• The Belvedere Journal

The Secret Life of Pets

Alana M

Naturally, a wild animal would spend most days roaming its territory in search of the three things that make up its entire life- prey, a mate and effective shelter. This is stripped away from them when they are taken into captivity.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to own a wild animal as your very own house pet? Perhaps a tiger, a chimpanzee, a bear. I know I have. As a child, the idea that it could one day be conceivable to share my home with some of these extraordinary species was my dream. Then, I grew up, and I realised the sheer impracticality and even abusive nature of keeping wild animals as pets. However, that concept doesn’t seem to bother certain owners; In fact, if anything, it looks to me as if their obsession with the confinement of wild animals is furthered, becoming even more unrelenting. People like Joe Schreibvogel- better known as Joe Exotic- Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle and Tim Stark exemplify this amoral behaviour.

Naturally, a wild animal would spend most days roaming its territory in search of the three things that make up its entire life- prey, a mate and effective shelter. This is stripped away from them when they are taken into captivity. Yes, they are given new dietary supplements, which often depend on the monetary stance of the owner at the time. For example, Joe Exotic fed his animals with meat from Walmart, which was donated to him because it went past it’s sell-by date, so was no longer allowed to be on the shelves. Yes, they are usually provided with a mate, so the owner can fulfill their desires of an ongoing cycle of captivity. And yes, shelter is administered to them, in the form of a cramped, suburban abode, which usually average around 2,687 square feet (according to the Census Bureau), so 0.00009638286 square miles. In the wild, a tiger will usually walk between 23 and 39 square miles a day, so the downsizing here is immense. But the point is, the animals daily routine is taken from it; it’s naturality is taken from it, and replaced by something abnormal and prosthetic. Imagine this happened to you, do you think you would be able to retain a healthy attitude to the person who did this?

Although, it’s not just that some people would do these things to a wild animal that will inevitably make it feel some kind of resentment towards them that makes me question whether interspecies relationships are really possible. It’s the fact that wild animals have basic instincts that encourage them into acts of aggression, not only in threatening circumstances, all the time. A common behavioural inclination for predators is called surplus killing, in which they slaughter more prey than they can immediately eat and therefore abandon the remainder. This clearly shows how predators, including the likes of the wild animals commonly kept as house pets, have no restraint when going for a kill and will not stop- even when their hunger can be fully satisfied with what they already have, suggesting there is a more sadistic inspiration to their actions. And yet, with all of this underlying danger and the erratic instability of a wild animal's mood, people still believe they are acceptable pets. I am truly forced to evaluate the state of parts of the human race in moments like this.

A key example of this type of ignorance is the unfortunate incident that occured with Travis the chimpanzee. Travis, 14 years old and weighing 200lbs at the time, mauled a family friend in his owner’s driveway, leaving her featureless and blinded, but thankfully- alive. Following this, the chimpanzee attacked a responding police officer’s vehicle and opened the driver-side door, readying to commit another incursion, before the officer was compelled to fatally shoot Travis. While this was completely tragic, had Travis been treated like the wild animal he was, and not a housepet, it would never have happened.

However, unbelievably, I have not yet touched on the worst thing done to some wild animals. Because they are being kept as pets, so have to be somewhat domesticated or tamed, some owners will force animals through extensive training processes, where physical or harsh verbal punishments are applied to enforce a command. This means these animals are being reprimanded for their inability to comprehend something that is completely beyond their natural development, which is not just corrupt- it is essentially animal abuse. We can see this in many owner’s training techniques, despite them having a so-called affinity with wild animals, but in my opinion one of the most prevalent offenders of this is Tim Stark. 

Stark showed us the dominating stance he holds over his bears in the Louis Theroux documentary ‘Beware of The Tiger’, where simply by exclaiming the phrase “move it”, the bears will all rush away from him. Their actions display that of pure fear, and suggest that they’ve been through a vast regime of jarring discipline. 


The USDA has only recently issued an order to revoke Tim Stark’s license, finding he’s committed 120 violations of federal law surrounding the abuse of animals (also including: instructing patrons to hit big cat cubs during “Tiger Baby Playtime” events, swinging and throwing monkeys by their tails and hips during public encounters, and bludgeoning a leopard to death with a baseball bat). If this abhorrent man can carry out actions like these so publicly, I don’t even want to envisage the abuse that goes on behind closed doors.

All of these elements seem to provide the final question of how qualified these types of people actually are to own, and take sufficient care of, wild animals- especially when considering all they use is their own resources. A zoology degree usually takes 3 years to achieve, and even then there is additional compulsory training to be a keeper for certain animals. But these owners generally have little to no experience and a severe lack of preparation, which makes it impossible to side with them in their ongoing battle with a multitude of animal rights organisations (including: peta.org, four-paws.org and bornfree.org). 

That is not to say I can’t understand the temptation of receiving an influx of popularity, solely due to the ownership of an uncommon animal. I suppose the notion that if an animal is brought up in captivity then there’s nothing for it to miss makes me rethink the ethics of the situation. In the end, can animals even feel disappointment or an aura of maltreatment from humans? Truthfully, I don’t know. 


Nevertheless, the answer to questions like this being uncertain does not provide anyone with an excuse to value animals' lives any less than our own. So, tread carefully, if you delve into the secret life of pets.

The Belvedere Journal - all views on this site are those of individual students, not the views of the academy as an institution