Revisiting Exotic Animals Policy

This is a mea culpa post. I was a bit dismissive of State Senator Troy Balderson’s efforts to create a policy to prevent a recurrence of the exotic animal zoo disaster in Ohio this spring. Lowry Heussler was correct at the time to note that this is a serious issue.

I had wrongly assumed that the initial case — in which a man with serious mental health problems collected and then released a zoo-full of potentially lethal animals — was so improbable that no new policies were needed to prevent a second such incident. Lightning like that doesn’t strike twice, I foolishly supposed.

What changed my mind was being called in to do a forensic mental health examination of a suspect in a similar case. I could not ethically write about it at the time, but now that the matter has been adjudicated, I am going to relate the story (obscuring identifying details) as I believe it is of broad public policy interest.

The case involved a 46-year old man with psychopathology in the schizoid cluster. He shunned most human contact and had a number of nervous tics, disturbing compulsions and strange ideas. He was also, as the only surviving heir of an old money family fortune, wealthy enough to indulge his psychiatric idiosyncracies, one of which was a desire to collect exotic animals. On the large otherwise abandoned family estate he gathered tigers, ostriches, alligators and an array of other outre beasts.

His prize possession was an 800,000 gallon pool with an artificial tide, in which he kept dolphins. Among his deranged ideas was that his dolphins would live forever if they were fed a diet of sea gulls. He secured a large delivery of the birds and walked straight towards the pool, with the intention of giving his dolphins eternal life. Unfortunately for him, another one of his pets — an old, tame lion — was dozing outside of his back door and he stumbled over this king of the beasts. The police arrested him immediately for

Transporting gulls across a staid lion for immortal porpoises.

h/t Bennett Cerf

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

17 thoughts on “Revisiting Exotic Animals Policy”

  1. Reminds me of the story of a monastery where the monks were in the habit, so to speak, of chanting, “Morning, morning,” on their way to the morning prayers.

    One morning a young monk, feeling a touch rebellious, decided to sing out “Evening, evening,” instead.

    “Did you hear that?’ the abbot asked his old friend Brother William.

    “Hear what?” asked William.

    “Why,” said the abbot, “Someone chanted ‘evening.'”

  2. Well…

    Long story short:

    Man has himself cloned.

    The clone turns out to be exceedingly vulgar in both in word and deed.

    In disgust and frustration, the man pushes the clone off a tenth story balcony.

    He is arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned for making an obscene clone fall.

  3. We had a guy here in suburban VA whose fun thing was keeping lots of exotic, venomous snakes. In his house. From which one escaped, and was found in the neighborhood. County Board got exercised, and passed something about exotics. So, despite your recantation having been only the set up for a pun, yah, lightning does strike twice in my view.

    1. This is a 100% true story:

      My son (who was single at the time) had a female red-tailed boa constrictor, about 9 feet long and 50 pounds. His house had a partially-finished basement. He kept the snake in his basement in the unfinished part, in a room he used as a storage and workshop room. He had built a large crate for her, wood framed with wire mesh walls and a lid which he could lock with a hasp. He mated his snake, and in due course it gave birth to about two dozen little baby red-tailed boas, which shared her crate. So now he had one large snake and over twenty small ones.

      He decided to sell his house, and he knew it wouldn’t be a good idea for a potential buyer to be confronted with a lot of snakes, of which one was quite large, so he put a lock on his storage room and instructed his real estate agent that no one was allowed in that room. The agent was concerned that a potential buyer might not like being excluded from seeing a part of the house, but my son told the agent to say merely that it was the owner’s private storage room, and nobody was allowed in.

      When my son told me this, I suggested that the ensuing conversation might have an unlucky ending:

      B(uyer): What’s in that room?
      A(gent): That’s just a storage room.
      B: I’d like to see it.
      A: Well, the owner doesn’t let me show it.
      B: That’s silly. I want to see the whole house if I’m going to buy it.
      A: I’m sorry, that’s just not possible.
      B: You’re going to have to either show it to me or explain why not.
      A: Well, that’s where the owner keeps all his snakes.
      B: (after a long pause) … ummm, did you have any other listings to show me?

      A few weeks after he listed his house, my son went into his storage/snake room only to discover that he had inadvertantly left the hasp open on the crate. The adult female, having pushed the lid open, was sleeping comfortably on the floor of the room. The babies were all gone, apparently having climbed into the exposed rafters, and from there scattered throughout the skeleton of the house.

      Shortly after that my son’s house was sold. He moved out having never found any of the babies, and he never heard anything about them from either the new owners or the agent.

      But this episode made me realize that there are lots of reasons to avoid owning exotic pets, some of which you’d never think of in advance.

