By Wayne Pacelle
I wish every lawmaker and statewide official in Ohio could have attended the press conference we conducted today at the Statehouse in Columbus. The collective comments of the speakers provided a devastating case about the utter irrationality and danger of allowing private citizens to keep dangerous exotic animals, such as African lions and chimpanzees, as pets.
You could hear a pin drop when Deirdre Herbert spoke. She made her first public appearance on the issue since her son, Brent Kandra, was mauled and killed by a bear two months ago in a suburb outside of Cleveland.
The bear who killed Brent was one of more than a dozen large, powerful predators owned and kept by notorious animal dealer and exhibitor Sam Mazzola. Deirdre is a remarkable and determined woman—Erin Brockovich comes to mind—and she’s determined not to see another mother lose a child for such a senseless reason. That’s why she spoke out today.
Also with me at the press conference were Tim Harrison and Mike Webber. Mike is the producer of a new film, "The Elephant in the Living Room," which takes a broad look at the phenomenon of private ownership of predators as pets. The film is set, for the most part, in Ohio and Tim is featured in the film. He’s just as good in person as he is on the big screen.
He’s a former policeman and firefighter, and he’s been the first responder on dozens of cases involving dangerous situations, including escapes of lions and tigers, between captive wild animals and people. Now he devotes an enormous amount of time, as an animal welfare advocate, to help exotic animals and to give people who acquire these animals for the wrong reasons a way out.
When The HSUS negotiated a landmark animal welfare agreement in Ohio on June 30, we insisted on a provision to ban the ownership for use as pets of newly acquired big cats, bears, primates, large constricting and venomous snakes, and alligators and crocodiles.
I am glad we did. Brent tragically lost his life after the agreement was reached, and as I listened to Deirdre, I wondered that if we had foresighted politicians in Ohio years before—public officials who could see that there was a gap in the law and that something needed to be done—this young man could still be with us today.