COLUMBUS, Ohio – The tiger cub being used to continue a high school football team's live-mascot tradition this season stays at an out-of-state facility, meaning it doesn't quite fit under the exemption created for it when Ohio tightened rules on possession of dangerous animals, the state Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.
The exemption was meant to let Massillon Washington High School and its boosters locally possess a tiger under certain restrictions. School boosters have displayed tiger cub mascots named Obie for decades, and leased the cats in recent years. But the caged cub at the season opener came from and returned to a facility elsewhere, department spokeswoman Erica Hawkins said.
The facility indicated the arrangement with Massillon boosters would continue through the season, so officials who oversee enforcement of Ohio's regulations on dangerous animals are discussing the details to ensure the deal meets applicable restrictions, Hawkins said.
"The legislature very explicitly intended to exempt this mascot program from the legal requirements so long as it was being done in a responsible way, so we just need to make sure that the arrangement that was made (is) not breaking any other laws," she said.
She said the facility providing the tiger is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but she wouldn't identify it or say where it is. Moving animals across state lines for display falls under USDA regulations, so representatives of that agency have been in touch with the state and might conduct care checks for the tiger, Hawkins said.
The boosters have been tight-lipped about the Obie arrangement and any related costs. Club president Matt Keller told The (Massillon) Independent at last week's opener that it would be premature to assume the tiger would be at future games.
Ohio tightened rules for exotic animal ownership after a suicidal man released dozens of bears, tigers and other creatures at his Zanesville-area farm several years ago.
Under the exemption for Massillon, the school was asked to attest that the Obie cubs wouldn't have contact with the public, would live at an accredited facility after serving as mascot and would be cared for throughout their lives. The district submitted a no-contact affidavit but hasn't provided documentation on the other points.
A message was left Wednesday for the school superintendent.