A black bear was removed from a Stark County property behind a home Monday for violations related to the cage it was being kept in.
Jeff Fitzgerald, who has owned the 1,000 pound bear for nearly 18 years, told newsnet5.com that the Ohio Department of Agriculture showed up to his Plain Township home without warning and took the bear while it was in hibernation. The home is located on Millvale Ave NE.
Fitzgerald said he purchased the bear, named Ben, at an exotic pet sale.
"It's not right. It's like coming into your home and taking your kids from you. They're better off just shooting me and being done with it," Fitzgerald said.
However, the agency said there was a long history of safety concerns with Fitzgerald and his bear.
A spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Agriculture said the agency came to the home for an inspection in 2014 and found multiple violations. Officials told Fitzgerald he had to fix holes in the roof of the cage, correct some fencing violations, and that his steel posts were not large enough.
The spokesperson said the agency returned to the home multiple times after the 2014 visit to see if improvements to the cage were made.
The following is a statement from Erica Hawkins, communication director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture:
The state’s dangerous wild animal regulations exist for the protection of both Ohioans and the animals living in the state. This owner was given numerous opportunities over the last 18 months to make the needed safety upgrades to his animal’s cage to bring it into compliance. If the fence had been repaired and the holes in the roof fixed in that time, there would have been no need to transfer the bear into state custody.
September 19, 2014
2014 Permit inspection conducted resulting in the following non-compliances:
· fencing not secured to the inside of primary enclosure posts (OAC § 901:1-4-01.1(D))
· primary enclosure posts which were less than the required 3” inch diameter steel
(OAC § 901:1-4-02(B))
· the primary enclosure’s roof containing large holes (OAC § 901:1-4-01.1(C))
Mr. Fitzgerald signed an inspection form indicating he intended to correct the violations prior to a scheduled follow-up inspection.
December 12, 2014
A follow-up inspection shows no progress was made in making the required improvements to the fencing however Mr. Fitzgerald made assurances that the repairs would be made.
January 6, 2015
ODA approved Mr. Fitzgerald’s application to renew the permit for his bear with the understanding that repairs were in progress.
February 27, 2015
A second follow-up inspection shows no progress had been made in making the required improvements to the fencing. Mr. Fitzgerald indicated the weather had been an issue and signed an inspection form acknowledging his enclosure was not in compliance with the law.
June 2, 2015
A third follow-up inspection shows no progress had been made in making the required improvements to the fencing. Mr. Fitzgerald signed another inspection form acknowledging his enclosure was not in compliance with the law.
June 19, 2015
ODA issues a letter outlining the continued violations that need to be addressed.
July 24, 2015
A fourth follow-up inspection shows very little progress has been made in making the required improvements to the fencing and that all three violations still existed.
December 25, 2015
Mr. Fitzgerald applies to renew the permit for his bear for 2016 despite multiple acknowledgments his caging is in violation of state law.
February 29, 2016
Prior to commencing seizure actions, ODA performs another inspection on the property and confirms all three violations still exist. The bear is transferred into state custody and Mr. Fitzgerald’s permit application is denied.
When workers showed up to inspect the cage Monday, they decided to take the bear since Fitzgerald wasn't correcting the issues.
Newsnet5.com was at the scene as crews tranquilized the bear to transport him. It took nine people to haul him away.
Officials said Ben will be taken to the Ohio Department of Agriculture headquarters in Reynoldsburg for a couple of weeks. After that, the agency will try to find the bear a permanent home at a sanctuary.
Fitzgerald has the right to appeal, but he told newsnet5.com that he doesn't know if he can afford that process.
"I'm going to have to spend thousands of dollars through court costs and lawyer fees and everything else to try to get him back."