By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Reginald Parr doesn't look like he should -- not if he's supposed to be the good guy. None of his businesses -- welding, rental property maintenance, big-cat stewardship -- are particularly clean endeavors. He wears his hair long and stringy and brushed back into a thinning suggestion of the blond lion-tamer pompadour he sports in old pictures. His shirt is perpetually buttoned just far enough up to cover the claw scar on his belly, which isn't all that far.
He drives pickups and owns a bulldozer and keeps rusty travel trailers and broken cement mixers and tigers and Rottweilers on 12 acres of dark, wet and hidden land in Montgomery County. He owns another 100 acres in the area but isn't doing anything with it.
He is smart enough to know that these things will define him in the public eye as white trash, and he has too much pride in the dream of his finished "Animal Extravaganza" -- with the man-made lakes and the snow tigers on the island in the middle, with the research facility and the veterinary tools with which he will care for his own -- to let a photographer shoot it in its present condition: some cleared trees in a pile, the dozer partially dismantled and supporting a lightning-struck tree limb, marsh where the lakes will be, lots of tin. The warren of cages where his animals are penned is the best-kept facility on the property.
On the other hand, the people who killed Parr's two tigers don't much fit the good-guy mold either. There were too many of them, with too many guns, too eager to shoot down animals that might have been saved, if things had been handled differently.
No clear-cut good guys, no incontrovertible bad guys.
Still, two dead tigers.
It was all over the local news for a couple of days, Sunday and Monday, November 8 and 9, six o'clock and ten: the search for two escaped tigers in Cut and Shoot, Texas; video of four-wheeled mud runners loaded down with men and guns and what sure looked like kids and more guns; deputies and constables and officers of several stripes and a small volunteer army of locals swept up in the romance and adrenaline of an honest-to-God safari. And draped across the back fenders, the limp carcass of a dead tiger.
There was quite a scare, apparently. One tiger was killed the day it escaped, but another, the smaller female, remained out overnight, and residents kept their dogs and their kids inside. One of the news stations reported that the tigers were cornered near a local elementary school (which turned out to be a false alarm). Rumors circulated about past escapes and the shadowy figure of the tigers' owner, about whom no one seemed to know much. Convenience store sales of locally packaged emu jerky got a small spike from the influx of souvenir-hunting reporters.
The second tiger ended up getting killed, on the second afternoon, and then the news crews disappeared from sight until the next week, when heavy rains flooded much of Montgomery County, transforming it from a merely figurative backwater into a literal one. The Chronicle quoted Scott Kurtz, who fired the first shot at the second tiger, as saying, "It's too bad she had to be killed. I just reacted. I'd rather it could have come out of the woods alive. It's a beautiful animal."
I drove out there three days after the last tiger was shot and stood in the rain at the end of Reginald Parr's mud driveway until Zettler Monroe Cude Jr. wandered out to see who was there. Reginald had asked him not to talk to reporters. There would probably be an investigation. But Cude sat in my truck out of the rain and smoked a cigarette and told me a little of what happened, the gist of which was that he fucked up when he accidentally let the cats out, but there hadn't been any real reason for those tigers to die. And that there hadn't been any real intention, on the part of the folks who killed them, to do anything but.
Reginald Dwight Parr, whose friends call him Lefty, grew up in his mother's modest suburban home, just a few miles north of downtown Houston. The house featured huge picture windows looking onto the street, but to Reginald the home's exceptional characteristic was inside: an elevated span of built-in shelving dividing the space between living room and dining room, just a few feet below the gold-flaked stucco of the ceiling, on which was arranged his mother's collection of antique porcelain wildlife figurines.
There were lions and tigers and bears, and giraffes and elephants and hippopotamuses -- most every form of exotic wildlife a boy growing up in suburban Houston was never likely to see outside a zoo. One day, when he was about six years old, Parr dragged his mother away from the stove where she was making dinner and made her look up with him at the jungle parade.
"I'm going to have one of those," he told her, scanning his finger down the shelf, "and two of those, and two of those, and at least a dozen of those."
