Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shoot First, Justify Later

Today, I am truly embarrassed to say that I am from Ohio.

Not a whole lot happens in the city of Zanesville, so I hear. I have driven through it on my way to Ohio University a couple of times, and a college friend of mine took me there once to visit her mother. For the most part it isn’t an overly thriving, educated, or wealthy area – and I can say that because I am from Cleveland and know what near-poverty can look like. Judgments are made about us across the country based on how the outside perceives us, and truth be told, perception is that laziness and ignorance abounds in sheltered impoverished Ohio towns.

The mass slaughter of some 48-49 exotic animals in Zanesville this week only strengthens the theory that (white trash redneck) laziness is alive and thriving here in Ohio. What makes it worse is the local media attempting to show support of the rash, single-minded “shoot first ask questions later” decisions of law enforcement officials. The welfare of the community was at stake -- they couldn’t have “threatening” wild animals roaming the “neighborhoods.”

Officers were ordered, before even getting to the property, to shoot at will if they perceived any possible danger. “These aren’t house cats, ya know.” Rare Bengal tigers they were, and no, they were not house cats. But most of those animals were raised in captivity. They did not break loose from their gates, the gates were left open for them to roam. The sheriff himself reported that none of the animals that were killed got past 500 yards of the property lines.

Shoot at will.

This morning on my commute to work a highway alert sign flashed that an adult male was missing. I wonder, are we ordered to kill him without hesitation then if we see him? He may be harmful.

Human life is obviously more valued than animal life, and justifiably so, I guess.

But really, were guns the only way to go? Did anyone at all think of possible options? What about calling in educated professionals from The Wilds, or the Department of Natural Resources? What about accessing tranquilizers? One vet tried one tranquilizer on one animal and the animal panicked. What about the other 48? Nope, no time or motivation to do a more difficult thing like gathering resources or asking questions… or pausing before blind action.

The sheriff was a self-described animal lover. He was doing what he "had" to do. No choice, it was getting dark, there were too many of them, too large, potentially dangerous, no access to tranquilizers, and besides, academy training didn’t include handling large animal escapes. Hoards of neighboring folks could have been attacked in their beds if not for the strong protection of that local sheriff.

Justify what COULD have happened all you want. This is really about rural, embarrassingly -Ohio small town law enforcement officials with a grudge. The Thompson property, though licensed and currently legal, had been a “problem” for years. Law enforcement was tired of dealing with the phone calls in the middle of the night, “Uh, yes, officer, I heard the lion roar again over at the Thompsons… don’t we have official quiet time in this town or something? Can’t you just make them go away?”

Thompson’s wife is now without a husband and without her “family.” One news report featured her crying, “Please don’t take away my family!”

I guess Zanesville has less trouble to deal with, now that their menacing neighbor is defenseless. Moreover, Ohio politicians now have ammunition to pass more stringent exotic pet laws. Apparently this tragedy is a “wake up call.”

What I know is that for the last three weeks my daughters and I have taken in a stray pregnant cat, and gone to great lengths to save her life and the lives of her kittens. Many sleepless nights and heartbreaks later, one kitten has survived. We are treasuring that kitten and his mommy. We feel it is a victory to have saved those little lives. And then we hear a story of such tragedy, such careless wasting of innocent animal lives, and we just cannot make sense of it. No, we weren’t there. We didn’t have to make on-the-spot life or death decisions in the moment of supposed panic. We can barely sit here and judge those people without knowing the whole situation. Judgments are made by outsiders’ limited perception. And I have made a judgment.

Exotic animals are potentially dangerous.

Obviously, so are humans.

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