Thursday, November 24, 2011

172. Wild animals are not our pets

The nation was stunned and appalled as Ohio again made news when Terry Thompson of Zanesville turned loose a number of wild animals that he kept on his animal farm and then killed himself. Most of the animals were subsequently killed by law enforcement.

Many people who care about animals asked whether the animals needed to be killed, or whether they could have been tranquilized and taken to a zoo or animal sanctuary. While certainly that is a valid question, I will not debate the decision of law enforcement in this circumstance. It's understandable that our modern culture will not, and cannot, accommodate wild and aggressive animals roaming our streets.

However, it doesn't mean that I don't feel for the animals. It actually took me a couple of days to get over this heartbreak, as I continue to be disappointed by human perspective. I don't know what kind of life these animals had on this animal farm, but obviously they lived part of the day in cages. I thought how terrible it must have been for them-they lived their lives in captivity, and as soon as they are released, probably confused and certainly unequipped to handle the local environment, they were immediately hunted and slaughtered. The photo of all these dead animals was truly horrific.

What I will debate is why Ohio continues to be one of the worst states when it comes to laws that prohibit the ownership of "wild" animals. You would have thought we learned our lesson after a bear killed a caretaker in Columbia Station, but Governor Kasich allowed the temporary restriction that former Governor Ted Strickland implemented to expire. Strickland's law prevented anyone convicted of animal abuse from owning wild animals. Thompson had been convicted of animal abuse.

I just don't understand why we continue to be fascinated with the idea of owning an animal, really any animal, "wild" or not, other than maybe cats and dogs. Cages and other forms of confinement are imprisonment, regardless how much someone loves them. This includes not only lions and tigers and giraffes, but also lizards, snakes, ferrets, turtles, fish, rabbits, cows, pigs and birds. My email signature includes my favorite quote on the issue from Jacques Deval, "God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages."

If anyone has watched an animal in a cage, they will note that many engage in a rhythmic pacing back and forth. Some animals, including many on factory farms, literally go insane. They don't understand why they are in a cage, why they are not prohibited to live as nature intended. They have to deal with all of their suppressed instincts, and it is disturbing to watch.

Interestingly, this latest misfortune occurs just before the release of a new movie entitled, "We Bought a Zoo," featuring my wife's favorite actor Matt Damon. It's not just untimely, it sends the wrong message. PETA has asked director Cameron Crowe to include a warning message in the film and in its promotional materials. Vice President Lisa Lange explained in a statement, "As the tragedy in Ohio gruesomely illustrates, wild animals aren't Disney characters. They have very special needs that all too often aren't met by people who buy them on a whim because they think it would be 'cool' to own a tiger."

We need laws that prohibit the ownership and trade of wild animals.

We're a bored species-one that has time for reality television, Super Bowls and cell phones. Unfortunately this boredom often includes the mistreatment of animals-including even the mistreatment of animals we think we love.

If we really love animals-it's simple, we must stop eating them, experimenting on them, keeping them as pets and ruining their habitats. They are sentient beings, not just here for our convenience, amusement or expendability. They are here to live, reproduce and die, just as nature intended-free.

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