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Ohio high school's use of live tiger cub as mascot under review since cat lives out of state

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Officials are reviewing whether a live tiger cub being used as an Ohio high school football team mascot meets standards for possession of dangerous animals, the state Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.

When Ohio lawmakers tightened rules on such animals, they created an exemption for the tiger cub so Massillon Washington High School could continue its live-mascot tradition. The exemption allowed the school and its boosters to possess a tiger locally, under certain restrictions. School boosters have displayed tiger cub mascots named Obie for decades, and leased the cats in recent years.

However, the caged cub at this season's opener came from and returned to a facility out of state, 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.

Massillon schools Superintendent Richard Goodright said Wednesday that fans shouldn't expect a live mascot for Thursday's game.

"Obie will not be at our game tomorrow," he said.

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.

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