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Wilmington zoo owner says Ohio situation would not happen here

READ MORE: Wilmington zoo owner says Ohio situation would not happen here

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Like scenes from a movie, exotic animals roamed the streets of Zanesville, OH, earlier this week. They were let loose just before their owner Terry Thompson killed himself.

As a result, deputies shot dozens of the more than 50 freed animals, including 18 rare tigers and 17 lions. There is one monkey unaccounted, though investigators today say there is a "high probability" it was eaten by one of big cats. Six surviving creatures were taken to the Columbus Zoo. The slain animals have been buried on Thompson's farm.

It was not a pleasant sight, and one that hits home for those who care for similar animals.

Sherry Tregembo grew up with big cats.

"These animals are like my children," she said.

As a fourth generation zoo owner, she now takes care of the animals at her family's zoo on Carolina Beach Road. Hearing what happened in Ohio left her saddened, but she knows police had little choice.

"The police had to do what they had to do to protect the people," Tregembo said. "You wouldn't want any kids or anybody to get injured."

Others in Wilmington are appalled that the animals were killed instead of sedated.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God! Are we not in a civilization anymore?' These animals were endangered. Why couldn't they by shot with knockout drops? I don't understand it," Heather Hertzog said.

Investigators say the animals in Ohio were intentionally released. That's something the Tregembo family says will never happen here even if they have a disgruntled employee. As an added safety feature, when it comes to the dangerous animals, the carnivores, only certain people at the Tregembo Zoo have keys to the cages.

"No one here is going to let any of them out, that's for sure," Tregembo said. "We have plenty of checks and balances on the locks, and there's certain locks on certain cages that only me and my father have. The zookeepers don't even have. So we have precautions on what can be let out at a certain time."

But this is a zoo. A controlled environment. In certain counties in North Carolina anyone can have exotic pets. Should that law be changed Tregembo does not think so.

"I know plenty of people who have animals as pets, exotic animals, that do all the right things, and they shouldn't be punished because of one person's, I don't know, loss of their senses, I guess," she said.

During heavy storms or hurricanes, the Tregembo Zoo moves the dangerous animals into reinforced cages with steel bars just to make sure a fallen tree wouldn't provide a path to freedom.

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