By Margaret Badore
Bob Miner and his wife Julie have built their home in rural Maine to help care for some pretty amazing animals. DEW Animal Kingdom is a non-profit facility that's home to lions, tigers, bears and many other animals, many of which have been rescued from the exotic pet trade.
“Wild Home” is a documentary that tells the story of Bob Miner, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a number of other health problems after serving in Vietnam. Caring for the animals helped him find his way back to recovery.
“It’s such an unusual place and such an unusual feeling being there,” said filmmaker Jack Schurman, who grew up not far from the sanctuary in Mount Vernon, Maine. “It feels completely removed, but it’s very close to where we grew up and what we knew.”
Schurman said he wanted to tell the story through Bob’s eyes as much as possible. At the same time, the film also shines a light on the less savory side of the exotic pet trade, as Bob and Julie describe the neglect and abuse many of the animals suffered before coming into their care. Many of the animals were taken from urban settings, where people often tried to keep them in apartments.
While documentaries like “The Cove” and “Blackfish” make a compelling case against taking wild animals from the wild to be kept in captivity, “Wild Home” deals with a more difficult and problematic side of this issue. Most of the animals cared for by the Miners were born in captivity, and would have a low chance of surviving in the wild.
“You assume that a lion or tiger in a cage is lying there dreaming of the jungle, which is completely not the case. All it knows is growing up in someone’s house, being bottle fed, then living in a pen or an enclosure,” said Schurman. “That’s its entire knowledge of what life is.”
Of course, these animals have strong instincts, and these instincts make them dangerous and unsuitable pets. “But they’ve only learned how to use those instincts within a very confined situation and a very controlled environment.”
Yet at the same time, the inability of these semi-domestic animals to be returned to nature highlights the great importance of conserving wild populations. “There are more tigers in Texas than India—some of the statistics are just mind blowing,” said Schurman. “When someone finds a tiger in New York City, it has to go somewhere.”
But above all, the film explores the intimate relationship between a man and wild creatures. The relationships between the Bob Miner and the animals in his care show how much animals and humans can help each other.
Wild Home recently premiered at the Camden International Film Festival, and will be showing at further festivals throughout the year. For more information about screenings, visit wildhomefilm.com. Video.