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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Animal "Intervention," Ignorance or Self Aggrandizement?

Qualification for rescuing exotic animals?
Over the last couple of months I have been watching a NatGeo TV series called "Animal Intervention."  The show is hosted by Alison Eastwood - daughter of Clint Eastwood (of "Dirty Harry") fame.

I am fascinated with it because the show is truly strange in many ways.  (Certainly watch it for yourself if you are interested...)

First some background from my perspective as a viewer...

Each show features segments on people who own exotic animals.  Not individuals but, for the most part, persons who own larger "rescue" facilities.  Primarily I would say "big cat" rescues with a lot of tigers (including white tigers), lions, bears, and mountain lions.

These animals are large and quite demanding in terms of food and upkeep.

(In the distant past Mrs. Wolf bred English Mastiffs.  Now these are large animals as adults - weighing perhaps as much as 225 or more pounds.  They are very strong and have very large, sharp teeth.  Of course dogs are domesticated but that does little or nothing to reduce the power of their muscles, bones and teeth, i.e., they can be inadvertently dangerous.  At times we had five or six of these in our home at one time.  The bottom line is I am familiar with some aspects of what it means to have to take care of larger animals. Its a lot of work and it goes on for the lifetime of the animal.)

The majority of what I see on the show are individuals who have devoted a significant portion of their lives and finances (in many cases to their extreme detriment) to their animals.

Fairly typical will be a house with some property converted to a "sanctuary" with maybe a dozen or more large cats and other predators.  These people struggle to keep them feed, warm, clean and safe.  Typically these folks have some helpers but they themselves seem to take the full financial responsibility.  Often the people themselves live in squalor or with little in order to take the animals well.  (In one case the woman sleeps in her chair, you can see a loaf of bread and peanut butter and jelly on a table behind her.  She tells the hosts she sleeps in her chair and spends all day outside working.)

Most of the places they show appear to be "rescues" built up from donations, i.e., local authorities that "donate" animals seized in, for example, a drug situation.  In general the owners of these facilities do their human best to take care of these animals.

Often they describe this as a life-long avocation.

In all cases the people involved seem focused on the best interests of the animals.

Of particular note is the "big cat" owners who seem particularly concerned about the mental well being of their animals.

The premise of the show is Alison and a guest host (a guy) appear to just "show up" at these facilities under what would appear to me to be false pretenses - asking for tours (in the case of places open to the public).

After they review the facilities and people involved on camera they go off to the side and discuss how they really feel about what is shown.

Usually this involves hand wringing over some aspects of the facilities.  Some is legitimate, for example elderly people taking care of big cats, some seems "trumped up" - for example a bear in a USDA-approved enclosure that seems to Alison to be "to small."

Sometimes there are legal aspects to the situation - USDA (which governs how exotic animals are to be managed in the US for public facilities) issues, animal rights issues, lawsuits, etc.

The upshot of the visit is usually for Alison and the guest host to "decide" that the animals should be "rescued" in some way.

Sometimes this is legitimate, i.e., a woman who had a monkey in her living room which she really could not handle or a guy with a large cat who was ill and really was less able to care for it than he had been.  In these cases the hosts attempt to find another "rescue" to place the animal in.

Often, though, its seems illegitimate.

Now I think you have to watch the show very carefully when these cases arise.

In particular I have to question how it is they find "new facilities" for these animals.

In a recent show an elderly woman in Arkansas had some twenty-five plus tigers.  All in large cages, all of which clearly loved her (and she them), all well fed, all without dirty or feces caked on their fur, etc.  But the woman was also older and had trouble walking.

So the hosts find another "rescue" about three hours away that will take not only the animals but the woman as well (she refused to allow the animals to be taken without her because they would be troubled and confused in their new surroundings).

The new "rescue" is a husband-wife-run place.  These folks were also older - I'd say in their late 50's.

They had what Alison considered to be a "better" facility.  Some footage shown on the show, however, showed it to be about the same as where the cats had been save for the fact that it was overgrown because the woman had a bad hip.

So the point is this.  The "new" home looks to me like basically a facility that would show up on the show in a few years when the new owners get older (or one dies, or gets hurt, etc.)

That is, Alison is merely shuffling the animals around based on her feelings.  Perhaps to a temporarily better place but most likely to a facility run by someone just as devoted but currently at a little better place in their "rescue" life.

In another case there was a bear in a small facility - maybe a 12 x 24 cage - concrete floor, heavy chain-link fencing.  The owner was a kind of "animal park" and the cage was USDA acceptable.  A local animal rights woman with bright purple hair had been suing the park owner to get the bear a larger cage.

