Category Archives: Exotic Pets

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.

The Vegetative State

It is a mystery of modern medical science as to how a person (me, for example) can do what amounts to almost nothing and still end up physically exhausted and mentally drained. 

Of course, I do work 8-9 hours a day, Monday through Friday.  “Work” for me, though, involves a lot of observing, communicating, and supervising.  (Q:  How many managers does it take to change a light bulb?  A:  Only one.  But it takes two employees–one to hold the ladder and the other to actually change the bulb.)  On Friday, that 8-9 hours turned into 12, which turned out to be my limit–or slightly beyond it. 

On Saturday morning, I did the NY Times crossword puzzle online with Fakesister, as usual, and that was the last hurrah for my brain for the day.  I spent the rest of the day unapologetically vegetating.  And what does it take to truly vegetate?  Television, of course. 

First, I watched a Tarzan movie.  “Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle” with Gordon Scott as Tarzan.  The movie was made in 1955 and was one of only four with Scott as Tarzan.  I’ll never forget the first time I ever saw someone other than Johnny Weissmuller playing Tarzan.  I was shocked to the depth of my being.  It was at that point that my mother had to explain to me that Tarzan was not a real person, and that these were actors.  I already knew about Santa and the Easter Bunny, but this was something different.  This was total betrayal.  Having no choice, I finally adjusted to it, but I have forever remained loyal to Johnny Weissmuller.  If it isn’t him, it isn’t Tarzan.  Gordon Scott, by the way, manages to do all sorts of jungly ape-man things, like rescuing a damsel in distress from a raging river, without one hair on his 1950’s haircut ever being rearranged.  Tarzan with hairspray. 

I watched an episode of Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero that I had actually seen before.  It focuses primarily on the the construction challenges, the design, and the architecture of the Memorial, but that’s inseparable from the emotional content of the project.  To give you one small example:  the two reflecting pools that will sit on the footprints of the two towers will have the names of the victims etched in bronze on plates around the edges of the pools.  One day, one of the construction supervisors is permitted to go to the plant where the etching work is taking place.  He is allowed to press the button which starts the etching machine, and then he watches as the machine engraves the name of his baby brother.  His brother was lost on 9/11 and his remains were never found.  Once the metal cools, he touches the letters and says “This is my brother now.”  As a result of watching this show, I am determined to one day go to NYC and see it.  (Spencercourt, when the time comes I will be calling on you for travel advice.)

Finally, I watched a couple of episodes of “The Invaders” on the National Geographic Wild channel, about invasive animal species.  One was about hippos in Columbia, which were part of Pablo Escobar’s menagerie.  What is it with these bad guys who like to keep collections of exotic animals?  Besides Escobar, Uday Hussein comes to mind.  In any case, what should another of these invasive animals be but my old friend, the nutria?  I never before realized how actually dangerous they are.  They carry diseases and parasites of all kinds, most seriously, tularemia and leptospirosis.  And not only that.  In Maryland, where they appear to have the most serious problem with them outside of Louisiana, Federal Wildlife officials are on a mission to eradicate them from the Delmarva Peninsula.  They use Labrador Retrievers to track them, but the dogs are fitted with special collars which cover their entire throats, because cornered nutria will go for the jugular with tooth and claw.  And to think I used to watch them swim in, and sometimes hang out on the banks of, Lake Ponchartrain.  Luckily my dog, who was always with me, was pretty incurious. 

This is a kind of snapshot of the kinds of things that interest me.  From Tarzan to 9/11 to nutria.  It’s no wonder I’m tired.

News From Florida

It dawned on me today that sometime last month I had an anniversary.  I’ve now lived in Florida for ten years.  Like most people in Florida and California, I’m from Somewhere Else.  Being from Somewhere Else gives you the right to tout the good stuff about your state, and disclaim the rest.  As in, Hey I’m not from here!  It’s not my fault!

If states were ranked by the number of crazies in it, Florida would be up there somewhere at least in the top 20, and Dave Barry of the Miami Herald does a good job of reporting on the crazies in Miami.  But, you have to remember that Miami is in “South Florida”, which is technically a different state than “Central Florida” or “North Florida”.  Which is along the same lines of New Orleans being a different state than Louisiana, New York City being a different state than New York, and Chicago being a different state than Illinois. 

Speaking of Illinois, I am voting it in a dead tie with Louisiana for craziest politics.  (New York is a distant third.)  For craziest overall, I still have to go with Wisconsin, where people routinely wear hats that look like wedges of Swiss cheese.  Not to mention they once elected a pro wrestler as governor.  Or was that Minnesota?  I routinely get my Midwestern states confused, except for Iowa where I used to live, briefly.   Don’t even ask me to point out Michigan on a map. 

And now for the news from Florida.  Our Governor, Charlie Crist (Governor Charlie as we all like to call him) announced this week that he is running for the U.S. Senate, even before he finishes his first term as governor.  Governor Charlie is extraordinarily popular, with approval ratings (depending on which poll you look at) somewhere in the 70% range–higher than Obama, in any case.  And this, in spite of not having done anything I can think of.  But he’s very photogenic, and he talks good, as we say here in North Florida. 

