By Wayne Pacelle
Today, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland received the sort of letter that reminds elected officials of the gravity of their daily responsibilities. The letter writer, Deirdre Herbert, is the mother of the young man recently killed by a captive bear in Lorain County. She told Gov. Strickland that she wholeheartedly supports his public pledge to adopt new rules in Ohio to prohibit private citizens from keeping powerful wild animals (see Herbert’s letter).
Herbert's son, Brent Kandra, worked for notorious exotic animal owner and exhibitor Sam Mazzola as an animal caretaker. On Aug. 19, Kandra was fatally mauled after he opened a cage to feed one of Mazzola's black bears. Mazzola had four tigers, one lion, eight bears, and a dozen wolves according to his May bankruptcy filing. He kept these animals at a private residence in Columbia Township (about 40 minutes from downtown Cleveland) even though he lost his federal exhibitor's license several years ago for his reckless and unsafe conduct. Because Ohio has had no statewide rules prohibiting private citizens from getting these animals, however, Mazzola had a free pass in keeping this menagerie in Cleveland's outer suburbs.
On June 30, as part of a broader agreement brokered between The HSUS, farm groups and Strickland, the Governor promised to impose new statewide rules to prohibit new ownership of dangerous wild animals as pets. No other elected officials in the state had previously made this commitment until Strickland stepped in.
"I want you to know that I stand behind this ban on private ownership of exotic animals 100%," Herbert wrote in a four-paragraph letter to Strickland. "Bears and other wild animals are just that—wild—and they should not be kept confined in backyard cages. Keeping dangerous animals as pets or in displays is a prescription for more tragedies like the one me and my family have experienced...one that will live with us forever."
"I wish to express to you that the death of my son, Brent, is a tremendous loss to his family and friends. The enactment into law of a ban on private ownership of exotic animals in the state of Ohio would prevent anyone else from experiencing the loss of a loved one."
We applaud Gov. Strickland for his outstanding leadership in working on a series of animal welfare reforms, including the ban on keeping large and powerful wild animals as pets. And we send our deepest sympathies to Deirdre Herbert and her family.
No one can bring back her son, but the state of Ohio, led by Gov. Strickland, can impose sensible public safety and animal welfare policies to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. There is no reason for any private citizen to keep these wild animals as pets or as roadside attractions, and it should not take an incident like the one with Brent Kandra to prove the point.