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Law called cold-blooded - Reptile-store owner went to jail over rule requiring tagging of native reptiles
December 2, 2005
By Alan Johnson ajohnson@dispatch.com
The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus, Ohio
To submit a Letter to the Editor: letters@dispatch.com

During three days in the Fairfield County jail, Terry Wilkins was surrounded by drug dealers, rapists and robbers.

When fellow prisoners asked what he was in for, Wilkins wouldn't answer.

He couldn't bring himself to say he was behind bars for failing to put identification tags on his 10-year-old daughter’s pet turtles and snakes.

Wilkins, 51, is the first Ohioan to serve jail time for violating a 2000 state wildlife-preservation law that, among other things, requires owners of Ohio native reptiles to tag them, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials.

A personal-integrated transponder (PIT) tag slightly larger than a grain of rice must be inserted under the reptile’s skin using a syringe.

The chip contains a bar code readable by a hand-held scanner so that the pet’s owner can be identified.

Wilkins, owner since 1994 of Captive Born Reptiles, 1259 Morse Road, initially lobbied for the law that eventually was used to convict him.

"What I fought for and the reason I supported this law was to protect our native species. What has happened is exactly the opposite."

Wilkins consulted with state officials when the law was drafted, but he changed his stance when tagging was added.

He said tagging often kills animals, causes them to develop lesions or become infertile.

The Eastern Plains garter snake, native to Marion and Wyandot counties, is near extinction because of tagging by wildlife officials, Wilkins thinks.

The pet-store owner tangled with wildlife officials twice before. Once he was cited for failing to submit his license application on time.

He also was charged for being one animal off in a count he submitted to the state.

Both times he got suspended sentences,  probation and fines. Then in March, a wildlife inspector stopped by the store and asked to visit Wilkins’ home in Fairfield County.

While he had given away most of his Ohio native species, he allowed his daughter, Keiko Woo Wilkins, to keep eight turtles and four snakes.

He now knows it was a mistake.

The inspector told Wilkins he would have to tag the pets. He refused.

"All she was doing was forcing me to torture and kill my daughter’s animals," Wilkins said.

Keiko grew up around reptiles at home -- the family has more than 500 -- and at her father’s store.

"Instead of giving her a baby rattle I gave her a baby alligator," he said. Smiley, Keiko’s 4-year-old pet alligator, surprises customers at the store by crawling on the floor.

Because he refused to tag Keiko’s reptiles, Wilkins was cited for a misdemeanor violation.

Wilkins argued to Judge Patrick N. Harris in Fairfield County Municipal Court that the reptiles belonged to his daughter; the law does not apply to those under the age of 18.

But Harris ruled that a 10-year-old wasn't responsible enough to keep reptiles as pets.

He sentenced Wilkins to 90 days in jail, suspending all but three days. He also extended his probation and required him to pay for his jail stay. Wilkins was in jail November 15-17.

"It’s a pretty bogus thing," said Lee Cullins, of Lancaster, a friend and former employee of Wilkins. "Terry’s labeled. It’s like they want to make his life miserable."

Jim Quinlivan, law-enforcement administrator for the ODNR’s Division of Wildlife, said that’s "preposterous."

"These are things that warranted a charge and were approved by the prosecutor. They started out as minor infractions, but they were issues that needed to be addressed."

Quinlivan doesn't agree that tagging animals harms or kills them. On the contrary, he said, transponder tagging is the standard used by collectors, vendors, breeders and regulators for quite some time.

"They have all told us that PIT tagging is safe."

Quinlivan also says Wilkins is not the victim of selective enforcement.

"We feel we've been extremely professional in answering his concerns. He is very passionate about some issues. Obviously, we disagree with him.

"We, for quite some time, have been ready to close the case and move on."

Quinlivan said the law has been beneficial in helping track native Ohio reptiles, curbing illegal collection in the wild and protecting rare species.

For Keiko, it means she must part with pets she’s had since she was a toddler. They will go to a family friend in Florida.

"I wish we could still keep them," she said as a black rat snake named Spike slithered up her coat sleeve.

Copyright 2005, Columbus Dispatch.
Related reading:
Man Jailed For Not Tagging Turtles, Snakes
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The 51-year-old Terry Wilkins is the first Ohioan to serve jail time for violating a 2000 state wildlife-preservation law that -- among other things ...
Man jailed for refusing to tag Ohio native reptiles Akron Beacon Journal
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This property rights information sent by Julie Kay Smithson of http://www.PropertyRightsResearch.org Not supported by foundations or grants. http://www.propertyrightsresearch.org/2005/support_this_effort.htm

Her Note:

(Note: From the "Just when you think you've heard it all" files. This article is important in its illustration of the fact that laws -- no matter how Draconian or ill-advised -- can be brought to bear on people in ways that citizens never dreamed. Add a judge who rules that "...a 10-year-old wasn't responsible enough to keep reptiles as pets" and you have the perfect setup for continued and expanding "rulings" and "laws." Countless children have had pet turtles -- one must wonder if this judge's own children were able to have pets. The man sent to jail for refusing to harm his daughter's pets is clearly knowledgeable about reptiles and has a clear and compelling reason for refusing to obey this "law:" The Eastern Plains garter snake, native to Marion and Wyandot counties, is near extinction because of tagging by wildlife officials.)


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

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