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5 exotic animals will be returned to owner’s widow

Zanesville man had released 56 animals then committed suicide.

COLUMBUS — The five surviving animals that belonged to a Zanesville man who released dozens of exotic animals into the wild last year will be returned to his widow.

The animals have been in quarantine, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture announced Monday that no dangerous infectious or contagious diseases were found. Agriculture Department officials said they are concerned about the animals’ return to Marian Thompson because she intends to keep the animals in their old cages, which have not been repaired.

Thompson “repeatedly refused to allow animal welfare experts to evaluate if conditions are safe for the animals and sufficient to prevent them from escaping and endangering the community,” ODA spokeswoman Erica Pitchford wrote in a news release.

Thompson’s husband, Terry, released 56 animals from their cages and then shot himself Oct. 18, 2011, leaving Zanesville law enforcement to hunt the animals. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium took in the six remaining animals: three leopards, two primates and a bear. One leopard was later euthanized.

Pitchford said the state department has no authority to ensure the safety of the animals and the public — Ohio law leaves enforcement to local authorities. A bill banning exotic animals for new owners after 2014 and adding standards for current owners passed the Ohio Senate last week.

“Hopefully legislation pending in the General Assembly will be completed soon so that new, broader, tougher rules can go into effect to better protect the public from dangerous wild animals and ensure these kinds of animals are kept under the care of veterinarians and in enclosures that are clean and adequate,” Pitchford said.

Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said the earliest the animals could be moved would be Wednesday.

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