Forty-three years later, Reginald Parr has had at least one of those and two of these and a dozen of the other. He has bought and sold and bred and borrowed and lent wildlife, especially the big cats, and he has trained animals for circuses and television commercials. He apparently foresaw most of this coming at six years of age and then made it happen, which is how most people define a life's passion.
His dead tigers are Sybil, a female Siberian, and Binanca, a male Siberian.
"Now my male, that big old knothead. He was real outgoing; he wasn't bashful at all. He wasn't afraid of humans. He followed Zettler across the street to call me; that's the only time he left my property."
"The female, I raised her from birth. She slept in bed with me. She loved to ride; she'd get in the front of the truck with me and we'd go to the country and we'd just romp and play and we'd have a great time. She loved the water. I could take her up to the lake and she'd swim with me on her back three times across the lake and back."
Parr is sitting on the couch in his mother's house, beneath that same dusty menagerie, bottle-feeding formula to a seven-week-old Siberian cub stretched across his lap.
The dead cats' hides are in a freezer in the garage.
If you've ever wondered how you, Mr. or Mrs. Private Citizen, could legally own a real live tiger, here's a list of all you need to do: Find someone with a tiger and buy it.
The United States Department of Agriculture grants licenses, but those are only necessary if you plan to breed or display your tiger. There is exactly one USDA animal welfare inspector in Texas, Charlie Currer, and he'll check up on your facility periodically. He keeps tabs on all the zoos and the pet stores, too.
Texas Parks and Wildlife used to require registration of exotic animals, but the state passed that responsibility to local municipalities in 1997, thinking that law enforcement closer to the ground could best respond to individual exotic game issues. Since then, some counties have drafted ordinances regarding private ownership of exotics, and some haven't.
In Galveston County, you can't have them at all. Period.
In Waller County, you can have all you want and send them out in their pajamas for the morning paper.
In Montgomery County, you simply have to contact the Animal Control Department and let them know what you've got.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can investigate charges of cruelty and make recommendations but can't enforce anything.
In fact, the SPCA once responded to an anonymous complaint about Reginald Parr's cats but found the animals well housed and "in good flesh."
Charlie Currer has inspected Animal Extravaganza six times since May 1995. In December 1995, Currer recommended that Parr erect a perimeter fence around a travel cage in which he housed one tiger. At his next inspection, Currer noted that the fence was in place. In '97, Currer asked Parr to rebuild a trailer floor and to patch a leaky roof, and these things were done. And in April 1998, Currer recommended an extension of the perimeter fence to enclose several more cages which had been added over the years. By November 1998, Parr had finished that fence, too, except for one gate.
Parr owns the tigers, but he doesn't live where they do, which is in a series of cages and chainlink enclosures nestled on a 12-acre plot of marshy pine bottom. It's near the dead end of a blacktopped country road that juts off another blacktopped country road that connects to State Highway 105, which eventually intersects with I-45 near Conroe.
Parr doesn't live there because he can't. He's on parole after doing time for a late-1980s conviction for possessing chemicals used to make methamphetamine. At the time, he was already on parole for a conviction for compelling prostitution. Parr admits to possessing the chemicals, which he claims were stored for a buddy in exchange for money at a down-and-out point in his life. He made a stupid mistake, he says, and served his time.
As for the charge of compelling prostitution, he says he never did any such thing and unwisely took a plea bargain and a fine on his lawyer's advice. He's retaining new lawyers in an attempt to overturn the compulsion charge and modify the terms of his parole, and he has recently taken two independent lie detector tests that back his version of events.
He had been out of prison for two years, with no restrictions on his movement and no legal complications, when eight months ago he drew a new parole officer, Mary Carnathon, who turned the screws on him, changed his terms of parole so that he could not leave Harris County, and thus enter Montgomery County, without her prior written permission.