Everyone (including the owner) wanted the bear to have a better facility and Alison, to her credit, scared up $5,000 USD to help out but only if some fencing guy she found could do the work.  The bear's owner suggested she offer the money as a donation to the park and he would use the money to buy materials (Alison wanted her designated contractor to double the size of the cage) to make a cage about seven or eight times larger.  The owner would find volunteers to do the work.

Alison rejected this because the contract was "approved" by someone or something to make "USDA-approved" cages.

Now this cage was not rocket science.  Heavy chain link, heavy poles and a concrete pad (though that wasn't needed for the expansion because the expansion was supposed to include dirt).  Anyone with reasonable fence experience could have looked at the materials and construction used and simply duplicated it.

Further, Alison, in the same segment, goes to some other local bear owner for "comparison."  This guy has a set of zoo-like cages, about four grizzlies and a large area surrounded by a wooden, yes wooden, stockade fence with a single electrified wire running around it.

Well Alison, in her expert opinion, thinks this facility is just great - the bears have a large area including a picnic table.

Meanwhile you can see a subdivision of homes right close by in the background.

Now I've seen what large dogs can do - like go through a metal door to reach a female in heat - and this rinky-tink wooden fence with a electric wire would not slow a bear down for more than a few seconds.

But she demands this other guy to create a much better enclosure.

The bottom line of all this is that Alison, rather than fund actual improvements for the animals, is more worried about what seems to be random nonsense, making herself and the guest host "look good" and "compassionate" and posturing.

Why not just donate the $5K and let the guy hire volunteers to build a larger enclosure?

Why send the animals to "new" facilities that are structurally similar and destined for the same issues when the current ones are run by dedicated people who are already successful?

A little research turned up this Facebook page from one of the segment "guests."  He questions the editing of his segment and shows how Alison, on her blog, says his facility is okay, but in the show they make him look bad.  One show guest speaks out here:

The bottom line here is that Alison seems quite superficial and ignorant of the obvious big picture.

There are apparently thousands of big cats, for example, in the US alone - more than there are wild - according to a comment made in one of the shows.

The people depicted are extremely dedicated.  These animals live a long time, the big cats eat about 40 lbs of food (usually fresh meat) a day.  There are few vets equipped to deal with them.

My guess is there is no real money in it even for the big, wonderful, fancy "rescues" that Alison tries to get the animals to go to.  Basically a single "issue" (health, death, etc.) at one of these places will send that rescue into problems.

The bottom line is that there is no place for animals that no one wants save for these private "sanctuaries."

Alison's efforts are based on ignorance.

Obviously Nat Geo has spent a ton of money on this.  In the case of the bear why not run a simple "kickstarter"-like campaign (using NatGeo's national clout) to raise money for the bigger enclosure?

Get the $10K needed and the problem is solved.

Ditto for the purple haired woman suing the guy - how much lawyer and county time will be spend on a lawsuit?

Why not simply go around and actually help the bear owner get the funds needed?

Some of these animals cannot live in the wild and clearly need rescue.

Others could but would probably be poached so they need rescue as well.

Why does NatGeo profit from these animals misfortune?

Why not focus on a national solution?

Why single out and torture people who are actually doing the "heavy lifting" of caring for these animals?

It seems to me that if NatGeo would do Habitat for Humanity type things to get volunteers - like the purple haired woman - to actually do something about the problem rather than wasting tax dollars and pissing away money on lawyers?

I have no problem rescuing animals.  But I have a big problem with shows like this which really serve the animals no purpose at all.

Alison clearly gets gratification when some animal is helped but is this really a good use of her and NatgGeo's resources?

[ From Joe Exotic @ 1:20 PM EST:  Joe asked me to post this: ]


  1. The only two who needs intervention are this "Donny and Marie" imposters. What are their credentials in animal handling other than they are die-hard liberals? I imagine that perhaps they have a guilt omplex from childhood. Did they choke a cat or sonething? A program like this is full of opportunities for abuse. Editing will easily show somebody as bad or good with literally the clipping or insertion of a scene. What would be nice to see is a trap Donny and Marie where they are perhaps quizzed by an experienced biologist from a well known university, so we can see how much they really know that qualifies them as "first assessors" or "screeners" of a potentially abusive situation. It bothers me to know end to see the smug look on "Donnie's" face as he is disingenuously questioning animal handlers. There is a particular pose Donnie takes while he is questioning that gives him away. Donnie, keep an eye open..we may be coming to get you soon and expose your foul editing tricks

  2. Very nasty, arrogant inspectors, who bait, then switch the unknowing animal caretaker. There are bad apples in lots of dangerous businesses. Why aren't they on the hunt, let's say, inthe Russian Mafia? Look for hapless and perhaps stupid victims, and you will find some, but why the showing off? Why embarass people by bait and switch? Be honest upfront, cowards!