- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A lawyer challenging the state’s seizure of six tigers and four other exotic animals from a roadside sanctuary argued Wednesday that they were improperly taken and that their owner was denied due process and treated differently than others as the state enforced new restrictions on keeping such creatures.

Ohio took the animals, including a bear, a leopard and a cougar, from Kenny Hetrick’s roadside sanctuary in January 2015 after officials said he ignored warnings about needing a permit. Inspectors also concluded his cages weren’t secure enough to prevent an escape.

Hetrick is among the owners who have challenged the restrictions Ohio enacted after a suicidal man released lions, tigers and other creatures from a Zanesville-area farm in 2011.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which has oversight of such animals, contends its director’s transfer order for the animals was legally valid and supported by evidence and should be affirmed.

Hetrick’s attorney, Karen Novak, argued Wednesday that the court should find the order invalid or return the case to Franklin County court to give Hetrick an opportunity to introduce more documentation to show he was treated differently than other owners in similar circumstances. She said no one had a permit by the deadline set for the law, but other owners got extra time to complete their applications and get permits without facing transfer orders.

The Department of Agriculture argued that its director had discretion to make such an order and that Hetrick’s situation was different from other owners’, in part because he didn’t submit a completed application until months after the deadline.

A three-judge panel from Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals heard the arguments, including a dispute over whether the transfer order was properly served. The court could take months to issue a ruling.

Denials of permits for Hetrick are separately under appeal in Wood County.

Ohio relocated Hetrick’s animals under contracts with out-of-state facilities, where they remain while the related legal cases are pending.

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Find Kantele Franko at https://www.twitter.com/kantele10 . Her work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/kantele-franko .

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