CLEVELAND -- By Jan. 1, wild animals kept legally as pets in the Buckeye State will need a permit.
For the first time, Ohio is creating a registry of dozens of wild animals and restricted snakes as part of the Dangerous Wild Animal Act. The permitting process opened Oct. 1.
Channel 3 News went searching to see where the wild things live in Northeast Ohio.
Stump Hill Farms in Massillion is one place that could look a lot like your neighborhood.
"Once they come here, we get attached to them," said Cindi Huntsman, part owner of Stump. Huntsman is an advocate for wild animals who thinks Ohio's Dangerous Wild Animals Act goes a bit too far.
"People have the right to own an animal. Just like a dog or a cat," said Huntsman, who worries the current act is a step toward attempting to outlaw wild animal ownership.
In 2014, owners will need a state-issued permit to keep these creatures, requiring they pass a background check, pay fees, get liability insurance for the animal and show inspectors they can house and feed it properly. The animals must be microchipped, and signs must be posted warning neighbors.
"There are places where there are stricter regulations on keeping dogs than there are on keeping tigers and bears," said Erica Hawkins, communication director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. "I think that it was decided that needed to be addressed."
Following the 2011 Zanesville incident in which Terry Thompson set dozens of exotic wild animals free before committing suicide, state officials released how nonexistent the rules were.
Ohio previously had no regulations to control who had dangerous wild animals, how they were contained or where the animals went.
Now the state has an inventory. There are 21 animals in Cuyahoga County, 7 animals in Summit County, 7 in Geauga County and one animal in Lake County already registered.
If owners fail to meet the requirements or get a permit, the state can seize the animals.
Huntsman won't let that happen to her.
"Over my dead body," she said. "We have done everything humanly possible to meet the state's requirements."
At Stump Hill, upgrades to meet these requirements cost about $70,000, funded by private foundations and donations. But Stump Hill is a nonprofit organization that already carried insurance.
Individual owners could face an even more expensive reality. Permits will run between $250 and $1,000, but a new insurance policy could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I feel very sorry for them," Huntsman said of other owners. "I hope people realize that it's a law and you're not going to get away with hiding it. Eventually, they'll find out you have it. Do what's best for the animal."
Hawkins says the state has worked to create an extensive list of sanctuaries around the country where animals could find a permanent home if their owners are unable to gain permits.
Experts like Kim Cook, a veterinarian at the Akron Zoo, were tasked with writing cage and care standards permit owners must follow.
"These are wild animals. They are dangerous and unpredictable," said Cook. "We want to keep everybody safe. That is absolutely the ultimate goal of it all."
If you want to know what animals live near you, all permits related to the Dangerous Wild Animal Act are public record. You can contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture. You can also call the office at (614) 728-6201. It can provide addresses of registered creatures to you at no cost.
Included as dangerous animals in Ohio are hyenas, elephants, lions, tigers, jaguars, gray wolves, leopards, bears, cheetahs, alligators, crocodiles, Komodo dragons, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and large primates such as gorillas and baboons. Some restricted snakes are also registered, including anacondas, pythons and constricting snakes that are 12 feet or longer as well as other specified venomous snakes.