The Elephant in the Living Room

By Alexandra Beane — January 29, 2013

If you are like most Americans, you have a pet. In the majority of American states – thirty to be exact – residents are allowed to own exotic pets. In nine of these states, no license is required to have them.

Exotic pets encompass a wide variety of animals, ranging in size from tiny turtles to elephants. They can be purchased at exotic animal trade shows, pet stores, and over the Internet – some for not much more than the cost of adopting a kitten. Getting these animals is easy, but letting go of them can be extremely difficult and dangerous.

The documentary The Elephant in the Living Room follows Tim Harrison, a Dayton, Ohio Public Safety Officer, as he rescues exotic pets and their owners from one another. Throughout the film, set predominantly in Ohio, Harrison captures loosed exotic pets – including venomous snakes, big cats, crocodiles, and monkeys – and finds new homes for them in rescues, zoos, and shelters, where they then face overcrowding. Harrison exposes the practices at trade shows and auction houses on hidden cameras. He goes to the nation’s largest exotic pet auction in Mount Hope, OH. There, children are shown holding venomous snakes in small plastic containers, and parents are seen asking their kids if they want to take home an alligator.

Harrison meets a man named Terry and his two beloved full-grown African lions while helping wrangle Terry’s large male lion, Lambert. The lion has become loose and is attacking cars on a major highway. Terry refuses to let his animals go, even though Harrison tells him that if his lions harm or kill someone, they will end up being put down.

Eventually, Terry is in over his head, with a litter of cubs to care for. In failing health and mourning the loss of his favorite lion, Lambert (who died in a freak electrical accident), Terry finally allows Harrison to remove and find new homes for the wild cats in his possession.

The Elephant in the Living Room shows both sides of a hot topic: people who love their animals and really believe they are doing the right thing by keeping them, and those who must clean up when exotic pets go loose or act upon natural instincts. “Everyone wants a tiger cub, but no one wants a tiger,” says Harrison. The documentary includes news reports of exotic animal sightings all over the U.S., and facts about exotic animal ownership in this country. It points out that America has very few exotic animal ownership laws. The Elephant in the Living Room raises big questions about animal ownership and care, as well as the issue of public safety. “There are no happy endings when someone tries to have a big cat as a pet,” Harrison says.

Officer Harrison

In a June 2008 interview with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Harrison talked about the documentary he helped film director Michael Webber create. “I hope that it will wake people up to the reality of the exotic animal industry and change their minds about the way that these animals are portrayed and disrespected. I also hope the film will raise public awareness to the inherent danger to humans in raising these deadly animals in our homes….People need to learn to enjoy animals in the wild, not in their living rooms.”


Director Michael Webber

Article Written By: Emily Wages and Judy Rich

Photos courtesy of The Elephant In The Living Room

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