"We've had a personality conflict from day one, and there's been no excuse for it," says Parr. "The first time I talked to her she acted like I had accosted her mother or something, and I told her, 'Lady, I'm not the one that did that to you. I apologize to you for whoever did, but you don't have any reason to talk to me and treat me this way.'
"I guess it was a few days later she came by here, and I was telling her about the game reserve and my plans and stuff, and she said, 'Well, you can forget that.'
"I said, 'What do you mean?' She said, 'You're not going to ever go up to Montgomery County.' She said, 'You can forget it. It's not going to happen.' "
As it turned out, with the help of attorney William Habern, Parr was granted permission to go to Cut and Shoot twice a week to deliver meat and supplies to his caretaker, as long as he was home at night when Carnathon called to check up on him.
"She allowed me no time whatsoever to put my perimeter fences up, to do any kind of maintenance, to go in and clean the cages thoroughly or anything, and I had to get my lawyers involved just to be able to get permission to go up there at all. It was like pulling teeth. She would not acknowledge it. Every conversation she would say, 'Your alleged game reserve.' I said, 'No, that is my whole life.' I have spent thousands of dollars literally trying to get permission to go, to do the right thing. Because I'm not neglectful."
Working with posthole diggers and a wheelbarrow when fair weather and his twice-weekly visits coincided, Parr erected an 8-foot-high chainlink fence anchored to steel poles, each set in a foot or more of concrete, and enclosed about a quarter of an acre. By early November, the fence was complete, except for a six-foot gap where a gate was to be installed.
"If they had granted him that consent and permission," says attorney Habern, "then this would not have happened. The cats wouldn't have gotten out; there'd have been no overreaction by the police; everything would have been fine. What happened to Lefty Parr is another example of poor parole-officer supervision, to say the least."
With Parr's travel restricted, the tigers, alongside a revolving cast of assorted other big-cat exotics and the Rottweilers, were being primarily cared for by one Zettler Monroe Cude Jr. Cude is a quiet man behind Coke-bottle glasses and is described by his supportive acquaintances as slow. Parr isn't shy about making the comment, within Cude's earshot, that the caretaker's elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor. These are ugly things to say, but questions of responsibility have been raised: Cude's responsibility for letting the cats out and Parr's for leaving the cats in Cude's care.
Parr says he has known Cude's family for 20 years and frankly felt sorry for Zettler, who was verging on homelessness when Parr offered him a small trailer to sleep in, paid utilities and a steady supply of groceries in exchange for Cude's feeding and watering and cage-cleaning duties.
"He's always taken good care of my animals. I've never caught rancid meat or dirty cages. My water bowls are always clean," says Parr.
Tigers, it turns out, will sometimes display a claim of ownership by spraying the object of their affections, much like a house cat, if house cats sprayed through high-pressure water hoses. Parr has gotten used to the warning signs of an impending spray and will jump out of the line of fire. Cude, he says, is the only man he's seen who'll take a spray right between the eyes and accept it as a welcome sign that the cats really do like him.
"He really loves the animals."
He also, and there's no nice way to put this, really screwed up.
On the morning of November 8, Cude walked over to the circular pen in which Binanca and Sybil lived. The pen is a zoo-quality pavilion, an 18-inch concrete pad bounded by a thick steel wire fence and bisected by a steel wire dividing wall with a sliding door to allow the cats to move from one side to the other. Each segment of the pavilion is individually accessible via one of two slam-doors, 100-pound grates of steel on vertical tracks that open when lifted and slam shut when unsupported.
Cude secured the cats in one side of the pavilion while he hosed down the other. Then he moved the tigers and cleaned the rest of the cage. When he finished cleaning the second side, he propped open the slam-door with a piece of pipe and dragged his water hose through to a nearby travel cage, which he then cleaned as well. And then, with the tigers secured behind the slider door in the far half of the pavilion, he went back to his trailer to get some breakfast.
When Cude returned, he forgot that the slam-door, largely blocked from sight by the travel cage, was still propped open. And when he opened the slider door to let the tigers have the full run of their habitat, they simply walked across the concrete floor and out the open slam-door.
