View From Lodi, CA: Who Speaks For Tatiana The Tiger?
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Richard Turner, D.V.M., sedates and treats tigers on a regular basis at his Lodi Arbor Pet Clinic. Within the last six months, Turner has anesthetized six of the large cats in preparation for surgery. [Tiger Tale, Lodi News-Sentinel, May 27, 2006)

I spoke with Turner recently about the Christmas Day incident at the San Francisco Zoo that left Carlos Sousa Jr. and Tatiana the tiger dead,

During our conversation, Turner emphasized repeatedly that drug combinations are readily available that can immobilize large animals quickly, in many cases less than 64 seconds. Turner's recommendation is to: "have a fully loaded tranquilizer gun and dart ready to use. Even if the medications were overdosed, the tiger would only sleep for hours. But he would be alive."

Turner sadly added that: "No one had to die. I'm concerned about the foolishness of the young men and that the tiger's rights were violated by improper preparation by zoo officials."

As bits and pieces of the story continue to come in, a few details about the surviving perpetrators are clear. They are not the type you'll invite to your house for dinner.

Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal are miscreants who had been drinking heavily, smoking pot and who lied about their actions at the zoo. [Tiger Twits In Silence Pact, By Tim Perone and Bill Sanderson, New York Post, January 6, 2008]

Further, they have a long and ugly police record. Paul, at the time of the zoo incident, was on felony probation after pleading no contest to reckless and drunken driving, resisting arrest, striking an officer and providing a false name.

Kulbir, for his part, was charged in September for public intoxication and resisting arrest.

But despite evidence that the trio taunted Tatiana, the police investigation may soon be reclassified as "inactive"

That would be a pity because where the Dhaliwals should be, for the safety of all of us, is off the street.

Numerous studies indicate that youthful violent behavior toward animals is a predictor of similar anti-social behavior that will be directed toward adults.

According to information recently released by PAWS, the FBI looks for cases of animal cruelty when profiling serial killers. And the Department of Justice when assessing youth who are at risk of committing interpersonal violence, emphasizes the importance of including information about past animal abuse. 

A study in 1997 by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that 70 percent of all animal abusers have committed at least one other criminal offense and that almost 40 percent had committed violent crimes against people.

Researchers also found that over a 20-year period, individuals who had abused animals as youths are five times more likely to commit violent crimes, four times more likely to commit property crimes and three times more likely to have drug or disorderly conduct offenses than a matched group of non-animal abusers.

Luckily for the perpetrators, they've lawyered up. The Souza family hired Michael Cardoza, a Walnut Creek criminal defense attorney who has worked on such highly publicized cases as the Scott Peterson murder trial and the 2001 San Francisco dog mauling. And the Dhaliwals retained the counsel of high-profile Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos who represented Peterson. (The San Francisco Chronicle maintains an Internet page with its complete archive of stories on Tatiana here.)

But who, Turner wants to know, speaks in defense of Tatiana?

A New Year's Day vigil was held for the tiger at Ocean Beach—four people showed up. [The Life and Times of Tatiana the Tiger, By Linda Goldston, Mercury News, January 11, 2008]

The World Wildlife Fund places the tiger at "five minutes to midnight," meaning that their time is short. Only 5,000 tigers remain worldwide, down from an estimated 100,000 a century ago.

With the tiger population vanishing, Turner's conclusion is that we have to do more to protect the ones that remain. Enclosures should be safe and secure and zoo personnel well trained on how to use readily accessible tranquilizing guns.

As for Tatiana, Turner says: "The tiger got a bad rap."

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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