Wife presses exotic animals back after mass escape in Zanesville, Ohio

In this Oct. 19, 2011 file photo obtained by the Associated Press, carcasses lie on the ground at the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, Ohio.
AP Photo, File

(AP) COLUMBUS, Ohio - An attorney for a suicidal animal owner's widow who is seeking the return of exotic animals that survived an October release said she has adequate cages for them at her eastern Ohio farm, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Three leopards, two primates and a bear survived the release of dozens of wild creatures in Zanesville. They have been under a state-issued quarantine at the Columbus zoo. One leopard was euthanized after it was struck by a door at the zoo.

Attorney Robert McClelland wrote to Ohio officials last week on behalf of his client, Marian Thompson.

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The state's agriculture director told him earlier this month that the Ohio Department of Agriculture required proof of the arrangements Thompson has made for the animals' confinement and care.

Thompson's husband, Terry Thompson, freed bears, lions, endangered Bengal tigers and other animals on Oct. 18 before killing himself. Authorities were forced to shoot 48 of the creatures as they moved into the community.

McClelland told an attorney for the agriculture department in a letter dated April 18 that the animals now held by the zoo were not harmed in the October release because they were in proper cages.

"A limited number of cages were harmed during the incident and there are plenty of alternative cages to safely secure the few remaining animals," McClelland wrote.

The AP obtained McClelland's letter on Friday through a public records request.

Officials said at the time of the quarantine order that they were concerned about reports that the animals lived in unsanitary conditions where they could be exposed to disease. The order prevents the zoo from releasing the animals until it's clear they're free of dangerous diseases.

McClelland asked the state for the animals to be returned to Thompson upon the return of negative test results.

Medical results released on Monday showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested.

The department said Monday the animals would remain under quarantine at the zoo for continued observation for signs of rabies, which the agency said could only be confirmed after an animal is dead.

"No determinations regarding the status of the quarantine will be made before the observation period has concluded," the agency said in its Monday statement.

A spokeswoman for the agriculture department has said the standard observation period for the animals is six months, which ends Friday.

Marian Thompson has demanded an agency hearing to appeal the quarantine order, which is scheduled for Monday. She has questioned whether the state had the authority to quarantine the animals on the suspicion of potential dangerous infectious diseases.

"Marian Thompson never wanted the incident of October 18th to happen," McClelland wrote. "In the wake of the events, she never wanted to part ways with her animals."