Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Oh, man, having worked for a Sheriff's Department for 12 years, my sympathy is with Muskingum County (Ohio) Sheriff, Matt Lutz. Having over 50 dangerous wild animals loose in his jurisdiction was a no win situation for him. He was bound to get grief either way he went.

If he ordered his deputies to shoot to kill the lions, wolves, bears, tigers and monkeys let loose by their suicidal owner, Terry Thompson, the animal lovers were going to go nuts. Since it was falling dark, if he took the second route of tranquilizing the animals and they got away until the sedative wore off, later attacking someone, he'd catch even more hell for allowing his people to be put at risk.

He went with Plan B and sure enough, Facebook has erupted with horror and fury. The misguided animal aficionados are ready to tar and feather the sheriff. But, it's easy for those who don't have to live with their decisions to be positive about what should be done in any situation. They don't have to consider that some small child, whose family may not have gotten the news (there actually are people who don't watch television or listen to the radio or play on Facebook all day) might be out playing in the yard, easy prey for wild animals, made aggressive by the stress of freedom and left unfed by their dead owner.

Or for that matter, not kids, but cows or cats or dogs or horses. Are they not just as important as lions and bears? If it was your beloved pet disemboweled by a 300-pound tiger or your prize show horse slashed to ribbons by a lion, you might not feel so kindly toward the predators.

In the end, Sheriff Lutz did what he had to do. His first priority as sheriff is to be responsible for the safety of his citizens and their property.

We all wish it hadn't had to happen. The thought of 18 rare Bengal tigers being slaughtered is heart-breaking. With time, rescue efforts to capture the animals might have been mounted but the sheriff didn't have the luxury of time and so he acted, which is what sheriffs are elected to do.

I think of the deputies I worked with. They were a mixed bag of personalities, as any collection of human beings tends to be. Some of them would have hated having to kill these magnificent creatures. But most of my deputies were hunters. Some of them would, no doubt, have been thrilled by the thought of tracking down and shooting an animal they would never come in contact with in the normal course of events. Still, that excitement would have been coupled with the conviction that they were acting to protect the public.

The larger tragedy here is the looseness of Ohio's laws regarding the keeping of exotic pets. The state has the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by wild animals of any other. In spite of that, in April Ohio Governor John Kasich allowed the state's ban on buying and selling exotic pets to expire.

If the PETA types want to funnel their upset into something productive,  perhaps pushing for new legislation to prevent people like Terry Thompson from maintaining cages full of lions and tigers and bears is the way to go.