One of Parr's Rottweilers tried to herd Binanca back to the cage and got chewed up for his trouble (he survived). Cude walked across the street -- running being what prey does -- and found Troy Bynum working on his property. Cude and Bynum got in Bynum's truck and drove a fast few miles to the house Troy shared with his wife, Cindy, who is Reginald Parr's niece. From the Bynum home, Cude phoned Parr, who told him there was only one thing to do: call 911. Cindy Bynum remembers that Cude placed that 911 call from her house at roughly 8 a.m.
Officer Jim Blount, deputy in charge of Montgomery County Animal Control, received a phone call from dispatch at 11 a.m. telling him the tigers were loose. Nobody knows where to find the three hours that had elapsed since Cude called 911.
Blount told his officer on duty to meet him at the location and then instructed the county's livestock officer, who had the county's only dart gun, to meet him there. Blount rounded up some unused tranquilizer from an unrelated cougar scare a few years before and drove to Animal Extravaganza. Zettler Cude met him there and pointed out Binanca, who was lying down in neighbor Nathan Miles's driveway. The dart gun was ten minutes away. Binanca started moving.
"He went in front of the house," says Blount. "He went around behind the house; he went behind a shed building between two residences, and as I was turning around so I could keep an eye on the cat, I heard this big noise and a pig go squealing. A hog."
Blount drove around a corner and observed Binanca in the ditch next to the main road, with the hog down.
"There was an individual in a truck, a small pickup truck, with the window down," almost even with the tiger. "There were some other people that had run out of their houses to see what was going on.
"I figured I had a dangerous situation there. I immediately shot the animal. I shot him four times in the head with a double-gauge shotgun using double-ought buckshot. Initial shot, he turned the hog loose and the hog run by me. And then I finished it."
Cindy Bynum saw Binanca taken down, but she remembers a detail -- about the guy in the little pickup truck, the potential tiger victim -- that Blount leaves out.
"He was standing on the street with his gun. He helped kill that animal. He put a full magazine of a .22 rifle in that cat."
Parr was at home, trying to find somebody, anybody, with the authority to grant him permission to leave Harris County. "That was the hardest two days I ever spent," he says. "Because I knew in my heart that they were going to kill my cats."
When Parr found out his cats were loose, he called his parole attorney, Habern, who remembers, "We called Austin, we called Harris County Sheriff's office, we called everybody we could think of on the weekend, and apparently there's no duty officer for emergencies such as these." Parr was told he would have to wait until Monday and get permission from his parole officer, Mary Carnathon.
It wasn't until Monday morning at 11 a.m. that Parr was able to contact Carnathon, and it took another 45 minutes to get his traveling papers in order. Leaving downtown at a quarter till noon, Parr says he arrived at his property in Montgomery County at 12:06, only to be told why he'd had such trouble contacting Carnathon.
"She was at my game reserve, asking reporters and people if I had been up there, so she could send me back to TDC."
"I told them I was there, and I just wanted to put my female back in her habitat. I still don't know who was in charge. I don't know that anybody was. They told me when I got there that they were going to push her with the dogs. They were tracking her with dogs. And I told them, I said, 'You're not going to track my tiger with these dogs. My tiger is going to track your dogs.' "
That's when, Parr says, Blount informed him that the dogs in question were professional lion dogs, though he failed to explain just where they had come from, or exactly what a professional lion dog might be.
They looked like plain old blue ticks to Parr.
"They were doing a push at the front, out there for the news media," says Parr. "Right there in front of the news trucks. They never pushed anywhere else. She [Sybil] had never been in there. She was back over [at the back of the property]. When I pulled in my driveway I heard her calling me. When she sounds like a horse? Like that. I don't know if they thought it was the neighbor's mule, or the people across the street have a horse, too, or what they thought. She was giving me a greeting gesture, and I heard her as soon as I came in, but I didn't see her."
