The Boston Globe is reporting on lax exotic pet laws, specifically those in Ohio and several other states.
Attacks of humans by pets in recent years have stirred up a debate about the merit of keeping exotic animals as personal companions.
In Ohio last month a caretaker was killed while feeding a bear that belonged to one Sam Mazzola. Mazzola kept a menagerie that included bears, wolves and tigers. After the caretaker was mauled, the bear was killed as well.
Not long ago a woman in Connecticut was blinded after being attacked by a friend’s pet chimpanzee. And in Florida, a 2-year-old girl was killed by her family’s python.
Because it is always an injury of a human by an animal that ignites the debate about the keeping of exotic pets, the debate usually centers around the safety of the humans involved. And while it is extremely dangerous for individuals to keep wild animals, it is the animals who really suffer.
We cannot fault a captive animal that attacks a human caretaker. These animals are not domesticated; they’re wild. They are confined and under psychological stress and you cannot hold them accountable for acting on instinct. It’s in their nature.
People who keep exotic animals as pets, or in private menageries, are running small-scale zoos. True, they may not be exhibiting animals for the public’s amusement, but they are still confining animals for their own amusement. This kind of confinement exerts anxiety and tension on an animal that we cannot understand.
In Ohio specifically, exotic pet laws are being dragged into what is already a complicated animal welfare compromise being given lip service by both sides of the issue, if through gritted teeth. The Humane Society agreed to withdraw efforts to get animal welfare legislation on the ballot in Ohio under the condition that Ohioans implement some of these measures voluntarily.
One of the measures being tweaked is the exotic pet law. The legislation was already being revised to allow people to keep their existing pets, but not to acquire new animals or breed them. In light of recent attacks, especially the bear attack, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has acted to expand the measure to allow the state to confiscate animals from owners if necessary.
But this measure is another example of too little too late. None of the measures would eliminate exotic pet ownership entirely, just curtail it. There’s absolutely no reason for humans to confine wild animals. Wild animals belong in the wild, not in zoos, and not in the homes of human beings.
Even though it is the rare but tragic instance of an animal hurting a human that makes headlines, it is the animals who suffer silently everyday.
Photo: Martyn Davies