Caretaker recalls day exotic animals were shot in Zanesville

HERE is proof that the animals  released in Zanesville did NOT need to be killed!!!

“They didn’t need to be shot,” “I told (Capt. Jeff) LeCo I could get them back in their cages, but they looked at me like I was stupid.” -John Moore

The Sheriff knew from the start he did not have to kill those animals…He doesn’t want further investigation -He killed them without reason and created the biggest disaster concerning animals in the US…NO!…Worldwide!!!

“It was like in a war zone, just automatic rifle fire,” he said. “… I’ve thought about it every day since then, at least in passing.”-Sgt. Steve Blake

Caretaker recalls day exotic animals were shot in Zanesville

John Moore talks to one of his lions through its cage in his Fairport Beach backyard. Moore, a former caretaker at Terry Thompson's farm, has had two lionesses since they were days old.

ZANESVILLE — It’s been almost a year since Terry Thompson released more than 50 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and monkeys from his Zanesville farm.

Thompson then took his own life and didn’t see the carnage that resulted from his actions.

The Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office shot and killed most of the animals. The six that survived were taken to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and placed under quarantine.

The event prompted lawmakers to work on legislation that would put strict regulations on owners and ban future ownership of exotics.

One year later, memories from that night are still vivid for those involved, and owners of exotic animals have to decide whether to keep large pets that are considered members of the family.

Vivid recollection

John Moore sits on his back porch near Fairfield Beach, a little sadness creeping into his eyes as he watches his two lionesses play with their balls and toys.

For nearly 15 years, Moore was the caretaker at Terry Thompson’s farm on Kopchak Road near Zanesville. That ended on Oct. 18, 2011, when Thompson released his animals and committed suicide.

Moore arrived at the farm just a little after 5 p.m. that night, he said, just after deputies had been alerted to the roaming animals. Going up the long lane from the front gate of the house to the driveway by the barn, Moore said he and Sgt. Steve Blake were initially looking for Thompson.

Entering the garage after going past a long row on both sides of the pathway lined with cages that once held lions, tigers, and bears, Moore said Blake handed him a gun, which Moore didn’t think he had any use for.

“I didn’t need a gun,” Moore said. “I had to push two lions, one of them was Kenya, out of the way just to get in the house. “I locked them up in their pens. We saw Anton, Cleo and Anthony in their cages, but they never came out.”

Anton, Cleo and Anthony were the three panthers that were taken to the Columbus Zoo the next day. Cleo and Anthony were returned to Marian Thompson earlier this year. Anton was euthanized at the zoo after a steel door slammed down on his neck as he was being transferred from one cage to another.

Moore said he was told if the animals didn’t come out of their cages, they would be safe. Walking back outside, still thinking he might find Thompson, Moore noticed something out of the corner of his eye as he was walking through the line of cages back to the deputy’s car.

“It was Terry,” Moore said. “He was lying behind the cages in the field and I just couldn’t believe it.”

A white tiger was lying near Thompson’s body making it impossible for the men to get too close. Also close to Thompson’s body was the Rutger .357-magnum gun Thompson is believed to have used to kill himself.

Moore said he also saw three lions locked in their cages behind the barn and Solomon, who was 15, also locked in his cage at the front entrance.

“Then there was Jocelyn,” Moore said. “She was pregnant and nesting in her cage. She was all the way to the back and I know her cage was locked. Even if it hadn’t been, she wasn’t about to come out.”

Also in the front cages were white tiger cubs, Moore said, that weren’t much bigger than a medium-sized dog and a baby lion, Elisa, who weighed about 80 pounds.

“They didn’t need to be shot,” Moore said. “If their cages were unlocked or cut, I would have had no problem getting them back in.”

Moore said he had played with the tigers and cubs and they were dependent on him and Thompson.

“Even the two wolves I might have been able to get back in their cages,” he said. “I used to play fetch with them.”

One wolf was shot and the other was hit by a car on Interstate 70 that night.

