PIKETON - An animal protection agency is investigating a man whose pet lion escaped from a pen and darted after cars on a highway.
The 550-pound lion named Lambert loosened a cracked support beam and crawled out of the pen on Monday. Some motorists called 911 and reported seeing the big cat "attacking" vehicles along U.S. 23 in nearby Wakefield, about 80 miles east of Cincinnati. Owner Terry Brumfield was able to get the animal back into the cage without anyone getting hurt.
But Brumfield will be issued a warning by the Pike County Humane Society, which is investigating the escape, said agent John Owens.
"His animal got loose, and it was certainly a danger to itself and to the public," Owens said.
It`s unclear if Brumfield is to blame for the escape, or whether the animal simply saw an opportunity to take off, Owens said.
"We`ll look at everything just to make sure they`re being properly maintained," he said.
Brumfield and his wife have two lions, which Brumfield bought three years ago from a friend who could no longer care for them. Brumfield said raising the animals helped him battle a bout of depression that set in after a car accident left him injured and out of work.
"To me, he`s a big, old house cat. A big, old teddy bear," Brumfield said of Lambert. "But to anybody else, he`s a wild animal."
Ohio doesn`t require permits for exotic or dangerous animals, but that would change under a bill introduced by state Rep. George Distel, a Democrat from Conneaut. The bill, which is pending in committee, would require people who keep exotic animals to obtain a permit and to have annual inspections.
Private collectors are exempt from federal licensing, said Dean Vickers, state director of the Humane Society of the United States.
It`s difficult to estimate how many lions and tigers are privately owned in Ohio because so few are licensed, Vickers said.
Vickers said his organization views ownership of all exotic animals as wrong.
"They belong in the wild, not in people`s backyards or basements or bedrooms," he said.