Behind Closed Doors
Updated: Aug 21
K. Powell - Illustration by V. Tillman - Animal abuse is an issue in America that is being neglected in my eyes. News and media sites tend to look for more popular topics to discuss, leaving the casual newsreader in the dark on the subject. A standard case of dogfighting or animal hoarding often isn’t enough to catch one’s eye in a sea of articles. If the same crime is committed by a celebrity, though, the case will be much more likely to make it and will hold a reader’s attention when they recognize the popular figure. If these cases were to be scrutinized and used as examples, then awareness of animal cruelty would spread.
Cases such as Michael Vick’s can be used in this way. Vick, the quarterback formerly of the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, was found to own Bad Newz Kennels, a dogfighting establishment. He was sentenced to 23 months in prison, with an extra three years of supervised probation in which he could not buy, sell, or own dogs in any way. This is a very well-known case that exposed people to the cruelty in dogfighting that some may have never even thought about. These cases should be maximized and spread to the public to make those who may not care about that discreet little article buried beneath the rest stand out and show how truly terrible this is. Michael Vick actually went on to make an example of himself by becoming an animal rights activist and speaking for a campaign started by the Humane Society of the United States. Some may say that celebrities should be treated the same as any other person. I don’t believe they should be sentenced any differently, but should be exposed to more people who wouldn’t know or actively care about animal abuse. Anything that can be used to expand knowledge on the subject should be taken.
One of these opportunities that was lost is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, or “Joe Exotic” as he is known at his park, and the Netflix series “Tiger King.””. Passage owns the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. He is known for this park, which he claims has upwards of 200 tigers. He was one of the largest cub sellers in the U.S. before he was charged with 17 wildlife violations including the deaths of 5 tigers and 2 murder-for-hire when he tried to kill the animal rights activist Carole Baskin, his archenemy. This added up to 22 years in prison. “Tiger King” by Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode is very popular, but unfortunately not because of Passage’s constant breeding of new cubs. The show instead, whether on purpose or not, focuses on Passage’s rivalry with and eventual attempted murder of Baskin. Despite trying to show these terrible practices it is instead passed over without as much attention as it deserves. According to Eric Goode in an interview he didn’t want to leave people in a bad mood:
“You don’t want to just completely bum people out. But at the same time, at the end, making it hopefully clear that this was a horrible practice.”
I believe that this portion of Passage’s story should be strengthened, even at the cost of making some people sad. It needs to be said, otherwise the message just won’t go through as well as it could, and to as many people. In a way Netflix is cashing in on this man’s legacy, which isn’t helping anyone. If you’re going to write a show about an animal abuser who attempted murder, then try to help the cause in some way without simply profiting off of it.
These cases can be used to prevent future abuse to the creatures we share this planet with. We need to expose more people to these hidden cruelties in order to educate them so they can take an active part in solving the problem. There are still people out there who do not know of these crimes, or simply do not care. We need to help them change their minds.