Ohio court: Tigers' owner can visit seized animals

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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio owner of tigers, bears and other exotic animals seized by the state will be allowed to examine the ones that were sent to a South Dakota sanctuary then later relocated because of neglect, a court has ruled.

A state appeals court said Kenny Hetrick and his veterinarian should be allowed to check on the animals that were relocated to a Colorado sanctuary and ordered the state to arrange the visits within the next month.

The court said last week that a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture detailing the neglect of some of Hetrick's animals is understandably the cause of great concern for him. It also said the Ohio Department of Agriculture had a duty to make sure the animals were receiving proper care.

The department took custody of 11 animals from Hetrick's roadside sanctuary near Toledo in January 2015 after officials say he ignored warnings about needing a permit. Officials hauled away the animals under a state law that came about after a man in eastern Ohio released dozens of his exotic animals before killing himself in 2011. Many of those animals were killed by law enforcement out of a public safety concern.

Hetrick's animals eventually were moved to sanctuaries in other states while he and his family continued to fight the state in court, arguing the animals were improperly taken and should be returned.

One of Hetrick's tigers sent to the South Dakota sanctuary before being removed in the fall because it was found in poor health and having trouble eating was euthanized in early December. The tiger was among a dozen animals removed from the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in South Dakota and sent to another sanctuary in Colorado.

Meanwhile, the same state appeals court ruling that will allow Hetrick to visit his animals denied his appeal to lift a stay of a county judge's order that said the state unfairly denied a permit to him and that the tigers, bear and three other big cats should be returned to Ohio.

That means the county judge's order will remain on hold while the state appeals that ruling.

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