This is a movie review about the Cleveland International Film Festival film Elephant in the Living Room directed by Michael Webber. Oddly, this is a (mostly) Ohio based movie. Takes place in Dayton/Southern Ohio.
With a packed theater (I don’t think there was an empty seat in the house), I thought it was going to be a documentary about a guy (Tim Harrison) just going around and saving/rescuing exotic animals from (stupid) people’s homes and taking in animals that have been let loose into the wild. However, I was mistaken. It was SO much more than that. This film, was….AMAZING. It covers SO many topics and areas that should be considered before buying or raising exotic pets (or any domestic pet as well). The sale and ownership of exotic pets (lions, tigers, bears, cougars, poisonous reptiles, etc) believe it or not, is NOT illegal. There are auctions of exotic pets (monkeys, hyenas) and direct sales of some of the most dangerous and poisonous reptiles and animals on earth RIGHT IN OHIO. In part of the movie, they show a son of about 8 years old and father buying a baby alligator or crocodile (sorry, I can’t remember which…) from one of these sales/auctions, Tim (undercover) asks “Do you know how big this one will get?” The man answered “Yeah, about 8 feet.” Okay, sir… WTF are you going to do with a croc when it gets BIGGER THAN YOU!? Keep it in the bathtub? Spend thousands of dollars building a sanctuary in your backyard? I think not. I think YOU are not using your brains AT ALL.
In another scene they show a father buying his son “one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa.” FOR HIS 8 YEAR OLD SON! Now, someone please, tell me what the HELL is wrong with people. What quality of life is this animal/reptile going to have in a cage for it’s whole life. It’s not like you can play with it. You get to watch it, in a cage. Please, if you want to watch animals in cages, go to your local zoo. They will appreciate your patronage more than these animals which you will keep as “pets” will.
The direction or crew document different situations of exotic animals being found in the wild, but where they are being found is not their natural habitat. They are now finding snakes native to Africa, in the Everglades of Florida or Cougars & Wild Cats in OHIO because either they escaped, the owners didn’t want them anymore, or the owners realized they couldn’t care for them anymore and let them loose. In MOST cases, the sanctuaries that take in these animals and reptiles are being so saturated with tenants because of this reason, any animal they capture they often have euthanize the animals on the spot because of someones greedy “want”, unwillingness, and lack of education to take care of the animal in the first place. Throughout the whole film we follow a man (Terry Brumfield) and his two African Lions that he keeps in makeshift cages in his backyard. Terry, who now suffers from multiple lifetime injuries from a tractor trailer accident, was given the lions and he fell in love. I mean, who WOULDN’T fall in love with two adorable lion cubs, right? You can see the love and determination on his face and in his eyes whenever he talks about or is around the animals. One day, the male escapes from his cage and ends up chasing cars down the freeway! Scary, right? Terry is forced to keep the 2 adult lions in a old, rusty horse trailer because he has no means of fixing the cages. Many people come and try to take the lions away from him, and for many months (at least 5 as the story goes) these two full size African Lions are kept in the small trailer. They end up breeding and producing baby cubs. Tim, the advocate for Outreach for Animals (a not-for-profile animal rescue & advocate for proper behavior around wildlife), instead of trying to take the lions away brings a team of interesting, yet perfect people to help rebuild cages for the lions. They build up cages from scratch, welding and twisting metal for the male, female and 3 cubs. However, the conditions of this mans backyard aren’t really the greatest. There is scrap metal, junk, and who knows what else piling up. After showing the life of the lions being improved with the new cages, the movie cuts in on a rainy day in Southern Ohio, the ground is soaked, mud is everywhere. They show the male lion in what seems to be an extreme exhausted state. He is laying on the ground while the other lions sit on wooden housing boxes looking on at their father with the most concern of faces. The male lion breathing very oddly, laying on the ground with a low painful growl. The owners have no idea what’s going on, just stating “they all went crazy for 15 minutes, it was like radiation or something…” They then realized, after being shocked by the chain link fence, it was electricity. Turns out, there was an electrical surge from a fridge which sent electricity traveling through the wet ground for 15 minutes. You then see the male lion leap into the air in no natural way, you see his female companion try to help him only to lay one paw on the ground and quickly retract. The male lion cashes head/neck first into the wet concrete pad on the floor the cage. Terry screams for the lion to get up, Terry opens the cage and lays next to his fallen friend, petting his face and comforting him in his last final breaths. The male lion was electrocuted to death. He was quoted earlier in the movie, by saying if anything happened to his lions, there was no real reason for him to go on in life. That my friends, is dedication; complete selfless dedication. It was truly heartbreaking (I am crying my eyes out by this point in the movie, btw…) You can tell this man TRULY LOVED these animals. It was his best friend, he watched his best friend die. Ugh, just totally heartbreaking to me. (I get choked up now even writing this)…it was so emotional.
After the death of the male lion Terry agrees to remove the lions from his care. Tim calls in a personal favor from a friend in Colorado and the lions go to live on a reserve in Colorado where they live and run for the rest of their days.
I am kind of torn with the whole “legality” of owning/buying/selling of exotic animals. I think there needs to be laws in place where if you can’t properly provide for them and are NOT properly educated and trained how to take care of the animal, you have NO business having anything to do with them. IF you REALLY wanted to own an exotic animal you would have to be properly trained, educated, and certified to own these animals. If you down have ownership of an exotic animal, you would have to be evaluated on a monthly basis, pass inspections of holding facilities and living conditions, pass yearly mental evaluations, employment verifications and jump through MANY strict hoops to be able to own and care for these types of animals. These aren’t cats and dogs people – these are wild, unpredictable lions, tigers and bears.
What do you think? Should the sale of exotic animals be illegal? Or should it remain legal with the education, training, and possibly monthly evaluations by federally appointed officials?
Links & Resources:
If you want to know more about the film, click here.
Become a Facebook fan of Outreach for Animals by clicking here.
Follow Outreach for Animals on Twitter at @OutreachAnimals.
If you want to know more about Outreach for Animals (For-impact organization saving lives, transforming lives and changing lives. Educating young people about the realities of wildlife and how animals belong in their natural habitat.), click here.
Information on Cleveland International Film Festival, memberships, and contributions can be found here.
After seeing this movie, I will be making a contribution to Outreach for Animals. The work that Tim does is both crazy-dangerous and amazing at the same time. See if you can’t find $5-$10 to donate as well and PLEASE take a minute to check out the work he does.
Filed under: General on March 28th, 2010