Tag Archives: Animal Planet

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.

Animal Hoarding

Like “Fatal Attractions”, “Animal Hoarding” is one of those programs on Animal Planet you watch so that you can say, “At least I’m not that bad”.  It’s a bit like slowing down at the scene of a traffic accident to see if you can see any dead bodies on the road.  You don’t want to, you know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself. 

Disclaimer:  At the height of my animal ownership I had four dogs and two cats.  I began to sense that I had a certain kinship with these people, and I had to apply the brakes.  I’m now down to two dogs and one cat.  Due to attrition so to speak.  I am not in the same league with these people, however. 

One of the things animal hoarders seem to have in common is the inability to tell you how many animals they have.  That’s the first thing that separates me.  I can’t imagine not knowing where all your animals are and what they’re doing at any one given moment.  Another thing they have in common is the gradual recognition (way too late) that they have crossed a line somewhere.  That instead of “saving” the animals, they have become the very sort of people they hate.  But they don’t know how to get out of it, and how to stop. 

Each episode of Animal Hoarding tells two stories.  One last night was about a guy “Peter” who kept chickens in his house.  Roosters, mostly.  The scene at his house was like bedlam.  The crowing alone was deafening.  And although it wasn’t shown, I suspect there were lots of fights.  (Me:  Chickens?  In the house?  At least I’m not that bad.)  He did not want to give any of them up, for fear they would be killed.  Especially the roosters.  It turns out there are rescue groups, even for chickens.  The one in this episode was called “Backyard Chickens”.  Who knew? 

The other story was about a woman named “Kitten”, which just seems like a cruel joke, because her problem was cat hoarding.  Like “Peter”, she couldn’t tell you how many cats she had.  When asked, both of them said things like “Around 60–maybe 70”.  Well Kitten had a lot fewer cats than she thought she had, because some of them were dead and she didn’t even know it. 

They eventually brought in a team to take away her cats.  The team came in wearing coveralls and respirator masks and carrying shovels.  They literally shoveled out her house, and in the process they moved out all the furniture.  Under one piece of furniture, which looked like a chest of drawers or something similar, they found a live possum.  I guess cat food must be tasty to possums.  Who knew? 

It may seem that I’m making light of this, but I’m not.  Animal Planet shows a disclaimer before and during every episode which says that animal hoarding is being considered as a psychological diagnosis all its own.  Perhaps they mean for inclusion in the DSM. 

At this point, I would have to disagree.  I think animal hoarding is merely a symptom.  A response,a behavioral response, to some underlying problem we already have a name for.  Like depression. 

In Kitten’s case, they made her live cat-free for a certain period of time.  This gave her time to think, and to re-establish relationships with her family.  The carrot was that if she did well, she would get one (ONE) of her cats back.  Her favorite one.  At the end of the program, it shows the cat coming back home, and I was in tears.  Happy for her, and at the same time hoping she’d come far enough not to restart the bad path she had taken.