Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Reptile rescuer catches criticism


Neighbors protest wildlife nearby

By Perry Schaible
Enquirer contributor

Damien Oxier and his son, Nathan, 11 months, watch as a 100-pound African Sulcata Tortoise eats grass behind his home in West Chester.
(Glenn Hartong/The Enquirer)
Damien Oxier with a common green Iguana in his home in West Chester.
(Glenn Hartong/The Enquirer)
WEST CHESTER TWP. - A reptile rescue service is riling neighbors, who are worried about possible threats to the safety of their children and pets from the iguanas, turtles and other animals being cared for.

Damien Oxier has spent the past 10 years caring for sick, injured, and unwanted animals. A veterinary technician by trade and the director of the nonprofit Arrowhead Reptile Rescue, Oxier says he helped 230 animals in 2003 and by June had worked with 150 more.

But the state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator must defend what he's doing at the township's Board of Zoning Appeals meeting tonight.

Several residents of the Knottingwood Estates subdivision, which sits behind his 2-acre property on Hamilton-Mason Road, filed complaints saying they are concerned for the safety of the 15 children in the neighborhood.

The township agreed and cited Oxier for a zone code violation - operating a business in a residential-zoned area. Oxier appealed, denying that his service constitutes a business or a public threat.

Nicole Allison believes they are.

"I'm not against what he does, but you cannot do that in a residential setting," said Nicole Allison, a Knottingwood Estates resident.

Allison says her 9-year-old Scottish terrier suffered from sudden convulsions, vomiting, and paralysis in September and died.

"That my dog died the way he did, it just seems so obvious that he probably got bit by something," she said.

Her three children, ages 3, 5, and 7 are no longer allowed in the family's backyard.

Barb Kley, also a Knottingwood Estates resident, said neighbors have seen iguanas in her yard.

"I just don't want to live next to it," Kley said.

Oxier says the fears are unfounded. He is required to keep detailed records and adequate cages. He says any poisonous snakes he receives go to a researcher.

"We're not the type of people who would have animals running amok. We're trying to prevent that," Oxier said. "If people meet me and take a good look at what we do, they'll realize that we're professionals; we're not idiots, we know what we're doing."

Carolyn Caldwell, program administrator in wildlife management and research for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said rehabilitators are required to work with a veterinarian and go through an annual renewal process. Facilities are inspected at a minimum of every two years. There are 87 licensed home-based rehabilitation centers in Ohio.

Oxier says he hopes the Board of Zoning Appeals will realize that he provides an important service to the community. Otherwise, he could no longer take in orphaned animals.

He has worked with local organizations such as the West Chester Police Department, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and the Newport Aquarium.

The Board of Zoning Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. at 9100 Centre Pointe Drive, Suite 150.




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