Lorenza Pearson, an animal exhibitor, breeder and owner of the former L&L Exotic Animal Farm in Copley Township, has died.
Mr. Pearson, 64, who died Tuesday, was born in Columbus, Ga., but spent most of his life in Copley Township.
Family members on Friday recalled his love of animals and how much they enjoyed riding on horses through the Akron area while growing up. They would follow behind Mr. Pearson who was out front with his horse and buggy leading the way.
In the farm’s heyday between 1999 and 2005, Mr. Pearson was noted for having more than 82 exotic animals, including lions, tigers, bears, links, leopards, bobcats, cougars, a jaguar and fox. The animals were caged outside his home on a dead-end street on Columbus Avenue in southern Copley Township.
The animal farm, which had been in operation as far back as the 1980s, drew the attention and concern of township trustees who feared the escape of exotic animals.
There were three animal attacks reported at the farm. The first came in 1983 when a 300-pound Bengal tiger kept in the house mauled Mr. Pearson’s 2-year-old son to death.
The incident prompted legislation from Summit County Council that banned wild exotic animals as pets in homes and backyards.
A second attack involved his 2-year-old grandson being bitten by an unidentified animal in 1997, requiring stitches to close the wounds.
The last reported incident was in 2006 when a federal veterinarian was attacked by a white tiger during an inspection. The tiger reached out with its paw and managed to put the inspector’s arm in its mouth before she was freed.
The township eventually sued Mr. Pearson for creating a threat and public nuisance with his collection of wild animals. The Summit County Health Department joined in the legal fight citing health concerns, cramped habitats and odors from the property.
The legal fight stretched from 2001 to 2008 before the township was able to shut down the farm.
“Initially, Lorenza was very standoffish with us, with me in particular being the police,” Copley police Chief Michael Mier said. “My position was just to accompany the folks from the health department and the USDA.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture was charged with inspecting the farm since it gave Mr. Pearson a license in 1985 to keep and exhibit exotic animals on the property.
“He was very suspicious at first, but over time he actually got to the point that he liked me and he and I talked,” the chief said. “He wasn’t a bad guy, but I always felt that he got in way over his head, because he got way too many animals that he could not afford to take care of and couldn’t physically take care of, that’s what really happened. He truly loved the animals, he just couldn’t say no and kept taking on more.”
Mr. Pearson’s family said the farm’s closure broke his heart, but he was not a quitter and faith brought him out of his depression.
“He loved his family and his animals. He had wanted to be an animal trainer since he was a little boy and that was his dream that he lived,” said Barbara Brown, who spoke on behalf of the family.
Brown, who was once married to Mr. Pearson, said although he had no formal animal training, he was amazing with the animals.
“I’ve seen him do things with animals that people said were unheard of; he could go in a cage and remove their food without being harmed. We’re talking full-grown lions and tigers,” Brown said. “I can remember when one of his cats had cubs. He was in there with her helping her. He took the cubs, cleaned them off and gave them back to her. He was fearless around his animals. He said he knew them, he trusted them completely and they trusted him.”
He is survived by his wife, Mary Turner, and his 13 children; Donna Simmons, Timothy Crowe, Cedric Averitte, Steven Brown, Lorenzo Pearson, Kizzy Spaulding, Shannon Jackson, Joseph Christner, Johnathon Makary, Christine Jones, Jennifer Pearson, Robert Pearson and Samantha Pearson.
Funeral services will be held at noon today at North Hill Community Baptist Church, 938 Avon St., Akron. Calling hours will be held one hour before services.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.