Jeff and Debbie Gillium of Lodi, Ohio, have been the proud owners of an adult bear for 33 years, but a state law now threatens to break up the trio. The couple have owned Archie since the black bear was 6 years old. "I rescued him from a horrible situation. he was living in a cage that was four feet high," said Jeff Gillium. Now, Archie is nearing 40 - and near the end of his life. But Gillium fears his beloved pet might die before he has to. The Ohio Department of Agriculture sent the couple a letter last week saying they must either provide a permit for the bear, voluntarily surrender him to be tranquilized and transferred out of state, or transport him themselves.
"The ODA says they're going to come out and use a tranquilizer," said Gillium. "That might kill him. My only other option is to kill him myself."
An agency spokeswoman said the Dangerous Wild Animal Act was passed in 2012 to prohibit casual dangerous wild animal ownership in Ohio.
"The law provided a reasonable opportunity for existing owners to obtain a permit to keep their animals and this owner did not comply," said Erica Hawkins. "If relinquished as requested, the Department's animal health veterinarians will work to identify an appropriate, permanent home for the animal and will use their professional judgment to develop a plan for the safe movement of the animal."
Debbie Gillium said the couple was never informed of the law.
"We didn't know," she said. "The only thing I was told is that we were grandfathered in from the division of wildlife and the USDA."
That law changed in 2012, after several exotic animals were let loose in Zanesville, Ohio by a suicidal owner. If you owned your "pet" before then, you had to apply for a permit and prove proper caging and care for the animal. Before 2012, there was no law against owning exotic animals.
The Gilliums have the correct permits for Archie up until 2013.
They say when they went to renew they were told they didn't have to. Now that it's too late to get a permit, state law prohibits them from keeping Archie.
"I think that he should be allowed to finish out his life here, his years here," said Debbie. "I think that's the fair thing. We are not using him for profit. He's never harmed anybody in all these years. They should've notified us they had all summer."
The ODA says they will look into whether or not the couple was notified in 2012 when the law changed and also whether or not they had the up to date permits before then.