Living with Owning: Property, Community, and the Zanesville, Ohio Animal Release
38 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2016
Date Written: October 14, 2016
In October, 2011, Terry Thompson committed suicide by gunshot after cutting open the cages of fifty-six exotic animals on his farm in Zanesville, Ohio. Fearing for public safety, law enforcement officers systematically hunted down the escaped animals in an episode that garnered international attention and prompted renewed discussion of the propriety of exotic animal ownership. This Article, which was delivered as the the 2016 Addison C. Harris Lecture at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, retells and discusses the circumstances surrounding Terry Thompson’s unhinging, applying frameworks of legal theory, chiefly in the realm of property law, to assess the fabric that held Thompson’s delicate system together and the tensions that led to its unravelling. As if conducting an autopsy, we seek to articulate the systems that failed in both theoretical and specific terms. After a brief introduction to the law and policy of owning exotic animals, we offer a sequence of competing visions for property, stewardship, personhood, governance, empathy, and physical ordering or disordering as they apply to the ownership of exotic animals in Ohio. Though Thompson had acquired his menagerie through legal means, he resented oversight of government authorities, generating friction that reverberated across the lines of tension named above. The Article concludes with discussion of the need — contra Terry Thompson — to surrender control in ownership relations, community life, and, ultimately, the modern state.
Keywords: property, community, stewardship, animals, personhood
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