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June 23, 2008

Meet Officer Tim Harrison

A Q&A with Officer Tim Harrison of "The Elephant in the Living Room"

In 2008, HSUS's Animal Content in Entertainment (ACE) program awarded its $25,000 documentary grant to filmmaker Mike Webber for his upcoming feature, "The Elephant in the Living Room," which provides a compelling look at the nationwide problem of exotic pet ownership. We caught up with Officer Tim Harrison, who is featured in the film, to ask him about exotic

The HSUS: How did you become involved with exotic pet rescue?

Tim Harrison: "In high school, I was an assistant to a veterinarian who would receive calls to assist in the capture of exotic pets. The biggest issue at that time, and still today, is that when these incidences occur, organizations that are traditionally called upon—like the local humane societies and animal control—don't have experience dealing with lions, tigers, venomous snakes, or primates like this. It is that early experience that led me to remain involved in these captures or rescues."

State laws need to be written to prevent the sale and ownership of dangerous exotic animals.

The HSUS: Why do you think exotic pet ownership has become so popular?

TH: "What I have discovered is that since 1995, when reality television started taking off, the private ownership of these animals sky-rocketed...and so too did the calls. That's when we began seeing more and more people on television raising and handling these deadly animals. It's the classic monkey-see, monkey-do mentality."

"And when I rescue these animals, I will talk to the owners and they almost all talk about what they watch on television and how that caused them to become interested and believe that they too could raise these [animals] in their homes."

"The other big contributing factors are that they are widely legal, easily available, and people think that they're cool. What more do you need?"

The HSUS: What must be done to curb this disturbing trend?

TH: "The biggest impact is with updating the state laws. State laws need to be written to prevent the sale and ownership of dangerous exotic animals. This will go a long way, in that the average person is not likely interested in breaking the law."

"We also need to change the way that these animals are portrayed on television and in the media. I would like to see us go from treating these animals as property to [them] being treated with respect. The best way to do this is to simply leave wild animals in the wild."

The HSUS: What's the most dangerous exotic animal you've ever encountered?

TH: "The most dangerous or frightening capture that I was involved in was a Rhino Viper from Africa that killed a fellow firefighter in Dayton, Ohio. In my career, I've caught hundreds of venomous snakes, but this was an instance where someone I knew was lying there dying from a deadly snake bite, and I had to go back out to locate and capture the pet viper who bit him."

The HSUS: What do you hope "The Elephant in the Living Room" will achieve?

TH: "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."

Learn more

» About "The Elephant in the Living Room"
» About The ACE awards
» About exotic pets

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