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Robyn Wheeler

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The Ohio Man
12/10/2011 8:23:36 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

Ever wonder how someone could turn loose over 50 wild animals before committing suicide? Read about the effects of depression on the mind.
As a 15-year veteran wildlife animal keeper and educator and as someone who has in the past contemplated suicide, I have two very different points of view regarding Terry Thompson, the Ohio man who freed more than 56 wild animals and then shot himself.

First, let’s start with the release and killing of the animals. As an avid animal lover, I deplore the fact that these priceless and possibly sick or injured animals were released.

Many people who do not want their pets or exotic animals make the mistake of releasing them back into the wild believing the animals will be better off in their natural habitat, that they will fend for themselves and will be just fine. The flaw with that thinking is the most animals raised in captivity do not know any other way of life. When released these animals either don’t know how to hunt or escape from predators and do not know what a gun, rifle or car looks like. Many possible outcomes can become a reality and most of them do not have a happy ending. These newly released animals that have lived in captivity for most or all of their life’s eventually starve to death, fall prey to a predator within a short amount of time or trust humans, which they wouldn’t normally do, which leads to being hunted, shoot or hit by a car.

Anyone, in the wildlife industry should know better especially someone caring for potential dangerous and aggressive animals such as monkeys, lions, tigers and/or bears. Also, here is the United States, we do not have native habitats for such animals as kept by Thompson, so these animals face even greater odds of uncertain death. Not to mention, the loss of 18 endangered species. That is a price we all will pay for generations to come. These animals could have been given to rescue groups, zoos or animal rehabilitators if they were unwanted or not needed anymore. They did not have to die.

Now, let’s to go the side of a person who is depressed, not thinking clearly or logically and has had notable emotional issues in the past. As someone who has considered suicide, I can only speak for myself. When I was depressed and lost interest in living, I was not considered about others-animal or human. I was only concerned about myself and could not get past pitying myself and my situation. I didn’t care what my family or friends would go through if I killed myself. I was unable to think or empathize with how my actions might affect others.

If, Terry Thompson, had any kind of mental illness that carries with it any form of depression, anxiety, anger or frustration or worse yet, hallucinations or hearing voices, he was not in a position to be rational, logically or reasonable. He only thought of himself and could have even been completely convinced himself that freeing these animals was the right thing to do.

Thompson most likely did not think of the consequences- someone getting hurt or contracting Herpes, the animals being shot or killed and the environmental impact of releasing endangered animals that cannot be kept as a pet by the majority of humans. If Thompson was emotionally or mentally unstable at the time, his greatest concern was taking his own life.

And if someone contemplates taking their own life, why would anyone expect that same person to be concerned about animals….any kind of animals. Maybe he truly believed that since he was living in hell and wanted out, life for the animals had to be hell as well. As a wildlife educator, many parents called asking me if I had a monkey or alligator or lion, because their small child was just fascinated with them and wants one at his/her birthday party. I explained that I never carry those types of animals because most are not suited for “show and tell” much less being poked and pulled on by toddlers.

These animals are dangerous even for the best and highly skilled and educated wildlife experts. Even Siegfried and Roy were victims of finding out what strength tigers are capable of.Currently I do not know of any law making it illegal for someone with a mental disorder or past conviction history to own wildlife unless they may have previously been convicted of animal abuse/neglect. Nor, is there an “adoption” process for owning such animals. People who own zoos, wildlife, exotic pets don’t have to pass a mental assessment before ownership is approved. And many exotic animals, like lions and tigers and bears, are sold/purchased on the black market.

Yes, a permit is required, but some folks won’t pay the money and keep the animal illegally until they get caught which could be days, weeks, months or even years.The message our society should take away from this tragedy is also two-fold. One, we need better and more affordable mental health care in America so even those in the lower income bracket can afford counseling, psychiatry and prescription renewal and two, the acts of one or two individuals should not result in a law that punishes the masses.

If the actions of Terry Thompson results in a ban on exotic animal ownership, shouldn’t there have been a ban on guns after Columbine or Virginia Tech? From what I’ve seen and heard in the media in the past decades, it seems that those with mental disorders can also own rifles and shotguns too!Written by Robyn Wheeler Author of Born Mad, former owner of The Creature Teacher and under current treatment for a low-grade
depression called Dysthymic Disorder.

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More Blogs by Robyn Wheeler
• Unrealistic Expectations Cause Anger - Tuesday, January 31, 2012
• It's Not Denial - Tuesday, January 31, 2012
• Which One do You Choose? - Saturday, December 10, 2011
•  The Ohio Man - Saturday, December 10, 2011  
• Adapt or Perish- Be Flexible - Saturday, December 10, 2011
• Perception of the Mentally Ill - Saturday, December 10, 2011

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