Ohio court says bobcat can be a housecat

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GreenGavelBy Eric Freedman

To scientists, the bobcat is a species of the lynx genus –”lynx rufus” to be precise.

And that meant bad news for long-time bobcat owner Adam Federer when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) refused to renew his annual license because scientists and the state Agriculture Department classify the bobcat is a lynx and thus a “dangerous wild animal.”

But the state Court of Appeals brought good news to Federer, ruling that private ownership of a bobcat isn’t banned because the Ohio legislature didn’t explicitly include it in a 2012 law regulating possession of dangerous wild animals.

The bobcat is native to Ohio but rarely seen there “as they were extirpated from the state in 1850. Prior to settlement, they were common throughout Ohio,” according to the DNR’s Wildlife Division. “This cat has been sighted occasionally since 1850 and may be on the verge of returning ‘home’ to Ohio.”

Federer, a detective in the Columbus Police Department, bought his bobcat in 2003

Bobcat or “lynx rufus” -- Image: Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Bobcat or “lynx rufus” — Image: Ohio Department of Natural Resources

from a Montana breeder. The bobcat — named Thor — weights 24-28 pounds, is declawed, stands as “tall as an average man’s knee” and doesn’t go outside, according to court papers.

His lawyer, Jonathan Tyack of Columbus, said that Thor “is literally a house pet.”

Federer had no problems getting an annual license from the DNR until 2014, when the agency denied his application based on the 2012 law. That law requires a permit from the state Agriculture Department to get a DNR license.

“Throughout that time, the bobcat has never exhibited any aggressive behavior,” according to Federer’s brief.

That law followed what DNR described in court filings as “the tragic events associated with the release of 56 dangerous wild animals,” including lions, wolves, bears, tigers and a baboon, by Terry Thompson near Zanesville in October, 2011, “presenting a grave danger to public safety in that community.”

Thompson had been home for only a few weeks after serving a prison term for a gun crime when he released his exotic pets and committed suicide.

“Exotic animal ownership on Ohio changed forever after the infamous incident,” DNR said in its brief.

The legislative roster of taboo animals lists “lynxes, including Canadian lynxes, Eurasian lynxes and Iberian lynxes” but doesn’t mention bobcats,

Among the other animals banned for private ownership and sale are bears, lions, jaguars, Cape buffaloes, elephants, crocodiles, rhinoceroses, leopards, Komodo dragons, tigers and northern night monkeys.

The law makes exceptions, including for accredited zoos, aquariums and wildlife shelters, research facilities, licensed circuses and veterinarians temporarily caring for the animals.

When Federer challenged the DNR decision, a Franklin County judge ruled in his favor — and now the Court of Appeals has agreed.

The legislature used common names for animals on the list and didn’t mention bobcats, the court said in a unanimous opinion written by Judge Susan Brown.

The court noted that in the run-up to the 2012 law, a task force of government and non-government officials recommended to the legislature how to regulate wild and dangerous animals. Following “in-depth discussions about bobcats, the task force concluded that bobcats should not be included as dangerous wild animals.”

The task force also recommended leaving coyotes out of the definition of dangerous wild animals — another recommendation that the legislature followed.

The state is reviewing the decision to determine whether to appeal further, according to Kate Hanson, a public information officer for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

The 2012 law caused legal problems for other exotic animal owners as well.

The situation that’s drawn the most media attention recently involved a 41-year-old black bear named Archie that had been owned by Debra and Jeffrey Gillium since 1981. Like Federer, the couple had state licenses until the law changed.

The Gilliums, from Lodi, had unsuccessfully sued the Agriculture Department to block the state from seizing Archie.

However, the Gilliums had Archie euthanized in December, saying the bear was in poor health.

Erica Hawkins, the Agriculture Department communication director, said she’s aware of only one other dispute in litigation.

It involves Kenneth Hetrick, who owned 10 animals seized by the department from his Tiger Ridge Exotics in Stony Ridge last summer. The department transferred six tigers, a leopard, a liger, a cougar and a Kodiak bear to out-of-state wildlife sanctuaries.

That case is scheduled for argument in Wood County Common Pleas Court in February, Hawkins said.

She said, “There have been about 20 animals seized under the law. Most owners, however, once they understand that they cannot obtain a permit, chose to voluntarily relinquish the animals to the state.”

