Many red lights flashed about Terry Thompson
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2011:
ZANESVILLE–After Terry W. Thompson released 56 tigers, lions, bears, and other dangerous animals on October 19, 2011, and then shot himself, and after Muskingum County sheriff’s deputies shot 48 of the animals, practically everyone agreed that Thompson should never have had his animal collection in the first place.
Before that, recalled Randy Ludlow of the Columbus Dispatch,
“Thompson was a Vietnam veteran, pilot, admirer of vintage
firearms, and a businessman,” who at his death reportedly owed more
than $68,000 in unpaid liens and taxes, but for more than seven
years fended off complaints about how he fed and housed the animals.
Thompson bought a lion cub for his wife Marian as a birthday
present in 1977. They bought the 73-acre Muskingum County Animal
Farm property in 1987.
As the Thompsons’ animal collection grew, Terry Thompson
sold guns and motorcycles, flew errands in light aircraft, and
collected roadkill to keep the animals fed. Marian Thompson
reportedly gave riding lessons.
“The Muskingum County Animal Farm was not open to visitors,”
wrote Andrew Welsh Huggins and Ann Sanner of Associated Press, “but
Terry Thompson would occasionally take some of the smaller animals to
nearby pet shows or nursing homes. He also provided a big cat for a
photo shoot with supermodel Heidi Klum and appeared on the Rachael
Ray Show in 2008 as an animal handler for a zoologist guest.”
Despite all that, neighbors complained that the Thompsons’
animals were inadequately fed. In 2005, after three cows and a
bison were found dead of alleged starvation on another property that
Terry Thompson owned, he “was convicted in Muskingum County
Municipal Court of cruelty to animals, having an animal at large,
and two counts of rendering animal waste without a license,” Ludlow
wrote. “Terry Thompson was put on house arrest for six months and
paid a $2,870 fine in that case,” Ludlow recalled.
Terry Thompson reportedly paid off the mortgage on 46 acres
of the Muskingum County Animal Farm in 2007 and sold it to a coal
company for $500,000, but apparently retained the right to continue
to live there and keep his animals there until the coal company
wanted to use the land.
Meanwhile Terry Thompson allowed his federal permit to sell
guns to lapse. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in
June 2008 seized 133 firearms from the Thompsons’ home, including
five unregistered automatic weapons and three sawed-off shotguns and
rifles with serial numbers filed off. Terry Thompson claimed to have
inherited the weapons from his father. He denied ever having any
involvement in hunting.
The investigators found “cages without roofs, cages secured
by plastic ties and other makeshift methods, and in some cases,
relatively lightweight dog kennels were used to secure lions and
tigers,” reported Rene Lynch of the Los Angeles Times. “Lions,
tigers, bears, monkeys, wolves, leopards and mountain lions
lacked food, water and shade, and were living in unsanitary
conditions in cages caked with layers of urine and feces. In some
cases, animals were living alongside rotting carcasses,” Lynch
summarized. The cages were “so tight that the animals, particularly
tigers and lions, could not get sufficient exercise. Pens were
located right alongside each other, causing stress and anxiety for
the animals. Lion cubs showed signs of bow-leggedness due to
malnutrition, a mountain lion suffered tremors, and there was
sewage and standing water in the bears’ pen. Injuries in need of
treatment included a cut over a bear’s eye, a horse with an injured
leg, and lesions on a lion’s hips. There had been at least three
dozen complaints since 2004 about Thompson’s exotic menagerie
–including a giraffe grazing by a highway and a monkey in a tree,”
Despite all that, the animals remained on the site in Marian Thompson’s care while Terry Thompson served 366 days in prison for the firearms offenses.
Seven animals who survived the shooting on October 19, 2011
were transported to the Columbus Zoo. But only a quarantine order
kept the animals there when Marian Thompson sought to reclaim them.