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Terry Thompson's Animals

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This was a real-life occurrence in Ohio on October 18, 2011. Terry Thompson was 62 and the owner of an exotic zoo. He purposely left the cages open as well as the farm fence, then took his own life.

Terry Thompson stood next to a chain-linked fence, leaned over, and waited for a bear's tongue to poke through its wires to touch his cheek. He glanced up, tongue still rhythmically lapping the side of his face and said, "I had a girlfriend in high school who couldn't kiss better than that!" He hauled himself up with a grin and wiped the remnants of bear affection from his silver beard. His tall, bulky frame strolled away, his beer gut covered by a dirty beater swaying. His step had unpredictable energy as he bounded away to greet the rest of his 56 animals.

Terry Thompson was the owner of an exotic farm in Zanesville, Ohio. At age 56, he had reached happiness in the form of the bizarre. Caretaker of wolves, monkeys, coyotes, tigers, lions, and bears, Terry Thompson would have probably adopted the animals of The Wizard of Oz if he could have. From the bear pen, Terry walked up the adjacent enclosure where a mountain lion stretched and yawned, flashing its four inch long canine teeth. Terry strolled right in, no hesitation or doubt, steak in hand. They were "his family." They always would be. Even a picture hung on his mantle of him, shirtless, holding a blue-eyed Bengal tiger cub in his grasp, claws piercing his hand. Both man and cub are grinning.

But his family couldn't save him from the ordinary and mundane society outside the farm's gate. Next to the cub picture rests another portrait of Terry and his wife that had recently left him. On the desk rests stacks of bills, totaling somewhere around $65,000 mixed throughout the law suits settlements for local cow deaths, and his release papers from prison, dating back six months ago for gun charges. The daily calendar reads October 10, badly needing an update The plates are piled high in the sink. Brown liquid flows over the edge, drizzling down the cabinet, mixing with the red mess on the floor. Terry lay on the kitchen floor, gunshot wound to the head, gun in hand.

Outside, a Bengal tiger rubbed against a fence, orange fur digging through the open spaces. It then turns to the loose monkey running down the path just outside its cage. It pokes its head through the open gate, warily, and then sprints off in the same direction as the monkey, a set of lumbering bears not too far behind. The 56 animals bounded or warily crept from their purposely left open cages. For a moment, Terry Thompson would have smiled. He would have grinned at the joy he created from setting his animals free before he set himself free the only way he know how. The bears looped through the open, as the monkey chattered above them. The mountain lions played a deathly game of tag with the unsuspecting rabbits. How he would have cherished witnessing a young Bengal discover its first butterfly in the park, or the wolves letting their restless limbs finally find their true purpose. They were free. Their paws sunk in the muddy path the recent rains had left. In the muddy canvas, each left a paw, claw, or hoof print, as if celebrities accepting their name in a cement star. How he would have smiled. But Terry's gunshot wouldn't be the last for these animals would hear. They would find freedom the same way as their master.

A wolf sent out a long low howl, the high-pitched noise growing longer and longer. It filled the air with its cry until the raindrops themselves stopped to listen. BAM! Yelp. Whimper. Then nothing. BAM. A desperate cry exits a lion's chest. BAM BAM. Two more tigers fall. BAM. A bear thuds with the ground. BAM BAM.

The rain regained its sad rhythm in between the police guns and the wild cries of pain. It falls through the sky, hushing the slaughter that ensues below its mother clouds. The soft plunking on the ground hums the tune "...We all fall down." Streams run through the mud, from one paw print, to the next. As the rain fills the indent, blood mixes and stains the pooling water red. As over 47 animal carcasses are hauled into government vehicles -- the rest tranquilized bodies -- all that remains of a dream, made by the blood and sweat of Terry Thompson, is the blood mixing with rain in the paw prints of his animals.