that meets the same standards as zoos.