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Ohio judge says state will keep seized tigers, lion until appeals court weighs in

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BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Six tigers and five other exotic animals seized by the state from a sanctuary will remain in Ohio's custody until a state appeals court weighs in on the case, a county judge decided Tuesday.

The judge who initially ordered that the 11 animals be returned to their owner agreed with lawyers for the state that jurisdiction in the case now lies with an appeals court.

Ohio's agriculture department removed the animals last week after denying the owner a permit to keep them. State inspectors said they were worried that the cages and fencing at the property near Toledo could allow some of the animals to escape.

That same day, Wood County Judge Reeve Kelsey ordered the state to return the tigers, a bear, a lion, a cougar, a black leopard and a liger. The state formally appealed the order and won a stay last week.

Kelsey, in a brief hearing Tuesday, handed the case over to the appeals court after an attorney for the sanctuary's owner didn't object. She and attorneys for the state declined to comment afterward.

The animals were tranquilized and transported last week and now are being housed in a high security building just outside Columbus.

The Department of Agriculture has said that Kenny Hetrick, who has operated the animal sanctuary near Toledo for more than 30 years, didn't apply for a permit until October — nine months after the deadline — when he received a notice from the state saying he needed to voluntarily surrender the animals because he had failed to get the necessary permits.

Inspectors who visited the animal sanctuary in November found there were unsecured padlocks and chains on the cages, fencing that could be easily separated by the animals and not enough fencing around one enclosure, according to a letter sent to Hetrick. The state also said it found problems with the feeding and care of the animals.

Ohio began requiring owners to register exotic animals after a suicidal man in eastern Ohio released dozens of bears, mountain lions and tigers from his farm in 2011 near Zanesville. Authorities killed 48 of the animals out of fear for the public's safety.

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