The sounds of the animal shootings will never leave Moore’s memory.

“I watched the animals getting shot from the gate,” Moore said. “I told (Capt. Jeff) LeCo I could get them back in their cages, but they looked at me like I was stupid.”

Sheriff Matt Lutz said he is not sure exactly what Moore saw that night or why he hasn’t said anything before if Moore felt things were not handled right.

Lutz said he had no reports of any animals that were locked securely in their cages or in a secure area being shot unnecessarily by his deputies.

“I’m not refuting what John is saying,” Lutz said. “But, I do know he never asked me or told me he could get any of the animals back in their cages. I know he spent most of the night organizing a list for us so we would know what was there.”

Sgt. Steve Blake never had to fire a shot Oct. 18, but he’ll never forget the sound of the bullets ripping through the air, shell casings dropping through the open truck window as he drove Special Response Team members around the farm.

Blake will never forget the two monkeys he found inside Thompson’s house, screaming. He’ll never forget the rats in the barn, scurrying everywhere as deputies shot the larger animals. And he’ll never forget the tiger who came face-to-face with the truck. As the tiger was shot, a chunk of his skin flew into the air, and Blake saw the animal’s spine, he said.

“It was like in a war zone, just automatic rifle fire,” he said. “… I’ve thought about it every day since then, at least in passing.”

Blake was the first one dispatched to Thompson’s farm that night. In the days immediately following, people from all over the country, and even some from other countries, left scathing messages at the sheriff’s office, criticizing the decision to shoot the animals. As a deputy, Blake is used to criticism, he said, but those were some of the most hateful, irrational messages he’s ever heard.

That’s one reason Blake still agrees to interviews, even though he’s tired of talking about that night, he said. He wants people to know what it was really like, that it wasn’t just a bunch of rednecks having fun shooting tigers and bears.

“I’ve said this before: Nobody was laughing. Nobody was having fun. It was a serious, professional police operation,” he said. “… I want people to understand: This was something we had to do. At the point we got involved in it, there was no other realistic option we had.”

Lutz said he was forced into a bad situation that night.

“Even if John had wanted to go up there, I couldn’t have sent him,” Lutz said. “It wasn’t safe. The liability issues were too great. What if he’d been hurt? I couldn’t let that happen.”

Moore’s last task the next day at the farm was burying all the animals.

“I cried like a baby,” Moore said. “It was the worst thing. I loved those animals. I bathed them, fed them, played with them and took care of them.

“It’s bad enough losing Terry like that. But then to lose the very things he loved most in the world. That’s just heartbreaking.”

Moore said the five animals that have been returned to Marian Thompson, the two panthers, a bear and two monkeys, are all doing well.

“They’re thriving,” he said.

To keep or release

Moore is now in school getting his doctorate in wildlife zoology, and hoping to start his own exotic animal sanctuary, calling it a “drive to protect these animals.”

Thompson’s actions started a chain reaction that night. Now Moore, like hundreds of other exotic owners in Ohio, faces a choice: Register the animals or risk losing them to the state. Owners have until Nov. 5 to register their animals with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and a ban on owning exotics will take place Jan. 1, 2014.

“As long as I do it safely and care for my animals, it’s my business,” Moore said. “These are like my kids.”

Moore said people think the animals escaped that night.

“They didn’t escape,” he said. “They were released. And most of those stayed on the property.”

Continuing his education, Moore also is planning on releasing a book in the near future that talks about his time with Thompson and Thompson’s last days.

“I want future generations to be able to see these animals in settings that are not zoos,” Moore said. “My drive is to protect them. Give them a voice.”

~ by topcatsroar on October 15, 2012.

2 Responses to “Caretaker recalls day exotic animals were shot in Zanesville”

  1. I don’t believe that it was any kind of “serious, professional” police operation.

  2. […] incumbent Sergeant Steve Blake gives a cursory glimpse behind the scenes of the Army’s most coveted […]

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