The more than year-old legal effort by Tiger Ridge Exotics owner Kenny Hetrick to get back his animals continued Thursday with an evidentiary hearing in Wood County Court of Common Pleas.
The hearing, set to continue today, is to allow additional evidence in the case as Hetrick appeals two state permit denials.
Hetrick had filed two cases appearing the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s separate denials of a rescue facility permit and a wildlife shelter permit last August; the administrative hearings for those took place in Columbus. The ODA denied the permit applications in the summer.
Briefs filed in Wood County court appealing the denials argued points including that the ODA “applied the wrong regulations” to Hetrick concerning the rescue permit and, in both cases, the ODA “arbitrarily and capriciously interpreted and applied” the Ohio Revised Code “and as a result Hetrick was denied equal protection under the law.”
The appeals ask that Hetrick be given the permits, that his facility be re-inspected, and that he be given time to comply with any non-compliance issues found.
A post on the “Save Tigerridge Exotics” Facebook page on Wednesday characterized the hearing as “the first step of many, but an important one. This is to introduce very important evidence not permitted in (ODA administrative) hearings.”
During the hearing Thursday, Hetrick’s attorney, Karen Novak, examined the ODA’s Melissa Simmerman, assistant state veterinarian, concerning a multitude of documents about other individuals’ exotic animal registrations and inspections in the state, as well as renewal permit applications.
James Patterson, an assistant attorney general representing the ODA in the proceedings, continually objected to the documents being entered as evidence in the matter. At issue, he said, was that some of the documents had already been entered in the administrative hearings or excluded there, or that others were not admissible. In some of the latter cases, he noted that the people discussed in the documents were not in similar situations to Hetrick.
Kelsey noted the objections and said he would consider whether the evidence would be allowed at a later time.
Among the individuals discussed in the presented documents was one who was previously issued an ODA permit but did not correct subsequently discovered violations. Despite that, he was issued a 2015 permit.
“To date, as we stand here, is he in compliance?” Novak asked Simmerman.
“Not to my knowledge,” she said.
Also noted were some renewal applications that were submitted late, but still resulted in permits being issued.
Novak also discussed the case of Cindy Huntsman, who operates Stump Hill Farms in Massillon, and during the period discussed in the hearing had predatory cats, bears, primates and alligators at her facility.
As discussed in court, Huntsman had never been issued an ODA permit, nor filed for one. Huntsman reportedly told the ODA that she was exempt because she already held a license for a bald eagle; the ODA did not agree.
Simmerman said that Huntsman had since relinquished eight bears and four alligators to the ODA.
After a question from Novak, Simmerman indicated that she was not aware that one of Huntsman’s tigers was provided to the “Today Show” in New York.
The case began Jan. 28 of 2015 when 12 animals were seized from Tiger Ridge, located on Fremont Pike in Stony Ridge, after the denial of a state-mandated permit for the facility. Kelsey subsequently issued an order for the animals to be returned, which incited a sustained legal back-and-forth between the ODA and Hetrick in a number of jurisdictions.
One of the animals, a lion named Leo, was euthanized by the ODA in April. The animal had reportedly been in failing health.
Seems Simmerman, STATE VETERINARIAN, was unaware of a lot of things…Yet has the power to make major decisions concerning the lives of animals…WTF!?!