Have you read about the exotic animal farm incident in Ohio? If not, here’s the recap. Apparently, there was a man keeping exotic animals (big cats, monkeys, wolves, etc.) in a small town in Ohio. He’d had a history of run-ins with the authorities over permits and conditions. So a few days ago, he opens the cages and then kills himself. The authorities then decide that the 50-some animals need to be rounded up and shot. Only a handful were re-located to a zoo.
This just strikes me as a tragedy all around. First of all, Ohio is no place for a Bengal tiger. A zoological conservatory would be perhaps a defensible home for a tiger should it require being in Ohio, but a small farm? Second, if you can’t take care of a Bengal tiger at your home in Ohio, leave it alone. Let it stay where it was, for crying out loud. Third, if you get the tiger to your home in Ohio and later discover that you are not doing an adequate job of caring for it, find someone who can help, like that zoological conservatory. Don’t just let it out to wander the small town streets creating bad press for animals and protective agencies alike!! What a mess. It seems like such a string of poor decisions, lack of responsibility, and lack of respect. If that man had not taken his life, I’m sure he would have been slapped with a few violations and fines. (okay, a truckload of violations and fines) But then again, when we fine people for crimes against nature, does that act as a deterrent to others? Do people really learn to respect animals or habitats because of punitive measures?
The Nature Center where I volunteer has a posted fine of $250.50 (not sure why that particular amount) for bringing pets into the area. There are other Milwaukee public parks specifically for dog-walking, but Wehr is a preserve, meaning a place where wildlife and habitat are protected. A place where animals and plants can be free from the stress of dog traffic. A place where nature lovers can be free from the stress of dog traffic. In other words, NO DOGS ALLOWED. One of the volunteers was leading a group of school kids down a path and encountered a couple with a dog. “Excuse me. I’m sorry, but dogs are not allowed in the nature preserve,” she said. “Oh, it’s okay. We do this all the time,” was their response.
What we have here is a failure to communicate.
We try to teach the kids to respect the nature center. “Why don’t we want dogs here? What do you think?” we ask. “Because they’ll eat the wild animals?” Well, probably not. But they will probably scare some, make them nervous and upset. We want them to feel safe here. “Why don’t we want people picking flowers and plants here? We have 50,000 visitors a year. Even if they only took one plant, what might happen?” There would be less for the animals to eat, fewer for the insects, and even for the other people to enjoy.
How do you teach respect? How do you teach empathy? How do you communicate something about making considered choices about what you buy, what you throw away, and what you do with that big recycling container that sits by your garage unused? I do not feel comfortable in confrontations, and as a rule, I avoid them. I have played “police” with my kids, and it was my least favorite part of parenting. I wish I had been better at teaching respect and consideration without using “rules” and “punishment” because frankly, that seemed to invite more disrespect. What if I just showed them the consequence of some disrespect that happened and just let them look good and hard until they felt something on their own, and then talked gently with them about what they saw, what they felt, what they thought, and what they wanted for their own actions and decisions?
Take a good look at the pictures of the animals that were shot in Ohio this week. Look deeply. Feel deeply. Think deeply. Invite someone else to look as well and talk about it.