LODI, Ohio -- A toothless black bear caged on a northeast Ohio property for decades is old and unlikely to escape and should be allowed to stay there instead of being relocated, according to the owners fighting to keep it even though they didn't get the permit now required by state law.
Jeffrey and Debra Gillium belatedly applied for a permit and filed a civil complaint against the state in their effort to keep the 41-year-old male bear, named Archie.
A change.org petition lobbying for Archie to stay put has garnered more than 5,500 signatures and in January, animal rights group Renegade's Run rallied for the Gilliums to be able to keep their bear.
In a letter this week, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said it plans to deny the permit because the application was submitted Feb. 27, more than a year after the deadline. The letter also said the couple violated the law by not having the bear properly registered and microchipped.
Through an attorney, the Gilliums have argued that they met previously required caging and registration standards. They said they hoped Archie could be grandfathered into the newer permit system and spend the last part of his life at their 2.6-acre property in a rural, heavily wooded area near Lodi, about 30 miles west of Akron.
They said they've kept him for more than 35 years without incident. Attorney John Oberholtzer also notified ODA that the Gilliums were willing to build a new cage, if necessary.
The permit denial takes effect unless they ask ODA for a hearing to challenge it within the next month. Calls to a phone number for the Gilliums rang unanswered Friday, and Oberholtzer didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
The Gilliums' civil complaint filed in Medina County argues that they weren't adequately notified about the new rules enacted after a suicidal owner released dozens of wild animals at his Zanesville farm in 2011.
ODA said a different department denied a permit for the bear and the Gilliums should have known about the state's requirements. ODA said that under the law, it can't approve a permit for anyone who didn't apply by Jan. 1, 2014.
The state has asked the court to dismiss the civil case. A hearing is scheduled April 9.
An ODA spokeswoman said in an email that she couldn't discuss whether the state has plans to seize the bear while the civil matter is pending.