Cecil and Obie: Owning animals, dead or alive


Photo from Care2 petitions – click image

Kathleen Stachowski     Other Nations

Cecil the lion is dead, long live Cecil. Obie the tiger lives–and dies–in successive purgatories for 45 years running.

Cecil, a unique individual and beloved personality, was slain by a small and hollow man for no reason other than ego. This one “special” lion’s death triggered a tipping point and unleashed worldwide condemnation.

And then there’s Obie, one beloved football mascot who has required a veritable breeding mill to produce the 45 individuals who’ve served as namesake. Make no mistake–it’s the mascot who’s beloved, not the unique tiger cub plugged into the role annually. Old Obies live and die in obscurity as wild captives no longer cubbishly cute, as now-dangerous adults consigned to–well, who knows? Who cares?  

The latest incarnation of the Obie mascot was rolled out onto the gridiron in Massillon, Ohio at the end of August. Massillon is the home of the Washington High School Tigers, where, since 1970, a live tiger cub has been a “fixture” on the sidelines. An appreciative crowd let out a thunderous roar when Obie appeared–his presence hadn’t been a given this year, thanks to earlier state legislation restricting the ownership of dangerous, wild animals:

Earlier this week, it was uncertain whether a cub would be present for the opening football game, as new state regulations had been put in place a few years ago prohibiting groups and individuals to care for or raise exotic animals. Since 2012, Massillon’s live tiger tradition has continued via an exemption for educational institutions displaying a wild animal as a mascot providing certain stipulations were met. ~IndeOnline

Though the president of the football booster club “declined to say where the tiger came from or who provided the animal,” a previous article dated Aug. 17 indicated that “(e)ach year, the Tiger Football Booster Club leases the tiger cub from Stump Hill Farms [sic] in Perry Township for the football season.” Stump Hill Farm bills itself as an exotic animal education center (click for problems and violations) while PETA calls it a “notorious roadside zoo in Massillon.” On its Facebook page, the owner/operator of Stump Hill asserts that the most recent Obie did not come from her facility, and that “(t)he farm has been working towards the states [sic] mandate and would not jeopardize the well being of all the animal’s [sic] who call the farm home.”

Forty-five years, 45 “Obies”

Following 2011’s Zanesville massacre, Ohio’s Dangerous Wild Animal Law was passed in 2012 with an exemption–created specifically for Massillon, according to this report“for educational institutions displaying a dangerous wild animal as a mascot providing it met stipulations.” Oh, those pesky stipulations…requirements that can’t even begin to address what an exotic, wild animal–one who should never have been born–needs and wants physically and emotionally. Ohio’s Department of Agriculture is currently reviewing the school’s use of this year’s cub; further appearances are on hold (indeed, the Sept. 2nd game was cubless).

Watch as Model 2015 Obie paces the perimeter of his small circus cage, and read comments from gushing football fans and Obie “supporters” who apparently never wonder–or care–about what happens to the old Obies. Four of them were confiscated earlier this year after the state denied their keeper a permit and expressed concerns “that the cages and fencing at the property could allow some of them to escape.” In turn, the keeper has accused the state of inadequate care. 

Next stop, wild & lawless Indiana

Should one of the has-been Obies decide to escape and head west, he’d find himself in the lawless land of Indiana, where a court ruling on canned hunting earlier this year “eliminated Indiana’s authority over wild animals kept as pets…”:

…the Indiana Court of Appeals’ February ruling in a fenced deer-hunting preserve case… effectively stripped the Department of Natural Resources of its long-held regulatory oversight of legally-owned wild animals.

The state Supreme Court decided last month not to review that case. The DNR recently sent letters telling people holding wild animal permits that it no longer has the authority to enforce those permits and rules that include requirements for certain cage types for big animals.   ~“Indiana cannot regulate tigers, wolves as pets,”  ~IndyStar

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “The DNR is no longer issuing or regulating game breeder permits for animals such as pheasants, quail and deer. This was expected, but the extension of the court ruling to exotic wild animals has been surprising.” Now, “Class III” animals–considered dangerous–will go without any oversight for their well-being or public safety. They include wolves, bears, wild cats (lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, etc.), venomous reptiles, and crocodilians. At least one Indiana legislator–a former DNR director–is scrambling to get a stop-gap measure from the governor in place until the legislature meets again. “Certainly we don’t want Bengal tigers getting out of cages and roaming neighborhoods,” he said.

In a column titled, “Why Cecil the lion matters in Indiana,” author Michael Koryta of Bloomington (he’s also a volunteer for an exotic cat rescue in Indiana) had this to say:

Cecil’s death, while horrific and sickening, came after 13 years of quality life. Welcome to the new Indiana, where a lion locked in a circus cage in someone’s tool shed is not only legal, but won’t ever be inspected for its [sic] own health or for public safety.   ~from the Bloomington Herald Times via Tigers in America Facebook page

Wild Cecil was brutally killed, his stuffed head likely displayed on a wall in a dentist’s home. Captive Obies are irresponsibly bred and displayed in a cage on a football field. In both cases, whether killed for real or condemned to a living death, animals’ lives have been stolen and put on display for frivolous human desires. In both cases, animals symbolize qualities their human owners want to claim for themselves: skill, courage, and strength, obtained through oppressive traditions they feel actually mean something–something worthy enough to steal another’s life. But our species’ sad little deficiencies of ego can’t be erased by our prideful ownership of animals, dead or alive.

Still, blinded by speciesism, we keep trying.

Learn more:

  • “Tiger cubs exploited for high school football” a 6+ minute YouTube video about Obie from the mascot’s beginning to present day problems.
  • Massillon City Schools Facebook page post from Aug. 7, 2015
  • Contact info: Massillon district superintendent and Washington High principal 
  • Ohio’s Dangerous Wild Animal Law (Ohio Revised Code 935.02)
  • “Ohio’s exotic animal law upheld in federal court,” (3/4/14), here
  • Tigers in America, websiteFacebook
  • Petitions: Care2; Care 2 again;  Change.org
  • Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Ctr.: IDNR v. Whitetail Bluff LLC, Court of Appeals of Indiana, here


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