Athens County To Create Wild Animal Response Team

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Following legislation drafted by Gov. John Kasich after the wild animal escape in Zanesville in 2011, each county in Ohio will be required to create a Dangerous Wild Animal Response Team.

Athens County Emergency Management Agency Director Fred Davis said a team for Athens County has yet to be created, but that some have already been targeted as ideal members, including veterinarian Carol Osborne and animal owner James Galvin.

Osborne, of Briarhill Clinic in Albany, is a member of the county's Disaster Animal Response Team that is in place in part to care for animals displaced by storms and other natural disasters. When asked about the new wildlife response team, Osborne said she has some questions about the restrictions and controls of the team, but agreed that the team has some value.

"The trouble is, all this is new," she said. "It's all in the formation phases. How are we going to do it, how are we going to fund it, where will the training come from?"

Davis said the team would help emergency responders prepare for any animal incident that might occur. He said the formation of the team is more about creating awareness so that first responders know how to handle a case involving a wild animal.

"We'd want to rely on people's expertises such as those in law enforcement, public health, animal risk … we want to get everyone on the same page," Davis said.

Davis and Osborne both said that Galvin would be ideal for the team. Galvin is a retired veterinarian and the proprietor of Midwest Big Cat Care, a tiger preserve in New Marshfield.

"He'd be a natural selection and a great resource for Athens County, not only as a vet but an exotic animal owner," Davis said of Galvin.

When contacted by The Messenger, Galvin indicated he'd be interested in being on the team but he was not available for a more in-depth interview before The Messenger's deadline.

The new legislation creates stricter regulations for owning dangerous or exotic animals and requires each county to have a team and plan in place in case a wild animal is released or escapes, said Tamara McBride, chief of public affairs for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

The bill was in direct response to Muskingum County resident Terry Thompson releasing 49 wild animals before taking his own life in October 2011. Muskingum County sheriff's deputies responded to the escape and killed two wolves, six black bears, two grizzly bears, nine male lions, eight lionesses, a baboon, three mountain lions and 18 tigers.

Kasich signed Senate Bill 310 into law on June 5, 2012. It designated tigers, lions, bears, elephants, rhinos, alligators, crocodiles and certain types of monkeys as dangerous wild animals. It also made venomous snakes and anacondas and pythons 12 feet or longer classified as restricted snakes, according to the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act.

According to the law, the response teams must have one representative from law enforcement, fire, first aid, emergency management, health, media, elected local officials, veterinarian, public health official and an owner of a dangerous wild animal.

The program is headed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio EMA is helping to implement the plans, McBride said.

“Teams are there so there is a clear understanding of what wild animals are in the state and county,” McBride said.

She added that the teams will create communication between different agencies in the county, and the plan will help prevent another tragedy like the one in Zanesville.