Married to a veterinarian for the last decade, I’ve gained some perspective on the family pet in recent years. It may sound harsh, but some people shouldn’t be allowed to have pets. And I’m not just talking about people running puppy mills. Some folks simply treat their animals as nothing more than something to kick around the house and neglect for days on end instead of as living, breathing creatures deserving love and attention.
That said, there’s a huge difference between your average domestic dog or cat and having a python bigger than the tallest player in the NBA in the same house with you and your kids. For some reason, we’ve lost the fear and respect we should have of wild (not domesticated) creatures in close proximity. Why people, whether famous like boxer Mike Tyson or the average guy next door, would consider a leopard, puma, or tiger to be safe to keep as a pet is beyond me. I understand loving animals, but especially when children are involved you have to use some common sense.
A new documentary, The Elephant in the Living Room from director Michael Webber, hopes to cover the issue from a variety of perspectives. I was worried it would, as many unbalanced documentaries do, focus entirely on one side of the issue or the other, but instead we end up with a fairly even approach and are allowed to come to our own conclusions.
In the middle there’s Tim Harrison, a retired public safety officer (cop, paramedic, fireman all rolled into one), who has been on both sides of the fence – raising one of these wild animals at home when he was younger and trying to help both animals and owners deal with situations wildly out of control on the streets and highways of major populated areas.
On one side is owner Terry Brumfield, who owns two African lions on his property – one of which escapes and terrorizes people on an interstate highway attacking cars. A truck driver still recovering from an accident years earlier, Brumfield loves his lions and tries to do right by them. But he’s unwilling to give them up even after the lion escapes and is brought back unharmed. It’s obvious he’s conflicted and has a big heart, but is it really safe or in the animals’ best interest to be kept locked up in tiny cages?
And on the other extreme we have an ER doctor shocked at the stupidity of some owners almost killed by their exotic pets. Politicians at the local, state, and national levels wondering why anybody needs to own a pet that could not only hurt or kill the owner and any immediate family or friends but could escape and hurt or kill innocent people caught in the way.
In the last couple of years, we have visited a local animal sanctuary near our home for exotic cats. Serenity Springs is home to more than 100 different big cats – lions, tigers, cougars, and more. They do their best to provide a safe, happy environment for rescued animals in their care that come from animal trainers who use them in film and TV productions to casino acts and private owners. It’s heartbreaking to hear some of the stories of those animals. But these are the folks who often have to save the day when exotic pets get out of control.
If you are an animal lover, I definitely encourage you to find The Elephant in the Living Room on a movie screen near you this month. Check here for a list of theaters across the country showing the film in April 2011. Whether you believe in responsible ownership of exotic pets or that they’re a menace, the film brings up some shocking facts and stories to ponder further.
For more details about the film, check out its website at TheElephantInTheLivingRoom.com.