Fatal Attraction: Zanesville, Ohio

I’ve spoken before about the Animal Planet TV Show Fatal Attractions.  This past Thursday, they showed two episodes in which people were keeping tigers, perhaps in “honor” of this week’s events in Zanesville.  In one case, the owner was killed by one of his cats; in the other, it was a couple, and only the husband was killed.  I’d say that was inevitable. 

But back to Zanesville.  The information about the events has been jumbled, but here is what happened from the best information I could put together.  A 62 year-old man named Terry Thompson kept 56 exotic animals on his farm near Zanesville.  These included lions, tigers, leopards, bears, monkeys, and wolves. and On Tuesday, he let 50 of them go, opening up the cage doors and cutting the wires on the sides of the cages, making it virtually impossible to capture and re-cage them.  Then he shot himself to death.  Then the Sheriff’s Department shot and killed 49 of the 50 animals.  The missing animal, a monkey, was thought to have been killed and eaten by a lion. 

I was angry at everyone concerned in this incident:  the man, his wife, the State of Ohio for allowing him to keep these animals, and the Sheriff’s Department for killing them all with no apparent attempt to save them.  This is the photo that just inflamed me: 

But then I got real.  Starting with the Sheriff’s Department.  What choice did they have?  Zanesville is a small town of about 20,000.  The nearest zoo is an hour away, in Columbus.  It was getting dark.  They managed to locate one person from a sanctuary or something who unsuccessfully tried to tranquilize one of the tigers, so a Deputy then killed it.  The Sheriff is a guy named Matt Lutz, who in his many news conferences looks pitifully young and out of his league.  But the more times I saw him, the more I developed respect for him.  First, he took full responsibility for the killings.  “I gave the order.”  And the order was to shoot to kill any animal that appeared to be trying to get outside the farm fence.  And again, I ask, what choice did they (did he) have?  (Which brings me to the fact that the above photo is misleading–thank you, Internet.  It appears the poor animals were all massed at the same point of the fence, and were slaughtered like ducks at a shooting gallery.  In fact they were towed there in some fashion in order to be buried.)  Were they supposed to let them out, then hunt them down one by one through miles of open territory, in the dark?  Or wait until morning when they could get a team out from the Columbus zoo?  Meanwhile losing livestock, pets, and maybe people?  As Sheriff Lutz said, My job is to protect the public. 

As for Thompson himself, I ask…Why?  Did he think the animals would somehow make it on their own?  Like people think when they let cats or dogs go in the woods, thinking that at least they’re giving them a fighting chance?  Did he not realize they would all be killed?  Maybe he did, but couldn’t bring himself to kill them himself.  Sort of a Death By Cop By Proxy.  And as I suspected, the animals were starving.  They would have killed and eaten anything they could have gotten their paws on.  The six surviving animals (3 leopards, 2 monkeys, and a baby Grizzly) are now in the Columbus Zoo.  They were emaciated too.  And I ask, Why them?  Why were they the only animals he didn’t release?  Then I realized it’s pointless to try to get inside the mind of a person in that state.  He didn’t leave a suicide note, so we don’t even have clues from that.  But he had recently been released from prison on a gun charge (why am I not surprised?), his wife had left him, he was broke, and there was clearly no way he could take care of these animals.  And who took care of the animals while he was in prison?  His wife. 

And his wife now owns the surviving six animals in the zoo, and she wants them back.  I can’t really say I blame her that much any more.  At least she left her husband, which seems like the only thing she could have done to try to change his behavior since nobody else could do anything. 

That brings me to the State of Ohio.  And I’m not over being angry with them in the least.  Apparently there was a temporary law restricting the ownership of exotic animals which the Governor allowed to expire last year.  (He has now signed an emergency measure putting the law back in force).  And this is the stuff that makes me crazy.  God forbid we should infringe on anyone’s “freedom” to do as they please.  At least until it becomes politically unpopular.  Or there is a disaster. 