The lion dogs, meanwhile, couldn't pick up a scent. One was off on a far corner of the property chasing a deer, and another got lost and had to be retrieved the following day. Parr set about baiting his cages to try to lure Sybil home. "But she wouldn't come out because of all the people and all the commotion."
Parr told Blount that Sybil "wouldn't move at all until four o'clock," which was feeding time.
At 2:30, Blount decided to act. Darkness would fall in a few hours, and he didn't want the tiger at large another night in a community that was already wary of letting its dogs, much less its children, out of the house. A bunch of armed citizens, including children, searching the woods at night for a tiger would be no better than having the tiger out there in the first place. Blount decided to make another run through the woods. "It was agreed," he writes in his report, "we would make a wide search on the west side of the compound."
What the report doesn't mention is why it was agreed, and amongst whom, to search the previously unsearched west side of the property, and to what end.
Parr found officer Charles Hayden, who carried the sole tranquilizer gun.
Parr pointed to a clear spot near his gate, several hundred yards away from the media encampment.
"I said, 'If we can get her in this clearing, if you can get your dogs to get her in this clearing,' I said, 'Officer, can you dart her here?'
"He said 'Yes sir, I sure can.'
"I said, 'Okay, I'm going to tell you where she's at.' I said, 'You've been up here by the news media in the front; she ain't been up here.'
"I said, 'If you'll walk down my fence line to the back, you'll come to my corner fence there. There's a clearing right there at that fence. If you'll go 20 feet the other side of that clearing, form you a straight line and push her back to me,' I said, 'we'll dart her when she hits the clearing.'
"I said, 'Is that feasible with you?'
"They said, 'Fine.' "
What actually happened, though, is that the posse, estimated at 15 to 20 hunters strong, never got to the back corner fence, where they could have lined up behind Sybil and pushed her into the clearing, where Hayden and Parr were waiting to dart her. Instead, they got about halfway down the fence line and spotted Sybil just across the barbed wire under a fallen treetop, on Parr's property.
"I heard the dogs," says Parr. "They never chased her. They put her at bay immediately. All the dogs surrounded her, she couldn't go anywhere, so when she lunged, she was going to make a break through one of them dogs. So instead of letting her kill one of them dogs, they killed her. They fired over 50 rounds with them high-powered rifles. I was there."
Blount's incident report, meanwhile, states that the dogs jumped Sybil, who ran, that the dogs bayed Sybil under a fallen treetop, and that he, along with dog handler James Metts and Metts's son were the first to get within sight of her. Blount says he called for officer Hayden to bring the tranquilizer gun, but before Hayden could catch up, Sybil turned on Scott Kurtz, a member of the posse. Blount gave the order to shoot, and Kurtz fired one round. Sybil then turned, and Metts's son shot her in the shoulder, then James Metts fired "approximately three times." Blount's report states that he himself finally killed Sybil with a shot to the head.
Blount's report makes no mention of the plan to come around behind Sybil and push her into the clearing, which is the reason that Hayden and his tranquilizer gun were hanging back in the first place.
The report also does not attempt to explain what 15 or more armed men, many of whom had no law-enforcement credentials, were doing in the front lines of a search for a potentially dangerous animal.
Blount counted approximately six shots.
Parr and his niece estimate upward of 50.
According to Bynum, "It sounded just like Vietnam. I mean it was horrible. It was scary. I just put my head down on my car and I was like, 'Oh my God.'
"The way I feel is once Channel 11 and Channel 13 showed up, they had no intention of trying to tranquilize that cat. 'Cause then it was like a big power play or big media thing for this little town. I don't know what the hell it was. To me it became a hunt. They were going to kill her. There's no doubt in my mind."
After speaking with the Press shortly following the incident, Blount failed to respond to several requests for clarification. In December, Blount was reassigned as livestock officer, and the county animal control department was put under the leadership of Woodlands constable Tim Holiman, whose first action was to strip animal control officers of their deputation as peace officers, meaning that they will no longer carry badges or guns. Holiman also says that he will address the issue of timely response, which has generated complaints in the past. And finally, Holiman is pursuing a United States Drug Enforcement Administration license for the county, which would allow the county to buy tranquilizer serums. Officers will attend a 12-hour tutorial on the safe use of tranquilizer guns.
