Exotic Animal Keeper Faces Charges

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - An exotic animal keeper faces 47 charges from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that his farm violates the Animal Welfare Act.

Lorenza Pearson's L&L Exotic Animal Farm in Copley Township also has been cited as a public health nuisance by the Summit County Health Department.

Pearson, 54, started the farm 23 years ago. It's now home to 60 lions, tigers, leopards, black bears and other animals that live in cages behind his home.

Pearson's attorney, William Whitaker, said the animals are well cared for and his client is trying to make improvements.

"He's saved most of these animals from being put to death, from circuses, from people who had them and decided they didn't want them," Whitaker said.

Health Department spokesman Bob Hasenyager said the animals could spread disease or escape and harm nearby residents.

"I believe he thinks he's doing a good thing for the animals. But he's in over his head," Hasenyager said.

Pearson has had a history of problems with the animals.

In 1983, Pearson's 2-year-old son was mauled to death by a Bengal tiger that lived in his home. Five years ago Pearson's 2-year-old grandson was mauled by another animal.

Police Chief Michael Mier said Pearson's neighbors have dealt with odors, noises and the occasional wild animal that would wander off. One neighbor found Pearson's alligator in his back yard.

Township, county and federal officials inspected last fall and found animal skeletons strewn about the property and a pool of blood in the shed that Pearson used to butcher horses and cows for his menagerie, Mier said.

Whitaker said Pearson has since stopped the butchering.

Hasenyager said the animal waste dumped in trash receptacles wasn't cleared often enough and Pearson has provided no evidence that the animals have been vaccinated.

On June 13, the health board declared Pearson's property a public health nuisance and gave him 10 days to clean it up. Pearson filed an appeal.

Three days later the USDA filed administrative charges.

The USDA complained that some cages weren't big enough for the animal to move around, were dirty, weren't structurally sound and that animals weren't provided with uncontaminated food and water.

If the USDA finds Pearson guilty, it could fine him $2,750 per count per animal per day and revoke his license for exotic animals. If the Health Department finds him guilty, he also may have to get rid of them.

None of the animals could be reintroduced into the wild because they couldn't fend for themselves, Hasenyager said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)