BROWNSVILLE, TN (abc24.com) - Mid-South exotic animal sanctuary owners are in shock over what happened in Ohio.
According to sheriff's deputies, Terry Thompson, the owner of an exotic animal farm, set dozens of tigers, lions and bears free into the Ohio countryside on Tuesday, October 18, 2011. Thompson then killed himself. 50 of the escaped animals were killed as law enforcement tried to collect them.
Tim Davies owns ARK R.A.I.N Wildlife Sanctuary in Brownsville, TN. He dedicates his life to exotic animals. For more than 25 years, he's been providing homes for exotic animals.
After lighting strikes, tornado damage, even a fire at his home, nothing has been able to stop him from running the sanctuary.
"We're supposed to be the keepers of the animals," Davies says, "so we figure that's what were supposed to be doing."
In November 2010, a fire destroyed his house and killed nearly 60 animals. Without the money to rebuild, he lives in a trailer on the property, not willing to let one of these animals out of his sight.
"Seeing the animals dead in Ohio," he tells abc24.com, "we relived the whole nightmare all over again."
Terry Thompson was deep in debt. Records show he owed nearly $70,000 in back taxes.
Davies understands how expensive these animals can be, but he doesn't understand how anyone could put the lives of the animals and the lives of their neighbors in jeopardy. He says, especially when there are rescue operations like his available.
"You know," he says, "by letting those animals out, the animals are going to die. No one's going to let lions and tigers roam your neighborhood."
Ohio has the some of the least strict exotic animal laws in the nation. Tennessee has some of the toughest.
Davies says Thompson showed signs of struggle early on. He says this situation could have been avoided.
"If they had stricter laws," says Davies, "a lot of these animals would have been taken from him when they should have, before a situation like this came up."
Of the animals released in Ohio, only six were taken alive. They went to the Columbus Zoo.