The Department of Agriculture recently took reporters into a place where few people have been - and even fewer will go in the future.
Statehouse Bureau Chief Karen Kasler was one of those invited inside the new exotic animal facility, outside of Columbus.
The exotic animals facility was custom-built from the ground up - there was no template or model to base it on. Department of Agriculture director David Daniels says the building the agency ended up with is flexible in its design and secure in its operations.
"This building is about 20,000 square feet. We have 30 large animal enclosures here. We have four primate enclosures. We have a room here that will house snakes and reptiles when that regulatory authority kicks in."
The big animal cages are made of six gauge wire and have six padlocks each. A transport cage is locked into place against the cage opening to move the animal in. There are heavy steel panels separating the cages that can be opened from outside them, so an animal can be moved to the adjacent cage while its cage is cleaned and food and water is provided. A cage must be closed and locked before another can be opened, and never is a caretaker and an animal inside a cage at the same time. Daniels says if an animal would get out of its cage, there are 17 cameras and motion sensors that monitor the cages and take and send pictures to staff if there's movement. Then there are gated locked doors inside the rooms and in the main area, and there are two exterior fences, the taller one 12 feet tall and electrified. But Daniels says all that security isn't just for the animals.
"We are just as concerned about what's in this building as what is outside this building. We want to make sure that there are, hate to say it, but while we're worried about an animal getting out, we're also worried about people getting in."
No animal will ever go outside. But the facility is climate controlled and has warm and cooler areas in each of the bigger enclosures. There's room to add some more cages if necessary, but the thought is that the facility will only be needed for around 10-15 years, because Ohio's new exotic animals law bans new ownership of animals. Current owners will be able to keep their animals but not get new ones, and have to meet state standards for containing them or state veterinarian Tony Forshey says the state can take them and bring them here.
"This is not a zoo. It's more like a humane society or a rescue-type facility and so it's for the temporary housing. It's our intent to bring these animals in, give them the best care, make sure they're healthy."
And Daniels restates that very clearly - it's not a zoo, it's a holding place for animals that have been seized or are in the process of being transferred out of state.
"This is a facility that we have to aid us in our regulatory responsibility over animals that are not permitted or are not cared for. When this is all said and done, I will not have access to this building. This will only be accessed to those who need to be back here."
And Daniels also says there will be no public announcements when animals arrive at the facility - only law enforcement will be notified, Daniels says, to protect curious residents from trying to get inside to see them. The legislature allowed $3.5 million dollars to build the facility. Daniels says it's not completely done, but the contract guaranteed the building would cost $2.9 million. Until there are animals in it, Daniels says it's impossible to estimate the daily operations cost.