Former state employee testifies cougar at Tiger Ridge Exotics was “fighting for her life”

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STONY RIDGE (13abc Action News) – We are following new developments in the Tiger Ridge Exotics case out of Wood County.

A former state employee testified on Tuesday that Kenny Hetrick’s cougar was not fully tranquilized and not safely transported from Stony Ridge to the holding facility near Columbus when the state seized the animals on January 28th.

The Hetrick family and their supporters, who are fighting for the return of the exotic animals, released their audio recording of the witness testimony to 13abc. In that recording, the former state inspector says of the cougar: "She was awake and fighting for her life.”

The testimony is from a man who had worked as an inspector for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. He is not a veterinarian, but was on the scene as a member of the team that confiscated Hetrick’s exotic animals.

According to Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesperson Erica Hawkins, the state fired him shortly after the seizure of Hetrick’s exotic animals for “performance issues.”

"Now I don't know what to believe,” says Corrina Hetrick of Tiger Ridge Exotics along the Fremont Pike in Stony Ridge.

Hetrick was in Columbus on Tuesday attending an administrative hearing by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

The topic of the public hearing was the transfer order the state executed on her family’s property January 28th.

One witness ,who Hetrick is not naming, testified about how the state crew -- which he was a part of --- handled Hetrick’s cougar named Cindy. The witness said when they got word a ‘stay’ was coming from a Wood County Judge, “It was now ... hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. Let's get them out of here."

He went on to say about the cougar: "One of the guys was carrying her out in a net out of the barn and she almost got away. She was like basically fighting for her life wrapped up inside this net."

The witness testified, "She was not completely sedated when she was put in her transport cage. She was struggling … … while placed in a really small volume metal box with sharp ... with kind of an un-sanded sharp grading on the inside."

The former state inspector said, “When we got back to the Department of Agriculture, there was pretty much blood everywhere in the cage and raw bits of flesh from her nose and her paws, so that was something I had to deal with in the next few days."

Before the ODA terminated him, the witness said, "I would go in and clean her cage every day and hose out the blood that was all over the walls and the tracks of blood all over the enclosure from her pads being raw."

"It's animal cruelty,” says Hetrick.

Erica Hawkins, the spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, calls the testimony of the now-fired employee “overblown exaggeration.” Hawkins says the former inspector was a witness called to testify by the defense counsel.

Hawkins also says his account does not match with the other inspectors the state also had in Stony Ridge that day, as well as a veterinarian from the Columbus Zoo.

Hawkins released this statement on Wednesday: “Dr. Randy Junge, a veterinarian from the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium with more than 25 years of experience caring for exotic animals, was on-site when the animals were removed from the property and testified that he did not observe anything that gave him cause for concern when the animals were physically transferred to their transport cages. Assistant State Veterinarian Dr. Melissa Simmerman acknowledged that the cougar did have a scratch on her nose when she arrived in Reynoldsburg, but it healed quickly. Dr. Junge testified that he observed all of the animals in the state's Reynoldsburg facility the next day and that they all appeared to be in good condition, calm, with no evidence of any illness or injury."

"I'm so mad. I'm hurt,” says Corrina Hetrick. “It's heartbreaking."

There are several legal proceedings happening simultaneously.

A Wood County judge has not yet made his ruling about the animals.

Also, the Ohio Department of Agriculture is holding another administrative hearing next week regarding Tiger Ridge Exotics. This will be for the formal process of officially denying Hetrick’s request for a state permit.

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