I wasn’t the least bit surprised when the usual crowd of clueless airheads started raising hell about Sheriff Matt Lutz’s orders to shoot to kill dozens of dangerous exotic animals in Zanesville, Ohio last week, after their owner turned them loose before committing suicide.

Blogs and comments on news stories are calling the sheriff’s actions cruel and heartless, and saying that these were “pets” that didn’t need to be destroyed. Over and over I see comments that the sheriff’s deputies should have used tranquilizers to subdue the animals and get them back into their cages.

All I can say to that is the same thing I say to people who second guess police after a shooting incident, and want to know why they did not just shoot the weapon out of a suspect’s hand? If you weren’t there, shut up!

It’s real easy to sit back in your easy chair and criticize from afar, but try being out in the dark with large predators on the loose who can easily kill you, or some unwary citizen.

In my time running small town newspapers in the western United States, I have accompanied Game and Fish officers on three occasions when they tried to tranquilize nuisance bears. It’s damned hard to hit a moving animal with a dart, and they miss as often as they hit their target. And guess what? Even if you do hit it, large animals don’t just lay down and go to sleep. They either charge, or they run away and keep moving until the drugs take effect. If they take effect!

Eighteen Bengal tigers were killed in Zanesville. In case you didn’t know it, a Bengal tiger can weigh anywhere from 250 to 500 pounds. Would you want to stand around and wait for a tranquilizer to take effect on a carnivore that big, after you just pissed him off by sticking a dart in his butt? I damn sure wouldn’t! 

Have you ever been in the presence of a large carnivore with no bars separating you? I have, and I’ll tell you right now, it’s scary! Years ago, I interviewed a couple who had an African lion as a pet. When they brought it into the room where I was sitting on the couch, I almost wet myself! Up close, a fully grown male lion is huge! And though this guy was as friendly as a housecat, and loved to lay on his back and have his belly scratched, I was well aware that he could eat me if he chose to. I was very happy when they took him back out of the room.

As for these kinds of animals being just “pets,” did you see the news report that said that Terry Thompson, the man who owned the Ohio animals and turned them loose, was bitten on the head by one of the big cats after shooting himself? Yeah, everybody needs a pet like that!

And now Thompson’s estranged wife wants the surviving animals, which include three leopards, a grizzly bear, and two monkeys, returned to her. She says they are her “children” and that she misses them. In an ABC news report, she is reported to have told a Columbus, Ohio zoo official that when she was still living at home, the surviving female monkey would sleep with her.

Instead of criticizing the sheriff and his deputies for doing what they had to do to protect the public, maybe we should criticize people who own dangerous exotic animals and lose track of the fact that they are indeed animals, not “children.”

And maybe we should criticize a state that has some of the nation’s loosest laws on the private ownership of exotic animals, and also one of the worst records for attacks and injuries from those same type of animals.

Following the Zanesville incident last week, Ohio Governor John Kasich issued an executive order clamping down on private ownership of exotic animals. That’s something that should have been done a long time ago.

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19 Comments on If You Weren’t There, Shut Up!

  1. Carmen DeRosier says:

    Call me naive, but I can’t help thinking that there had to be a better way than slaughtering those poor animals. They were the victims there. Why couldn’t they have brought in professional zoologists to capture them? I think if they would have left them alone and people would have just stayed inside until they were contained, most would have probably returned to their home, which they would have associated with food and shelter.

    I do agree that there need to be rules abut exotics and screening for the people who have them.

  2. Perry S. says:

    I worked in a zoo when in I was college and I cannot understand how any government agency can allow people to own dangerous animals like these. Even the most socialized of them is still dangerous and can turn on you in an instant.

  3. Patty Knott says:

    Jack Hanna was on the news saying that the police did the right thing, the animals are wild and confused. There was no way they could have collected them alive.

  4. Francis Callahan says:

    I go with the cops we had a case like that here in southern Idaho a few years ago and had to do the same thing lions were running oll over the place

  5. I can imagine the Sheriff’s thought process. He knows he’ll catch a load of crap from some people if he shoots the animals, but at the same time if he doesn’t act and a lion or tiger kills a child there will be greater outrage. Tough spot to be in — I think he made the best choice.

  6. Dennis M says:

    Sorry Carmen, you are naive. Imagine the howling from the public if one of those animals killed or injured someone while the police were waiting for them to “return to their home”.

    As I recall there was a professional there who shot a tranquilizer dart at one of the bengal tigers and it immediately turned and charged, requiring the police officer to shoot it.

    The police in the area are to be complimented for handling a tough situation in a timely and professional manner. After all, their job description includes “protect the public”, not “babysit some crackpot’s wild animals”!

  7. Carol J. says:

    Nick, You nailed it right! Funny how Saturday night quarterbacks always have something or someone to complain about.
    Folks, if you weren’t there facing the harm, you don’t know what you would have done. And if you are lucky, you will never have to face some of the horrendous situations that others have and had to make split-second decisions between thier life and anothers. Remember, if you aim a gun at a cop, he doesn’t have a crystal ball to see if it is loaded or a water gun. Zoo animals KILL and EAT other game–and that means humans too. The Sheriff did the right thing for that situation–protect humans.

