Indiana Law Journal

Article Title

Living with Owning

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2016

Publication Citation

92 Indiana Law Journal 327 (2016)


In October, 2011, Terry Thompson committed suicide by gunshot after cutting open the cages of fifty-six exotic animals on his farm in Zanesville, Ohio. Fearing for pub-lic safety, law enforcement officers systematically hunted down the escaped animals in an episode that garnered international attention and prompted renewed discus-sion of the propriety of exotic animal ownership. This Article retells and discusses the circumstances surrounding Terry Thompson’s unhinging, applying frameworks of legal theory, chiefly in the realm of property law, to assess the fabric that held Thompson’s delicate system together and the tensions that led to its unravelling. As an autopsy, the article documents the systems that failed in theoretical and specific terms. After a brief introduction to the law and policy of owning exotic animals, we offer a sequence of competing visions for property, stewardship, personhood, gov-ernance, empathy, and physical ordering or disordering as they apply to the owner-ship of exotic animals in Ohio. Though Thompson had acquired his menagerie through legal means, he resented oversight of government authorities, generating friction that reverberated across the lines of tension named above. The Article con-cludes with discussion of the need—contra Terry Thompson—to surrender control in ownership relations, community life, and, ultimately, the modern state.