  4. I was talking to a friend once who told me about a seafood restaurant she and her boyfriend had gone to in which they had each ordered a seafood platter that included, among other items, calamari and oysters. She likes oysters and her boyfriend doesn’t; he likes calamari and she doesn’t, so they traded the respective portions of their orders. I told her to call it a squid pro quo.

  5. Okay, okay, you all win! I’ve changed my mind on the death penalty. I now support capital PUNishment.

  6. i know a different version of the joke: “A team of Sea World ichthyologists discovered a pod of immortal porpoises in the beautiful lagoon of a previously unknown Pacific island. The discoverers brought two of them to the California park, where, oddly, the porpoises seemed to be dying. After careful study, it was determined that the porpoises were missing a mineral essential to their metabolism found in an unusually high concentration in the waters of their lagoon. Of course, the island was too distant and too difficult to access to permit timely accumulation of the miraculous mineral. Fortunately, it was known that a deposit of that mineral, previously thought to be of no use, had been identified in the Nevada desert. With time short, Sea World organized a team of hard rock miners, all of whom lived near the San Diego Park, putting them on a bus to take them to the deposit. However, when crossing the state line, the bus was stopped and the driver arrested for transporting miners across state lines for immortal porpoises.”

    rim shot.

    good one, randy paul.

  7. Hometown baseball pitcher Milton Famie used to enjoy a beer between innings. One incredible day he was pitching a no hitter, but getting little support from his own batters so the score was tied zero-zero. In the last inning, after getting the first two outs, the effects of the beer finally overcame him and he walked four batters in a row losing the game. As the run was scored, the other team ran onto the field in jubilation. Their manager picked up Milton’s beer crying out, “This is the beer that made Milt Famie walk us!”

    1. This one reminds of a story about Ogden Nash. He said that he had tried very hard, without success, to write a poem about a relief pitcher named MacTivity, so he could put in the line:

      “There is MacTivity in the bullpen.”

  8. Loy Frank Weaver is a retired politician and banker from Claiborne Parish in Louisiana (see As a young man, Loy was a missionary in India, working in some of the most rural and remote areas of that country. Over the course of his travels, he befriended a local Hindi spiritual leader, who held “church” after a fashion in a one-room hut with no chairs. The attendees would sit on the floor. This spiritual man was known, in accordance with local custom, by the Sanskrit term “Guru”, meaning “teacher” or “master”. Loy and the Guru, despite being from different backgrounds and different faiths, bonded in their mutual spiritual cause, particularly because the Guru was an extremely affable fellow who would speak endlessly to anyone who would listen. Loy reported back to the home parish about this wonderful, talkative Guru, and the plight of his poor hut with no chairs. As a parting gift before returning to Louisiana, Loy arranged for the donation of a large bench to be placed in the hut, so at least the old and feeble would have a place to sit. Before Loy left, he brought his replacement to meet the Guru at the hut, whereupon his replacement asked, “pardon me Loy, is that the chatty Guru’s new pew?”

  9. Nauru is a small island of only 21 km2 in the South Pacific — and is currently the world’s smallest republic (see ). The indigenous people of Nauru, who inhabited the island for more than 3000 years, developed an ingenious method of ensuring a reliable food supply: they would catch juvenile ibija fish ( ), acclimate them to fresh water, and then raise them in the internal lagoon. Using this practice, the people of Nauru prospered even in times of food shortage. Their life was a simple but pleasant one, eating fish and coconuts and living in traditional thatch-roof structures.

    The people of the neighboring island of Banaba ( ), however, did not have the luxury of a fresh water lagoon, and hence would suffer from periodic food shortages. During these periods, the Banabians would invade Nauru, taking food and any item of value. The gentle people of Nauru suffered from this scourge for many years, but never developed the ability to defend themselves.

    In 1798, British captain John Fearn fell ill while at sea, and was nursed back to health by Tenu, the medicine man on Nauru. Once healed, as a sign of gratitude, Fearn bequeathed to Tenu a magnificent chair inlaid with gold, which he had earlier procured from a Spanish ship following a successful battle. The chair became the prized possession of the Nauru people, who used it for ceremonial purposes. However, Tenu was afraid that the chair would be lost during the next raid by the Banabians, so he had a hidden compartment built up under the roof of his thatch roofed-hut. When the chair was not in use for a ceremony, it would be lifted up and placed in the hidden compartment for safety.

    One day, the Banabians came, and as was their habit, stole all the food and items of value from the people of Nauru. However, they did not find the chair. Once the Banabians finally left, Tenu came out of hiding, stood in his hut and proudly proclaimed his foresight in hiding the chair. However, at that very moment, the chair (which was quite heavy due to all the gold) broke through the floor of the compartment, landing directly on Tenu and killing him instantly.

    Thus arises the saying, “people who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.”

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