Letters to the editor:
Life & Death & Zoning
I hope Mr. Richard Bailey, the people he represents, and the members of the Roane County Commission who voted against Tiger Haven are happy. Due to their ignorance and fear, many once abandoned and/or abused large cats may have to return to their former conditions or be euthanized. The opponents of Tiger Haven claim that they are simply protecting their community, but it seems that they do not even know the source of their fear.
Mr. Bailey, in a Metro Pulse article ["Laws of Nature" by Jesse Fox Mayshark, Vol. 9, No. 14], admitted that he has never visited the facility to see how secure it really is. He claims that a "warm, fuzzy feeling" he may get from visiting Tiger Haven will not affect the basic issues. Well, if the basic issue is safety in his community, he should have inspected the facility. The TWRA has been inspecting Tiger Haven for the past eight years and has no problem with the containment of the big cats. This same agency oversees the Knoxville Zoo. Since TWRA does not have a problem with Tiger Haven, it stands to reason that Tiger Haven is as safe as having the Knoxville Zoo in your neighborhood. It seems that the official opinion of the TWRA on the safety of Tiger Haven is not good enough for Mr. Bailey or the seven county commissioners (who have also never visited Tiger Haven).
Quoted in an article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on March 29, "There is no way that anyone can guarantee us 100 percent, through human error or natural disaster, that one of these animals won't get out." If the TWRA is not official enough to guarantee Tiger Haven's safety, perhaps zoos in every city should be eliminated because anyone living near a zoo has a "500-pound, dangerous cat" in their neighborhood.
If this is too drastic a solution, maybe Mr. Bailey and all the opponents of Tiger Haven should pay a visit to Joe Parker's Tiger Haven and see if their fears of a big cat escape are warranted. The visit may give them the "warm, fuzzy feeling" of which they seem so afraid, but it may also convince them of the conditions these animals came from and to which they are now going to return if they are allowed to live.
While Mr. Bailey and his supporters say they do not want the animals euthanized, they only want them out of their neighborhood, I believe they do not understand the full course of the actions they have taken. Unwanted animals get euthanized. Ask anyone who works for the Humane Society. These cats may be bigger than your average house cat, but it does not matter. If they are unwanted, they will be put to sleep. The Roane County Humane Society, who supports Tiger Haven, should be able to describe the fate that the commission's decision has sealed for these cats.
The other problem that opponents have with Tiger Haven is the issue of zoning. However, this issue appears to be one that should be fought in a court of ethics. According to the same Metro Pulse article, Mr. Parker was abiding by the rules that were established by his A-1 zoning, which allowed "exotic animals." Only when Mr. Bailey and the people he represents complained against future expansion of Tiger Haven, did the Roane County Planning Commission create an A-2 zone specifically for exotic animals and then disallowed any "exotics" in A-1 zones.
When a law is changed so that someone who was once abiding by that law then breaks it, and the change is made so only that person breaks the law goes against any basic definitions of ethics and may even border on unconstitutional. If opponents do not want Mr. Parker to expand, simply do not allow exotic animals within the zoning onto which he was to expand. Do not force him into breaking the law and then punish him for it.
Some people may ask why I have not put forth an effort to help save Tiger Haven until now. Some may even ask why I would care or how I can speak out when I live in Knox County. This issue extends beyond the boundaries of Roane County. These animals would not need a sanctuary if it were not for the abuse by humans. Since human culture brought these animals into the poor conditions from which they were rescued, humans as a society should feel obligated to provide shelter from further abuse. Places like Tiger Haven need to exist if people continue to abuse animals. When a cause for any organization can get 500 to 700 people to a commission meeting in support of the organization, it would seem that some positive results should develop for the organization.
Regarding my living in a different county, if I did live near such a facility, I would take it as my own responsibility to educate myself about the sanctuaries for large cats and large cat behavior. I do not feel I can make a decision about a subject unless I have some understanding of the subject. Tiger Haven opponents should feel the same way.
It seems to me Mr. Bailey, the people he represents and the Roane County Commissioners, who have not yet visited Tiger Haven, should make the effort to visit just once. They should also take the word of TWRA as to how safe the sanctuary is and allow Mr. Parker to remain on the land on which he was originally abiding by the law. If they do not want Mr. Parker to expand, that is another issue. He was not violating the zoning ordinance until it was changed to work against him. Decisions based on ignorance and fear should not influence the changing of laws, especially when the situation is life or death.