Judge says 10 seized animals should be returned to Ohio farm

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A judge on Thursday said five tigers and five other animals seized from a northeast Ohio farm should be returned, though the state stood by its actions and maintained that the owner hasn’t met Ohio’s tightened restrictions on keeping exotic animals.

Owner Cyndi Huntsman of Stump Hill Farm in Massillon argued that her farm is a licensed educational facility and thus exempt from permit requirements. Her attorney, John Juergensen, said a related administrative appeal is still pending and that the seizure was premature and unnecessary because the animals weren’t endangering anyone.

The judge who signed off on the warrant that enabled the seizure granted Huntsman a preliminary injunction Thursday but agreed with a state veterinarian’s recommendation that the animals shouldn’t be sedated and moved again for two weeks, for their own health, Juergensen said.

“We felt like her due process rights were violated with this seizure and that it was a giant waste of taxpayer money,” Juergensen said.

Another hearing on the injunction is scheduled May 19.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture said she couldn’t comment on Thursday’s legal developments because the state hadn’t yet seen the court documents, but she defended the animals’ removal.

“We stand by the actions that we took and still believe them to have been carried out lawfully,” spokeswoman Erica Hawkins said.

Department officials took the tigers, two pumas, two baboons and one chimpanzee from Stump Hill on Wednesday and moved them to the state holding facility east of Columbus after Huntsman refused to surrender them.

The animals were in relatively good condition and showed no ill effects from the transfer, Hawkins said.

She said the department had worked with Stump Hill Farm in Massillon on its efforts to get accreditation from the Zoological Association of America and thereby be exempt from the permit requirements, but took action after those attempts stalled and the state received information that Huntsman had improperly acquired more restricted animals.

One of the seized tigers was a former live “Obie” mascot for football games at nearby Massillon Washington High School.

The state had considered Stump Hill to be the last large facility not complying with the stricter rules Ohio enacted after a suicidal man released lions, tigers and other creatures from a Zanesville-area farm in 2011.

The agriculture director’s order to transfer the animals indicates that Huntsman had a state wildlife education permit issued only for a bald eagle, not other animals. Juergensen said the language isn’t limited that way.

In recent years, more than 110 animals have been seized by the state or surrendered by owners. The seizure at Stump Hill is the second-largest.

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