SHARE 262 8 16 COMMENTMORE

How well do you think you know your neighbor? You may be surprised to learn they just might have an alligator or a bear living next door.

State-issued permits are now required of anyone who wants to legally own exotic animals in Ohio. The Investigator Tom Meyer examined six dozen permits that have been submitted for consideration so far.

They showed that, in northeast Ohio, individuals have a variety of exotic animals living at their suburban homes.

A tiger in Ravenna. A python in Parma. A cougar in Garrettsville. A black bear in Canton. And a bobcat in North Royalton, just to name a few.

"I had no idea my neighbor owned a bobcat," said Pauline Kunimoto. "I don't even know what to say about that. I think it's really frightening."

She has reason for concern.

In the past two decades, exotic animals have injured more than 500 individuals and killed 75 more, including a Lorain County man who was mauled by a black bear three years ago.

Keith Gisser, of Cleveland Heights, is among those who have applied for a state permit. He owns about 160 reptiles, including 80 snakes and five alligators. His snake collection includes pythons and boa constrictors.

His living room is packed with the large snakes, iguanas and turtles. In his basement, you can find five alligators, including Nadia, who is about six feet long.

"They do have large mouths with very sharp teeth. That's an animal (Nadia) that, theoretically, if you're not careful, could take a hand," Gisser said.

Gisser's neighbor, Brian Johnson, says one of Gisser's snakes escaped and made his way into his backyard where his child was playing. Johnson said exotic animals, including snakes, "shouldn't be living in residential neighborhoods if you can't control them."

Gisser explained the snake slipped through a broken screen window which has been repaired.

Last month, a customer drove into the Pat O'Brien auto dealership in Vermilion with a spider monkey as his travelling companion.

An employee asked to pet the monkey and, when he did, the monkey bit his hand, piercing the skin and drawing blood.

Investigators found there was no state permit for the animal, even though the owner applied for one. They also said the monkey was not properly contained. The monkey tested negative for rabies.

Gisser says he doesn't like the new law, but he will comply with it. He thinks it will force a number of exotic animal owners to go rogue and not go on record with the state due to the many requirements which they believe are expensive and restrictive.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo believes they might find that more owners of exotic animals might be turning to them to care for animals they can no longer afford to house and feed.

The zoo is still taking care of an alligator that an irresponsible owner just dumped in a drainage ditch in a local community. The zoo says it can't take on a large number of exotic animals.

"All of these animals have a specific niche in the environment and part of that environment doesn't include living in a residential neighborhood," said Jim Nemet, the Metroparks Zoo's education manager.

So far, 72 Ohioans have applied for exotic animal permits, and more are expected. Only 11 have been issued as the state carefully reviews applications.

SHARE 262 8 16 COMMENTMORE