  8. Carmen, how long would it have taken for a bunch of professional zoologists to have been (1) located, (2) convinced to come to Zanesville,(3) arrive in Zanesville prepared to do the job, and (4) locate and calm these “pets?” And all the while, the citizens of Zanesville have to cower behind their locked doors! Sorry, not an option!

  9. Bernita Poutney says:

    I think they did what had to be done to protect the public. It was no life for the animals in a place like that, either. It’s a lose, lose situation.

  10. Phyllis East says:

    Jack Hanna from the Cleveland Zoo agreed to this result. He said they only had 4 tranquilizer guns, it was 45 minutes before darkness settled in. Anyone who knows who Jack Hanna is has to respect his opinion. He is the professional. He agrees that private citizens have no business owning such “pets”.

  11. Bucky says:

    I agree with Perry S. How in the hell are these people allowed to keep such dangerous animals as pets ?. I can not understand our laws on things like this ?……

  12. Russ & Debbie Davis says:

    Nick, Thanks for helping clear up the rumors of the incident of exotic animals. Deb & I are back home in Zanesville, Ohio and live only about 5 miles from the incident! As a taxpayer in Muskingum county, I believe Sheriff Matt Lutz gave exactly the right order to shoot to kill the animals on the loose. The owner Terry Thompson, “T” as was his nickname, loved the animals he kept, there was no question about that, but he also had pushed the envelope many times with law enforcement in the county and the officers had been to the residence before and were very aware of the situation at hand. The first deputies on the scene were no doubt overwhelmed with the site of 40-50 very large animals loose from their cages running around. As Deb suggested, after just serving a thirteen month prison sentence of his own for weapons charges, maybe the thought of his (children) being locked in cages, along with serious financial problems of his own, was more than he could face. Releasing the animals was wrong, with a large apartment complex in close proximity and long time neighbors nearby, he had to have known the ramifications that would occur, and proffesional large animal trainers with the proper tranquilizer methods at least an hours response time away, the Muskingum County Sheriffs Department did exactly what they should have done, Protect and Serve!

  13. Pat O'B says:

    This sounds like a perfect Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
    The real culprit was already out of the pictue. Nobody seems to be blaming him.

  14. Bill Daines says:

    I cannot imagine all the panic, the community, the surrounding property owners were faced when they learned those animals were released. Let alone the Sheriff. Actually the Law Enforcement Officers in my opinion did their job.
    Think about this, you are one of those officers looking for the animals, constantly looking up in the trees and behind yourself, fearing one of those Lions or Tigers were going leap on you , your heart is racing etc. I know what its like to attempt shooting a dart at an animal standing still but on a run and possibly at you. Its unfortunate the animals were killed but it would have been worse for Law Enforcement to explain to a parent that their child or a loved one was killed and carried off by one of those animals.
    Law Enforcement did their job, PERIOD!

  15. Candace Rivero says:

    There are a– holes everywhere, most of whom have NO common sense. Exotic animals are still animals, NOT children.

    Still, it’s sad to see the animals killed vs. placed in a rescue center by professional handlers. We just spent a day in Branson, MO and passed a tiger rescue center off US 65.

    Law enforcement personnel are often placed in precarious situations, and we must support their decisions at that time.
    Good thing the law has finally been changed. Maybe other residents will use better sense …. maybe, but I am not holding my breath.

    Nick is right, if YOU weren’t there, shut up!

  16. Chuck Whitaker says:

    Guy was an idiot for having that many animals he could not care for, and a complete jerk to sentence them to death by opening the cages instead of calling a zoo to ask for help. Not to mention endangering all of his neighbors and the cops lives.

  17. Melissa T. says:

    Let’s not forget that no matter what his reasons were, a man is still dead and deserves our compassion. I’m not excusing his actions, but none of us walked in his shoes. I understand he was a Viet Nam vet and may have been dealing with some heavy baggage. Again, not excusing what he did, just sayin..

  18. T & R Martin says:

    Perhaps it was not Viet Nam that caused “T” to check out of this world, but the fact that his spouse (now ex-spouse) was sleeping with a monkey!!! This one was a no-brainer Nick, but it takes all kinds to make the world. I have the feeling “T” figured if he was “checking out” he might as well take others with him. Man has dominion over animals comes to mind, but I still get ticked when I see people abusing animals—this situation does not rise to that occasion. Did some folks expect the animals to play “one, two, three redlight” and have the animals freeze in place while Superman came to the rescue?!!!
    P.S. I love & respect our “Nam” vets.

  19. ZAP says:

    Even Jack Hanna could not find a better way to deal with this and he is all for saving animals. If I understand correctly they had a total of 4 tranq guns and around 40 possibly dangerous animals on the loose. It takes 5 – 20 minutes for the drugs to take effect (if they work the first time) during which time the animal is now even more scared because of the pain from the dart making these unpredictable wild animals even more unpredictable. I’m not sure how many days that would have taken but I’m pretty sure it would take too long and would increase the chances of the public meeting one of the animals. I find the whole event unfortunate but can see no fault in how it was handled by those charged to protect the rest of us.

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