Last weekend I did a (prophetic) post saying I’d like to regulate the hell out of how people are allowed to treat their animals.  I’m focused on one small area, which is the law concerning tethering.  We’ve all seen the pictures of dogs chained to trees or poles who have starved, strangled themselves to death, or frozen to death.  All you have to do is look at the literature from the Humane Society of the U.S. (I won’t even open their mail any more).  But when one of those dogs manages to escape, they are hungry, desperate, and aggressive.  If their treatment as dogs (or lions, or tigers) doesn’t move you enough–if it takes danger to people to get you excited, then there it is. 

When something like the Zanesville incident occurs, everybody cries and says “Someone should have done something”.  Well, that Someone is you.

7 responses to “Fatal Attraction: Zanesville, Ohio

  1. In case it seems like I’m scolding, I’m not. There are many, many quiet things you can do (as opposed to participating in citizen committees and ranting on blogs) that are arguably more effective. Such as donating money to causes you believe in,no matter how small an amount. And most importantly, voting. If you’re one of those Someones who whines after the fact (and I don’t know anyone who is), then yes, I am scolding. Especially when it comes to voting, my opinion is that you lose your right to whine.

  2. You know, like the bumper sticker: Don’t Blame Me–I voted for the Other Guy :)

  3. Wild animals belong…in the wild. Zoos are a prison, justified the same way slavery was justified..the animals (slaves) are so much better off in a zoo (the plantation) than in the wild (in Africa). They get care, food, etc….Hogwash! Especially with TV, there is no reason for a zoo because TV can bring the majesty of animals living naturally in the wild to all.

  4. I would question your basic premise that zoos justify “animals are so much better off in a zoo.” AZA makes no mention that the animals are better off in zoos than in the wildlife. http://www.aza.org/health-husbandry-and-welfare/ Zoos do provide one important service. They act as a repository for the DNA of highly endangered animals such as Pandas etc. At least keeping some of the rarest of the rare animals in captivity will ensure their species survival for a little while longer. Remember, that there are poachers out there trying to kill off elephants, tigers, pandas, etc. In those cases perhaps one might say that the animal is better off in the zoo than in the wild where he will be poached.

  5. “there is no reason for a zoo”

    There are hundreds of reasons, each cat has a different story but most are here instead of euthanized. This is a wonderful story and a fun day. Staffed my many volunteers who care deeply for the cats..

    http://bigcatrescue.org/

  6. Zoos aren’t like they used to be,and they aren’t circuses or roadside attractions. They are absolutely necessary and do good work, as do legitimate rescues and sanctuaries (as opposed to hoarders like Ohio guy). The reality is that even animals in the wild must be managed by humans because their habitats have shrunk so. There is not that much wild left, especially for big cats.

  7. Good article in USA Today yesterday (reprinted in the Tallahassee Democrat) about the shrinking numbers of big cats. I was shocked by how close tigers are coming to extinction, and it may already be too late for wild tigers. Estimates are that only 3,000 are left in the wild, and of those, only 1,200 breeding females.
    Until we understand that it’s habitat protection we need to focus on, we will never succeed. The only animals who survive in the wild will be animals who are able to live in climates and on land that isn’t useful to us humans.

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/environment/story/2011-10-28/lions-tigers-extinction/50958540/1?csp=34news

    To succeed, we must share, and give up some of the desirable land to animals if we want them to continue to exist. I understood this years ago.
    But this is very, very hard to get across in the micro-world. Sure I’d like tigers to survive, but I need another acre of land for my farm…But it’s why I fought so hard against Wal-Mart. In a manner of speaking, I did it for the bats. We have to fight for a little acre here and there, which, put together with someone else’s little corner of the world, and then someone else’s, eventually forms a big picture. As trite as it is, the slogan Think Globally, Act Locally is really the only way to do it. Okay, done ranting for now :)

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