Late state veterinarian led Ohio through wild animal crisis

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – In a job where pigs, cattle and sheep dominated, longtime Ohio state veterinarian Tony Forshey was even pushed out of his sizable comfort zone in 2011. Forshey died on November 26, Ohio Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda said Sunday. He was 69.

In 2011, a suicidal owner released dozens of wildlife from an east Ohio farm in Zanesville, including black bears, African lions, and the rare Bengal tigers. Forty-eight were killed out of fear for public safety.

In the wake of the trauma, Ohio state lawmakers knocked on Forshey as they urged new urgency to strengthen Ohio’s exotic animal regulations.

“We’re really dealing with the unknown here,” Forshey told The Associated Press at the time, noting that no one knew how many privately owned wild animals Ohioans were at the time.

U.S. Republican MP Troy Balderson, then a state senator, said Forshey played a pivotal role in drafting the dangerous wildlife bill he sponsored and building the state’s very first facility to house the creatures.

The two were touring the state with then-Agriculture Director James Zehringer as they developed the new policy, Balderson said, and Forshey played a vital role in reassuring fearful, even angry, exotic pet owners.

“Even when we did the wildlife trips – I mean, these people wouldn’t be happy with us – but he didn’t get on the track and just felt sorry for them,” he said. “It was bigger than a state veterinary title. He made it bigger. “

Zehringer said Forshey also oversaw the creation of Ohio’s 2011 livestock standards, which were the most comprehensive in the country.

Forshey has served as the state veterinarian and head of the animal health department since 2006. His 27-year career also included 20 years of teaching at his alma mater, Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine; for a period as interim agricultural director under Republican Governor John Kasich; and inducted into the Ohio Agriculture Hall of Fame.

In 2001, in Ohio, his professional efforts helped eradicate pseudorabies, a contagious herpes virus in pigs, and shifted agriculture to focus on animal health and disease prevention, including through the expanded use of antibiotics.

“He never pretended to be the smartest man in the room,” says Zehringer. “He was always very knowledgeable, but never spoke to anyone.”