Kathy Rudy: When a cage means freedom.
2011 brought two very different zoo stories. The first, a tragedy, takes place in mid-October in Zanesville, Ohio. Terry Thompson, the owner and keeper of Muskingum County Animal Farm, released 56 animals from their enclosures before killing himself. It is unclear what he thought would happen to them, but it’s safe to say that Thompson was disturbed, depressed and isolated. He had just spent a year in prison for possession of unregistered guns (and many more were found on the premises after his death), his wife had just left him, and it was reported that he was having serious financial difficulties. He was unable to maintain good relationships with most of his neighbors; some people speculate that releasing the animals was a way of getting back at the people who surrounded him. Others thought he intended the animals to find a new life in the wild. Faced with over 35 big cats and other dangerous animals running loose in their community, though, the sheriff’s office ordered all the animals to be hunted down and killed. The bodies of dead animals lined the road into town.
The second zoo story is a tale of redemption, coming in the form of a big Hollywood holiday release, “We Bought a Zoo.” Directed by Cameron Crowe and loosely based on a book by Benjamin Mee, “We Bought a Zoo” stars Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson and is a delightful if overly sentimental Christmas film. Mee (Matt Damon) is mourning the death of his wife and losing touch with his kids. On a whim, he decides to change their lives by buying a zoo that is in serious disrepair. Through hard work, borrowed money and lots of struggle, Mee and his friends manage to refurbish the zoo, get a new license and reopen. Along the way, Mee finds emotional healing through his connection with animals.
The two zoo stories are inverse images of each other. The only thing they have in common is that both can make you cry. But I think there’s a lot we can learn from both stories.