Governor Charlie is fond of calling himself The People’s Governor.  He is fond of saying “the people are the boss”.  He calls the Governor’s Mansion “The People’s House”.  (To which one letter writer to the local newspaper said, if he doesn’t stop saying that, I’m showing up one night with my blankie and my pajamas.)

As far as I’m concerned, you can go ahead and start calling him Senator Charlie.  Or as one pundit put it, If he runs, he wins.  Did I mention he’s a Republican?  Kinda, sorta.  The Republicans aren’t fond of him, especially since he appeared onstage with Obama in Fort Myers, and also took the stimulus money–unlike his “principled” colleagues in say, Louisiana and South Carolina.

In other Florida news, today’s newspaper reported that a woman in Melbourne is suing a pet cemetary.  When her squirrel monkey, Mighty, died of cancer in 1994, he was buried in this cemetary and she became so upset by the condition of the grounds that she had his remains moved.  Now she is suing the owner of the pet cemetary for the cost of the original burial and the cost of moving Mighty’s remains to the tune of $500.  The cemetary owner says she was unreasonable, expecting him to clean up immediately after several hurricanes in 2004 and expecting him to mow the grass weekly. 

Well, you know, it’s very hard to commune with the spirit of your dead monkey when you have to wade through knee-high grass which might be full of snakes, chiggers, mosquitos, and poisonous toads.  This is Florida.  And did I mention?  I’m not from here.

Exotic Pet Ownership

The death of Travis the chimp in Connecticut is sensational, in the bad sense of the word, and has been unfortunately overshadowed by the cartoon in the New York Post which obviously referred to his death.  But let’s talk about Travis himself.  Supposedly living a life of privilege, drinking wine from a stemmed glass (say what?).    I guess it’s but a small step from wine to Xanax.  But neither wild nor domesticated animals should be given alcohol or unprescribed drugs, nor in any other way treated as if they are human.  Not that I haven’t done it.  In an emergency, I’ve given a dog Benadryl a couple of times, for pain, until I could get them to the vet.  Even that was a bad idea, although it didn’t hurt.  But it could have.   

We may love animals as if they were human.  We may, in some cases, love them more than humans.  But they are not human, and it is a tragedy and it borders on abuse to treat them as if they were. 

The real story is, this woman, Sandy Herold, should never have had a chimp in her home, even if he had his own bedroom.  Chimps are incredibly bright, and they are very social animals.  Also, they are aggressive and are fierce hunters in the wild.  So no matter how much Ms. Herold “loved” him, she could never replace the companionship of other chimps.  She deluded herself if she believed that her “love” for him was returned in kind. 

Notice that I put the word love in quotation marks.  Ms. Herold reminds me of animal hoarders, who “love” animals so much that they can’t bear to turn one away.  The inevitable end to that story is that they end up with more animals than they can afford to care for, and the animals begin to starve.  Not being able to bear the thought of an animal dying, they begin to cause dying by a more painful method.  The parallel here is that Ms. Herold had only one animal, but an animal she could not control or properly care for, and the attack on her friend was not the first clue.  Among the chilling aspects of the story (Ms. Herold stabbing Travis with a butcher knife, for example), is the 911 call, in which she says about Travis attacking her friend that “He’s eating her”.  Well, that’s what they do.  He’s a chimp. 

Now that I’ve been all self-righteous about it, time for some revelation.  In the early ’70’s, I impulsively bought an owl monkey from an exotic pet store (which I’m happy to say, was eventually shut down).  I named him Spock.  They sort of have Spockish ears. 



No matter how fierce they may look, they are tiny things…weighing between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 pounds.  I bought monkey food for him, which he wouldn’t eat.  The only thing he would eat was fruit cocktail, except for the cherries.  He lived in a large cage in my bedroom.  He got sick, and had diarrhea.  I took him to the vet.  This was the first clue I had that maybe I had done a bad thing–the vet yelled at me about having an exotic pet.  I had to give Spock medicine from an eyedropper, and he hated it.  I would have to trick him.  I had two eyedroppers—one with milk, and one with the medicine.  He loved the milk (but he never knew what he was getting…), so I would put my hand around his tiny head to force open his jaws, and give him a dropperful of milk.  Then he would keep his tiny mouth open and I would blindside him with the medicine. 

He got better, but still refused to eat what he needed.  I “loved” Spock, but I realized he was going to die if I kept him.  So I donated him to the zoo. 

As it turned out, the zoo didn’t know any more about owl monkeys than I did.  That first winter, they put him out on what they called “Monkey Island”, an artificial island with an artificial moat around it, with all the other monkeys.  It’s amazing that he survived and that the other monkeys didn’t eat him.  He did survive, but his tail froze and they had to amputate most of it. 

But there is a happy ending here.  Spock turned out to be one of the only male owl monkeys in captivity, and he was sold to the Chicago zoo for breeding purposes.  I was sad, because I could no longer visit him, but happy for him that he got to live out his days as a stud.  These days, owl monkeys are an endangered species.  Hopefully, not for a lack of trying by Spock. 

The moral of the story is that I learned my lesson.  I don’t want to “love” an animal to death.  I did have one more encounter with an exotic pet, which was more in the nature of a rescue, but that’s food for another post.  I think Sandy Herold is in for some hard times ahead, and honestly, I don’t have much sympathy for her.