Zanesville’s Exotic Animal Tragedy

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have heard from people who have “exotic” pets that are not considered dangerous and are not deemed at risk because of domestication. I have no complaint with these individuals, provided that they adequately research and provide for their pets’ unique needs. In my opinion, any legislation brought forward needs to allow for reasonable care of non-dangerous animals by responsible pet owners.

I am very scanton-mountain-lion-art-BZTATad and very angry today.

A senseless tragedy has happened in my state of Ohio, and it was totally preventable.

Terry Thompson’s so-called exotic animal farm in Zanesville, OH is 91.4 miles from my home in Canton, OH. Yesterday, Mr. Thompson apparently opened the cages of over 40 exotic wild animals on his property, purposefully releasing them, then proceeded to kill himself, according to the Muskingum County Sheriff.

Faced with several dangerous wild animals on the loose, the sheriff was left with few options for securing the public’s safety. Killing the animals was the only viable option.

At this writing, most of the animals have been killed and only a handful recaptured.

I do not have complaint with the Sheriff’s choice of hunting down and killing the animals. I DO have complaint with Ohio’s governor and legislature for not taking action sooner to prevent the sale and ownership of exotic wild animals in Ohio.The sheriff should have never been put in the position of hunting down wild animals.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, Thompson, a convicted felon and convicted animal abuser, would not have been able to have exotic animals on his property if an emergency rule passed by previous governor Ted Strickland had been maintained. Our current governor John Kasich opted to allow the emergency rule to expire.

Ironically, Kasich claims that there were no resources to enforce the law. I wonder whose resources will pick up the tab for the law enforcement effort going on right now? It cannot be cheap to enlist deputies, state police officers, helicopters, zoo officials, etc. to track down wild, dangerous animals.

Ohio has been very backward in it’s attempts to address legislation affecting the care of animals. Communities often go over the top with Breed Specific Legislation, using very ineffective legislation to address the problem of aggressive dogs, yet they have done basically nothing to address the problem of puppy mills and exotic animal auctions/farms that create serious problems for humans and animals.

I hope that the international attention focused on Ohio currently will help Ohioans see the error of their ways.

This blog focuses primarily on the issues of domestic animals and the bond between humans and pets. I could not ignore this egregious example of animal abuse, however. When animals are abused, as they were in this case (inappropriate captivity, reportedly poor conditions in the past, animal hoarding, and intentional release into inhabited areas) humans are also in danger.

The Humane Society has been appealing to the Ohio authorities for a long time to address the lack of effective exotic animals legislation in the State of Ohio. They have released a statement about the Zanesville situation, and they have developed an action page for the public to voice concern on the subject. I hope that you will visit these pages and let your voice be heard.

I am sure that there are people with exotic pets who are well-meaning, good people. Wild exotic animals, though, are unpredictable, and for most, it is in their nature to be aggressive. Often, people who are ill-equipped to manage them “collect” (another word for hoarding) wild animals, thinking they are rescuing them. As in this case and another Ohio exotic animal farm recently in the news, the owners are people who have had troubles with the law and psychological instability. They abuse the very animals that they claim to rescue, and they put their communities at risk.

Ohio is one of less than 10 states that do not have legislation banning the ownership of wild exotic animals. Let’s hope, in light of the present tragedy, that will end soon.


Profiles of Hope: Celebrate National Feral Cat Day!

The video above explains what National Feral Cat Day is all about. Best Friends Animal Society is a major leader in addressing the needs of feral cats and other abandoned pets. Many rescue groups look to them for guidance in developing shelters and and other programs for abandoned pets.

I think promoting awareness about humane treatment of feral cats is extremely important. Feral cats are at great risk for being abused and otherwise harmed by society, because they are considered a nuisance. Colonies of feral cats also tend to be harmed by children who are not well cared for themselves. We need to look for systemic changes to address the needs of both.

I have twice been contacted in recent weeks about feral cat colonies that were being abused by children and adolescents. Both colonies were tended by caring people. Both colonies developed around low income housing areas where there were other community problems. Both areas had poorly supervised children with behavior problems, many of whom had likely experienced trauma from family and/or community violence. In both situations, the caring individuals who tended to the cats had witnessed youngsters killing – yes outright killing – the cats.

Both situations seemed hopeless, BUT THEY WERE NOT. The woman tending the cats in this story written awhile back has now started an initiative to get Humane Education built into the curriculum of the local school district. The superintendent is backing the initiative, and a group of animal and child advocates are working together to develop the curriculum.

In the second situation, the county Animal Control Officer is working with the woman tending the cats to identify the child who killed the cat. Once the child is identified, the officer is committed to finding appropriate interventions for the child to insure that his needs get attention.

In both situations, the women who bring care to the animals were emotionally stressed by the traumatic events that they witnessed. The fact that they care and put themselves through such stressful circumstances proves to me that they are not only heroes for the animals, but also for the children who have been so misguided.

It is important for such caregivers to attend to their own needs, as it can be emotionally overwhelming to witness some of the human pain that gets directed onto animals. Finding positive solutions to addressing systemic problems can help. Addressing your own needs is important too. This article gives a good resource for coping with compassion fatigue. I encourage you to read it and follow the provided resources.

The most important thing is to reach out to others. When it seems hopeless, sometimes another person can see the silver linings that are not apparent to you.

Are you considering getting involved in helping with feral cats? Check out the resource rich Best Friends Animal Society website and follow the Best Friends Blog for all kinds of great information. Alley Cat Allies is another great resource.

You CAN make a difference for feral cats, and also for the people who cohabit their communities.

From bottom left to right: Noah, Brewskie, Okey, Who, Slick

Here’s a photo of my fabulous five felines who were all once semi-feral cats or offspring of feral cats. They are now the rulers of my home. I only wish I could teach them to make the bed… Sigh. I guess you have to choose your battles.

So what are you doing for feral cats or other abandoned pets? What are you doing to ensure our children learn to respect them and act in humane ways?


Okey’s October: Art, Encouraging Thoughts, and Auctions!

Drawing by BZTAT

On October 30, we will be celebrating Okey’s “Gotcha Day,” the day that she was rescued from that infamous parking lot! To celebrate, and to raise funds for the Okey’s Promise: Celebrating the Human – Animal Bond project, I am going to create an artwork every day in October, and post it for auction on my main website, BZTAT Studios. Each artwork will be accompanied by an encouraging “Thought for the Day”.

I hope that you will check out the auctions and bid if you like. Or just enjoy the artwork! Everyone who bids, however, will be entered into a contest for a free artwork at the end of the month. All proceeds from the auctions will go towards the Okey’s Promise: Celebrating the Human – Animal Bond project.

The drawing above is the first piece available for auction. You can learn more about it here if you’d like to check it out.

It has been an amazing year with Okey as she has overcome challenges and begun to trust again. She is still skittish, but she grows more trusting every day. I spent much of the day in bed today nursing a cold, and she was with me the whole time, snuggling and rubbing her head on my hand. What a resilient little girl she is!


Public art to make our world a better place for all creatures great and small.