Kenya Pace lives close enough to Parr's property that "if you sit out right at dark, you hear the tigers and you hear the owls."
She served the search party doughnuts and coffee in her back workshop Monday morning, and she says, "I thought the sheriff's department did a fantastic job. I really did. This could have gone on for a whole lot longer, and they knew people were just stressed, and they knew people needed to get back to work and kids needed to go back to school. I was impressed. I didn't know we had such a good sheriff's department out here."
Pace, however, was not impressed with Parr.
"I thought the owner did a lousy job. He should have gone and personally paid to have a lot more of those dart guns so his animal wouldn't have had to be killed."
Pace didn't know that it is illegal for Parr, or anyone else who is not a licensed veterinarian, to possess that medicine.
"I never felt like they were well contained, and I also think that I don't approve of the way they keep them in these little cages. There's no perimeter fence still up," Pace said, a month after the escape.
Pace didn't know that the perimeter fence had since been finished.
She says she heard that two years ago two cougars escaped because Parr's caretaker at the time had let them out on purpose while he cleaned the cages. This seemed pretty irresponsible to her. One of the cougars, she says, was never captured. It's still running around in the wild, though she hasn't heard of anyone seeing it in at least a year.
Parr remembers the incident. Someone opened the cages with bolt cutters and either stole or allowed a cougar cub to run loose. The mother never left the cage.
Parr is private to the point of being gun-shy and has not made many friends among his neighbors. More than a few of them don't approve of what they think Reginald Parr is up to. Parr says neighbor Nathan Miles has called to tell him that community meetings have been held to discuss what might be done about "the problem." The problem being Parr and his tigers. Miles may be sympathetic, says Parr, because Parr reimbursed Miles several hundred dollars for the hog that Binanca ran off.
Big-cat activist and volunteer Dana Mushrush isn't even a neighbor -- she works at an exotic-animal refuge in Kirbeyville -- and she disapproves.
"When I heard about those two tigers I thought, right off, that's him. He initially called me after Fox 26 had done the one story they did about our refuge. He said, well, he would be willing to take some of the animals if we had to close down. He said he was into preservation of large carnivores. That's what he told me. Right away my head goes, 'All right, preserving them, what does that mean?' And he was very sketchy to me about the whole thing. He wasn't offering me very much information. I had other phone calls: Can I donate money? Can I come help? What can I do? [He says,] 'I'll take them for you.' My light goes on immediately. We were paranoid about each other."
Mushrush had also heard something about two black panthers having once escaped from Parr's facility, though it should be noted that such an escape has not been documented, and panther sightings are to Montgomery County what Chupacabra sightings are to the Rio Grande.
Mushrush wears an exotic-animal refuge T-shirt and dangly tiger-shaped earrings. She thinks that no matter your safeguards, there will always be human error, and consequently, tigers and other big cats will always escape, and when they do, they will usually die. She does not believe they should be bred as long as there are more than the zoos can afford to keep. She says she would rather have never seen a tiger and would rather they die out at the hands of poachers in the wild than to see them in caged and abandoned circumstance. She thinks private ownership of tigers should be against the law, and maybe she's got a point, but right now the law is not on her side.
Excepting a pending investigation of the escape, the USDA has always given Parr and Animal Extravaganza clean bills of health, even when Parr was incarcerated and inspections reports had to be signed by his mother.
Montgomery County says that it has no plans to pursue any legal action against Parr.
Reginald Parr, meanwhile, is bent over a barrel. He's still on parole, and though he's got a new supervising officer, his travel is still restricted. Parole officer Carnathon was taken off his case after Parr's attorneys informed the parole board that she might be a defendant in a lawsuit Parr is considering. Parr hasn't ruled out the possibility of filing suit against Montgomery County, either. He's not happy with the way he feels his cats were gunned down, with the lies he thinks he was told, with the rumors that he knows have spread, and with the disorganization and mob mentality of too many people, media included, who had no legitimate business hunting his tigers.