15 thoughts on “Ohio court says bobcat can be a housecat

  1. The Zanesville case should not be about or involve law abiding animal owners who have properly tended for exotic species for many years.
    Exemptions should have been created to allow for these individuals
    without causing them to lose ownership rights.
    Exotic animal injuries are extremely rare in Ohio and elsewhere.
    Most occur in Zoo settings, which were already under the strict controls
    enforced in 2012-2014.
    If sensible lawmakers in Ohio want to protect people from animals, statistics show the main perpetrator, the Pit Bull dog.
    The efforts of the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture via the ODNR to virtually abolish Bobcat ownership was an illegal action, which was enforced by the Ohio AG Mike Dewine, with full knowledge that the legislature had specifically and studiously exempted that species from the exotic animal law.
    I am always amused by the people who state that individuals should not own a Bobcat. I don’t think they should drive a car, either,
    or even worse, drive a car and operate a cell phone..
    Let’s see if we can find a greater threat than this to worry about.

  2. In 2015 an Ohio citizen used Go Fund Me and a sympathy plea to get the funds for a new Ohio state “onerous” licensing fee for bobcats. He moaned about the fee and the high cost associated with his 5 cats and said they would be separated and sent to sanctuaries if the state took them due to non licensure. Unfortunately, people came to his aid. This man now posts pics of his cats on the Facebook site “catsmakemehappy”. People ooh and ah over them and utter the standard “wish I had one” or “I’m gonna get one”. He is advertising and someone is going to get the idea and we will have another bobcat owner before too long. Well, in a very recent post, this Ohio citizen introduced his newest “family Member”, a kit bobcat. So the guy who had to plead for money has now obtained another baby when he couldn’t afford the others. Ohio needs to look into this guy. He shouldn’t have wild cats; he shouldn’t be giving others ideas of ownership; and he shouldn’t be preying on the public for funding.

  3. As long as the said lynx genus is tamed while young, all is golden. It is uncommon to have an exotic pet in my most humble opinion, would you say?

  4. i have been following this story as i live in toledo , anyways i didnt know terry didnt Commit suicide? i musta missed something

  5. Bravo! Having grown up in Africa with big cats in the wild, I have always found it appalling that Ohio allowed exotic animals to be housed in tiny cages by disturbed and/ or incapable animal hoarders. It’s is arrogance to cage large wild animals. Thank God that will not be allowed now. I do however think existing owners should have been grandfathered in until their pets died of natural causes, if they were being well taken care of – I do understand that attachment, ( and worry that where they were transferred may not be much better)

  6. I sense some people do not realize the potential hazards in allowing people to have wild and/or exotic animals as pets. The problem is much larger than this article entails. There have to be strict laws for several reasons.

    1. Wild animals are meant to be wild, living in ecosystems, serving their purpose.

    2. Some people get tired of their wild exotic ” pets,” release them and then they multiply at an unexpected pace, invade the territory of our native species and harm environments for other organisms.

    3. Sometimes people get hurt by wild animals as the animal ages. Instincts take over and the tameness suddenly isn’t so tame.

    Displacing an animal from its intended location for your selfishness, is wrong. Kasich isn’t right about a lot of things, but this seems like common sense to me.

  7. That is possibly the dumbest thing I’ve heard Sarssars. I’m from that town and that guy was not their “scapegoat”

  8. agree terry DID NOT commit suicide, it is a very corrupt legal system where that happened and terry knew to much and the state wanted to make a statement about exotic animal owners and terry was their scape goat

  9. Take that Gov Kasich and your ODA…Taking Constitutional rights to Life, Liberty and PROPERTY away from Ohio citizens is enough reason enough that you will NOT be the republican candidate for president. Next month the fight for Tiger Ridge will begin-I’m certain that too will be a loss and animals will be returned to their rightful longstanding, LEGAL owners will happen-This has already cost the TAXPAYERS plenty!

  10. I’m sure Obama will sign an executive order to change the law. After all, he does have a pen.

  11. NONE of the exotic owners chose to “voluntarily relinquish their animals to the state” in Ohio! Their animals, many of which were elderly, were seized by the insidious ODA, through its partnership with a radical Animal Rights Group, the “Humane” Society of the United States, which is opposed to ALL animal ownership and use by humans, and which operates or funds ZERO animal shelters itself. That said, this is one tiny victory for animal owners in the state of Ohio to be able to keep a tame bobcat, in a state which pretty much has outlawed most animals.

  12. No mention of all the animals that have died because of the dangerous wild animal act. Perfectly tame, wonderfully kept animals that he had to go through things because of the law. The law sat on a desk backed by HSUS and PETA until the event happened with Terry. He did not commit suicide. It was all a corrupt plan to kill him and let his animals go to push this law Thru. Governor Kasich was behind it all.

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