Family angry seized exotics in poor health

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A family in Ohio whose exotic animals were seized by the state more than year ago is angry after learning that a tiger and bear moved to a South Dakota sanctuary were found in poor health.

The tiger and bear were among more than a dozen animals found to be underweight in September at the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in South Dakota.

The sanctuary has lost its federal license for exhibition and 18 animals have been transferred to another sanctuary in Colorado.

A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the two animals from Ohio had health problems — the tiger had a bleeding mass in her mouth that affected her ability to eat and was underweight while the bear was thin and was continually pacing.

Both were among 11 removed from a Toledo-area man’s private animal sanctuary amid a dispute with Ohio regulators over its permit requirements. They family has asked a court to rule that the animals were improperly taken and return them.

“As heartbreaking as it is, it fuels our fire more and more,” said Corrina Hetrick, whose father owned the animals. “It’s made us see how important of a fight it is, and how important it is that we keep going.”

Ohio took custody of the animals from Kenny Hetrick’s roadside sanctuary after officials said he ignored warnings about needing a permit for the exotic animals. Inspectors also reported that his cages weren’t secure enough to prevent an escape.

Mark Bruce, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the tiger and bear from Hetrick’s collection have been getting better in Colorado.

He said a state veterinarian had been discussing treatment options with the South Dakota facility before the federal inspection and that the state tries to keep track of the animals’ health “as best we can from a considerable distance.”

“When we choose these sanctuaries, we have a long process we go through,” Bruce said. “In this case, we had picked a facility that met all our standards and something happened. What happened we’re not quite sure.”

Corrina Hetrick and her father said the state should have done more to make sure the animals were under proper care.

“They tell us the animals are being well cared for, and all this,” said Kenny Hetrick. “It’s pretty obvious that they’re not.”