By now you’ve all heard the story of Terry Thompson, who released 56 exotic animals at his Muskingum County farm last October. And you know the story of his widow Marian Thompson, who fought to get the surviving five animals back from the Columbus Zoo.
But there have been animals residing on the Thompson’s Kopchak Road farm since that infamous day in October.
And months after the exotic animal release that made national headlines, Sheriff’s deputies are still chasing loose animals from the Thompson’s farm.
"It is frustrating for us to have to tie-up our cars when we feel there’s a better use for our officers to be out there assisting our citizens in a different manner," says Sheriff Matt Lutz.
Since November, the Sheriff’s Office has received 13 calls saying horses escaped from the farm. A farm that borders heavily traveled Interstate 70.
"It does throw a little bit of a curve into it with the interstate being close, because we know if we put that on the back burner and don’t get to it fast enough that those animals could have time to run large down around that area and it could cause some serious property damage or injuries," Lutz says.
On separate occasions callers reported: a horse standing on the Interstate overpass, a horse loose on the south side of Interstate 70, a horse grazing on the interstate berm, three horses running down the middle of the road, and one home owner on Rehl Road reported four horses destroying his property and feeders.
Sheriff Lutz says deputies will attempt to wrangle the animals, but when they can’t they have to get into call in a Thompson farm hand, since Marian usually isn’t at the farm.
"It’s a huge process for us, because you know we’re sending a cruiser out there, and by the time however long it takes to get there, plus waiting for the person to get there, waiting for them to get the animal caught," he says.
With only four to eight cruisers on patrol in the county at a time the Sheriff says they can’t afford to have one tied up chasing down horses.
And then there’s the question with the Thompson’s well documented financial troubles, can Marian afford to keep the horses and property safe and healthy?
"When you have a 77-acre farm and you have a fence all the way around it, it’s a lot to keep up with," says Lutz.
Mary Jones, founder of the WHINNY Horse Rescue, says some fencing that borders the Interstate is just woven wire, which is a cheaper fencing choice and not as secure.
"From what I see it was very weak in places, being held up by metal rods that probably through time have gotten loose so it’s just a matter of pushing it over and walking over," says Jones.
Jones recommends using the woven wire fence with wood posts that are closer together. She then says an electric wire should be run along the top of the fencing.
And there are other issues with the property. In past due property taxes, penalties and current year property taxes $12, 015.89 is owed on the Kopchak Road farm. An adjacent piece of property in Terry’s name has $2,354.07 owed in past due and current year property taxes.
Then there are two federal tax liens placed against the Thompsons in 2010.
One is for $39,642.14. It cites unpaid taxes of $33,244.54 in 2007 and $6,397.60 unpaid taxes in 2005.
The other is for $16,053.48. It cites unpaid taxes $4,233.52 in 2003, $144.08 in 2004, and $11,675.88 in 2006.
And besides taxes and fencing, horses themselves are a huge expense. There are more than two dozen on the Thompson Farm.
"A horse to maintain it in a healthy condition takes anywhere from $250 to $300 a month," says Jones.
We tried to speak with Marian Thompson regarding the farm and she said she can’t answer any questions.