Frank Stockton’s classic tale of morality, “The Tiger or the Lady,” was about a choice. A princess loved a fair youth and their love affair, having been discovered by her father, the king, was punished in their barbaric way of their land. The youth was made to choose between two doors. Behind one was a lady and he would marry her, having been proved innocent. Behind the other door was a tiger who would maul and eat the accused, thus proving he was guilty. The princess was well aware of behind which door the lady waited and who the lady was. Yet Stockton doesn’t give the reader the answer to this conundrum: Does the princess overcome her jealousy? Or would she rather see her lover die?
In recent weeks, Los Angeles was plagued by a tiger, a beast prowling around at large. His footprints, much larger than a mountain lion, were what gave him away. His owners did not and have not to my knowledge come forward.
When he was at last found, he was shot, leading to a huge outcry among animal lovers. Did he have to be killed?
Last week, two exotic pets were killed. They were killed by the son-in-law of the caretakers as the animals were savagely attacking a visitor. The visitor, a man in his 60s, was with his wife. He and his wife had brought a cake to their own chimpanzee who had been confiscated from the couple’s West Covina home after the chimp had bitten off a woman’s finger.
The two chimps that were killed were part of a group of four—two females and two males. They basically chewed off the man’s face, severed a foot and castrated him.
We often think of chimps as cute animals in diapers, asking to hold hands with their human caretakers. But chimp social laws are much different from human ways. Even a rich person like Michael Jackson, whose famous Bubbles has disappeared long before he was accused of child molestation. People familiar with chimps aren’t surprised. While dogs get calmer at age three, a maturing chimp becomes more demanding and even aggressive. A mature chimp will weigh over 150 lbs. and yet be stronger than a human of comparable size.
Just as your family dog may become unpredictable and even dangerously aggressive in a pack, a group of chimps can also become aggressive. Why should we be surprised? Humans in excitable mobs display destructive behaviors, even when the crowd is simply celebrating a sports victory.
While some people say the mauling of the man wouldn’t have happened if he had been allowed to keep his chimp at home in West Covina, these people seem to forget the lady, the lady who lost her finger. Perhaps we should view the man’s mauling as the warning that he himself didn’t see: a chimp that would bite off a woman’s finger might do much worse to others.
In the case of the tiger, people criticize the decision to kill and not drug and transport the animal. Yet one can also say that if the animal control officers had guessed wrong, a frightened half-drugged, hungry tiger might have done considerable damage. Obviously brought here to California as a pet, the animal did not, like bears and mountain lions and coyotes, have a fear of man.
It’s easy to blame the “dog catchers,” the animal control people or the Fish and Game officers who are left to deal with unwanted animals or animals taught dangerous behaviors by other people. Yet how many of these people have seen the capture and removal of a dangerous dog? An aggressive dog weighing less than 100 lbs. requires more than one person at times. Sometimes pepper spray is used. The subdued dog must also be lifted into the van to be taken to the animal shelter. You need a different transport for an animal over 100 lbs. A hog or horse, like a dog, doesn’t have a flexible back that can allow it to turn and flip like a cat or a tiger. How often do these officers get to practice capturing a tiger?
The person(s) to blame for this tiger tragedy is the owner or owners-people who wanted something different from a dog, cat, snake, lizard, bunny, hamster, rat or horse. They wanted to be different and yet, many of these people prove to be like too many pet owners. They discover that after the novelty wears off, when the tedium of long-term care sets in, they no longer want their pet. The animal shelters nationwide are filled with this once-loved pets, waiting for a new home and more likely finding the only kindness they can expect is a merciful death. The streets and deserts and countryside are filled with animals dumped by their owners, some survive and some do not. The survivors become a health and safety hazard for people in those areas. The owners have long since forgotten and gone on to another pet or hobby.
Bubbles got attention because of Michael Jackson, but what about other exotic pets owned by people as humble as the West Covina couple with the chimp? And where is Bubbles now? It’s rumored that a famous Hollywood animal trainer keeps him in his compound and will not comment about his celebrity guest.
As with Stockton’s story, there is no easy answer where every one will be happy. A lady lost her finger. That’s nothing compared to a man who has lost his nose and his testicles, yet there’s a certain sense of irony there. If someone interviewed the lady, one wonders what she would say?
The tiger was killed, but his owners aren’t the ones making the public protest. One can’t possibly lose an 800-pound cat and not notice unless one has too many 800-pound cats to care about one gone missing.
Certainly, it’s a shame that the tiger had to die and the lady lost her finger. It’s a shame that the West Covina man was mauled and two chimps were killed as a result.
Officials have choices: allow these exotic animals to live or kill them; allow their owners to keep them or transport the exotic animals to licensed care facilities. Yet as these two recent incidents have shown, like Stockton’s story, their choices both have drawbacks, both of which can be tragic.