Athens Co. Vet Readies For Exotic Animals Regulations

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Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of an exotic animal escape from a  Muskingum County farm that ended in killing of more than 50 creatures, including lions, bears and several rare Bengal tigers.

Zanesville isn't the only place in southeast Ohio housing exotic animals, Athens County is home to a few itself.

For the local owner of four big cats, the new regulations have brought change and concern to the home he shares with his pets.

 Dr. Jim Galvin, an Athens County veterinarian, had hopes of beginning a big cat sanctuary to provide a home for more than 30 cats.

 He says the new law has made these hopes unrealistic.

 “The state law is just gonna make it too tough for a start-up like me to qualify so I've decided just to run it as a rescue center and rescue for or six or eight and let it go at that. If I can make them happy and give them a good home that's good enough,” said Galvin.

The new paperwork and qualification requirements, financial obligation, insurance costs and space needs are, for Galvin, what makes expanding his operation impossible.

To comply with all the new regulations, the veterinarian still has to make several changes, some of them by the exotic animal registration deadline on November 5.

“I have to put them down in the next three weeks to get microchips under their skin. And that's not so bad, but some of the regulations I'm getting word on, like fencing and so forth, are making it a lot stricter,” said Galvin.

The veterinarian says, though, many of the new exotic animal requirements are beneficial, especially for big cats.

“A lot of owners have them, at least from what I've seen, in substandard conditions,” said Galvin.

Galvin says he agrees with most of the regulations, for example, the minimum size cage these tigers can be kept in. However he says he feels there are some regulations that go too far.

“I think one of the big problems I do have with the state law is, the requirement of castration. When you remove the testosterone from the body you're also going to weaken the muscles that support those shoulders and those hips and that back. And I think its gonna make the arthritis worse quicker and I think that's something as a veterinarian I really have a problem with,” said Galvin.

Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly, says Dr. Galvin is either in compliance already, or will be in compliance soon, with all of the new regulations and is running his operation with a purpose.

“A lot of it is about saving the animals because a lot of the animals he got were sick animals when he got them and he's nursed them back to health. So it's more than just having an exotic animal, he has a purpose for having them,” said Kelly.

Kelly ensures county residents Galvin's facility is secure.

“Barring a tornado or something there's no way that tiger would get out of that cage,” said Galvin.

Galvin credits an Ohio University service fraternity for helping him build two new, regulation size, cages in time.

Galvin and his wife are running their tiger rescue as a non-profit organization called Midwest Big Cat Care.