Debate Forum Left, 11/8/11

What kind of cage would the make the governor happy?

By Ben Tompkins

Benjamin Tompkins

“Ben, I was wondering if you think the proposed ban which exempts some facilities accredited by the Zoological Association of America (ZAA) goes far enough to reasonably insure that animals will be treated safely and humanely?”

No sweetie. No it doesn’t.

“But why Ben?”

Well Governor Kasich, the reason I think that is because I took five minutes and actually read the mission statement of the ZAA, and it says they are dedicated to: “promote[ing] responsible ownership, management, conservation, and propagation of animals in both the private and public domains through professional standards in husbandry, animal care, safety and ethics.”

“That sounds good to me, because in light of the events in Zanesville where a crazy person shot himself and let out his wild animals, including 17 lions and 18 tigers and nine bears, a menagerie so ridiculous for a private citizen to hold that the mere mention of those animals in that order has become a cultural parody of fear, I would like to impose the most stringent laws in the country regarding private ownership of exotic, undomesticated animals.”

In that case Governor, I will start by teaching you one of the most basic signs ever taught to Koko the gorilla. It’s the sign for “stupid,” and you make it by tapping your clenched fists on your forehead. Ironically, it looks a lot like the eye-wiping gestures a bawling child makes when it throws a tantrum because it doesn’t get what it wants. If you look closely, you will notice the ZAA strongly supports private ownership and breeding of exotic animals, so much so that barely two centimeters below that mission statement they print the following qualifiers:


-Protect and defend the right to own exotic and domestic animals, both privately and publically, under proper professional care, husbandry and safety standards which are rigorously observed and maintained.

-Defend our accredited facilities against false allegations, those with political agendas, and mischaracterizations.

“Wait Ben, I’m confused.  It appears that the ZAA makes it their business to ensure people like the nutjob in Zanesville not only have the right to own anything they want provided they meet a standard, but promotes the fact that they will offer rigorous legal defense to any of their members who come under flak for doing so.”

That’s right!  That’s exactly what they do.  So if you, as the governor of Ohio, are advocating that the way to stop people from privately owning dangerous, exotic wildlife is to allow a group that promotes privately owning dangerous, exotic wildlife to set the standards, then you would be – can you do it?  Can you make the sign for “stupid”?

“Is this it, Ben?”

No, silly.  That’s the sign for “shame.”  That’s OK though, it took Koko a few tries too.

“Aww…  but at least they have high ethical standards for keeping animals. I mean, an organization that loves animals this much would only accredit individuals and institutions that meet the highest standards of care and maintenance, right?”

*Sigh* No sweetie. Remember what we said about reading? It’s important, and it’s only through years of reading that professional zookeepers can learn enough to take care of a chimpanzee in the first place. For instance, do you know that the ZAA only requires that chimpanzees be kept in a cage 20’ x 18’ and never has to be let out? That’s smaller than a boxing ring. Also, elephants, which are kept for entertainment purposes require a paddock less than half the size of that for a non-entertainment elephant. That sounds suspiciously like caving your standards to encourage using your elephant to make money. Plus, you can tether either of those elephants to a post for up to 14 days at a stretch and continue doing so for as long as you like, provided they get one day off the tether in between.


Uh, huh. Generally, their requirements are nothing more than guidelines for how to safely keep an animal in a cage in your backyard. It’s the same reason we keep a cork on your fork.

“Why is the cork on my fork?”

To stop you from hurting yourself and others, Governor Kasich. That’s about as far as the ZAA cares to worry about the ethical treatment of animals. The only additional requirement beyond these low standards of care is that your organization be associated with one of their professional members.

“How does one become a professional member of ZAA?”

By getting voted in by other professional members. I’d explain the word “nepotism” for you, but it’s a little hard to do with simian hand gestures. That’s OK though. I suppose the most important thing for you to remember, Governor Kasich, is that keeping wild animals in your backyard is not like owning a car. Yes a car can kill people, but only if you drive it.

Otherwise it happily sits in the garage minding its own business. A tiger on the other hand, will spend the rest of its short, painful, worthless existence trying to get out of its cage to eat the children next door. That’s not very fair to your neighbors, is it? Now do you understand why Ohio should flatly ban the private ownership of exotic animals?

“Yes Ben, I do! I love you Ben!”

I, well … good for you!

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tompkins at

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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