Still, he hopes that his attorneys will sort out this mess with the parole board and he'll have permission to move freely in Montgomery County, at which point he intends to begin living there full-time, with his remaining cats.
He's got a spare bedroom full of expensive veterinary equipment just waiting for the research facility to grow up around it. There's a seal that needs to be replaced on the dozer, but then it can start doing what he bought it to do: scoop out the marshy area ringing the front of his property into a real lake. There's a lot of hard work to be done. Parr estimates five years' worth at least, measured from the day he starts living on-site. Parr knows that good-old-boy networks are at work in Montgomery County, as elsewhere, and since he intends to live peacefully among Cut and Shoot's citizenry, he hesitates to be seen as overly accusatory. One speeding ticket constitutes a technical violation of his parole and could send him back to jail. He worries that he's said too much already.
With the community, he is empathetic and defiant.
"I don't want the community at large to feel like I'm just an old convict, you know? That I'm just this evil, menacing villain in their community. I made a mistake. I feel like I paid for it. And I am a productive member of society again. I'm not out to do anyone any kind of injust. I would like to make my amends to anyone who feels like they need amends made. And I can understand their fears and their concerns.
"But on the other hand I want them to know that I'm doing everything in my power to be able to run my business and to be able to preserve these endangered animals. If they feel like there's not enough room in their community for me and these majestic animals, I'll just have to say I give you my apologies. I'm licensed by the United States federal government, and the community's going to have to deal with that."
We're at the part of the story where there's supposed to be an answer. Why are two tigers dead? Who fucked up? Was it Zettler Cude for leaving a gate propped open? Or was it Reginald Parr for letting Zettler Cude take care of his cats at all? Was it Parr's parole officer for not giving him enough time to finish his perimeter fence? Or Parr, for not finishing his perimeter fence faster? Did the parole officer waste hours and transcend her jurisdiction by searching Cut and Shoot for Parr? Is it Parr's fault for being on parole in the first place? Is it Blount's fault for responding so slowly? Is it an unidentified bystander's fault for taking target practice on a 700-pound tiger? Or is it an entire community's fault for wanting to see the threat disappear? And if it is, what will you do differently when a 700-pound tiger comes sniffing around the door through which you send your kids to school?
Who didn't fuck up?
People want to be on a team, so they'll say, defensively, Well, they had to kill those tigers; yes, it's a shame, but their owner should have taken better care of them so they wouldn't get out where we, really, had no choice but to take them down. But this is not the truth and the whole truth.
Or they'll say, offensively, Bullshit, those feed store yahoos never intended to bring those tigers home alive; that was nothing but a drunken redneck safari party. This isn't the truth and the whole truth either.
The people who killed the cats have one way of telling the story. The people whose cats were killed have another.
There is no one explanation that stands whole in its integrity and fills all the empty holes. The people who aren't talking about what happened are sticking to the time-honored maxim of mind your own business. The people who are talking begin shading their accounts when the story drags them toward an area of personal responsibility, either for killing the cats or for getting them killed.
Reginald Parr sounds eminently reasonable when he states, as he often does, that tigers are "not something for everybody; I don't believe individuals should own them," until it registers that Reginald Parr is himself an individual who owns them and sometimes sells them to other individuals.
The reason for the shading is that everyone involved has something to hide.
Reginald Parr needs to hide how threatening his big cats can be, just how beyond his control they fundamentally are, and how disproportionately subject to human error is their fate.
The men with guns need to hide how very much it satisfied them to shoot those two tigers dead.
And hidden still further are some basic facts: that human error is a reasonable expectation, that tigers are fearsome, that hunters will hunt, that parents will protect their children from perceived danger, that crowds are difficult to control.
Once you know these facts, you don't need to know anything about Reginald Parr or the Montgomery County Animal Control Department to know what happened to Binanca and Sybil last November and why. What happened was the only thing that could have happened.