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J.D. Scholten, Tiger King's Barbara Fisher talk politics, popular Netflix docuseries

Joe Exotic on #x201c;Tiger King.#x201d; (Netflix photo)
Joe Exotic on “Tiger King.” (Netflix photo)

The beauty of politics is that it can bring unexpected people together — like congressional candidate J.D. Scholten and Ames resident Barbara Fisher.

Fisher, who recently rose to prominence for her participation in the trending Netflix docuseries, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” recently came together with Scholten, the Democrat embarking on his second bid to upend nine-term Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District seat, for a virtual conversation.

The two talked Tuesday over Facebook Live about the documentary, which chronicles the world of big cat breeding. They also talked about Fisher’s life and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on her native 4th District Iowans.

“It’s one of those things where you’re watching Netflix ... everything’s blowing up and you’re watching it and you go, ‘There’s someone from Ames,’ ” said Scholten, who has been holding Facebook Live events with notable Iowans since the pandemic started.

Fisher joined Bhagavan “Doc” Antle’s wild animal facility, which has been described as a cult group, in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1999, but left in 2007.

“I got involved there because I had bad grades in school and because I didn’t have a place to go,” she said during her conversation with Scholten. “I think a lot of people experience that ... where they don’t have a place to fit in, and they’re freefalling a bit. And that’s how they join groups like that.”

Fisher said the decision to join Antle’s group was “a spur of the moment decision.” Raising tiger cubs that grew to as big as 200 pounds, she said, was her main responsibility.

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“There’s a lot of infrastructure that has to be laid in that time, where we want them to be confident but not frightened, because (when they’re frightened) that’s when they attack,” she said.

When asked if all private sanctuaries have the same culture of animal abuse, Fisher said the documentary represented those industries accurately.

“What you saw in the documentary is mainly the norm in private ownership of exotic animals,” she said.

The central conflict of the documentary revolved around tiger breeder “Joe Exotic,” whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, and his rivalry with animal activist Carole Baskin. It culminated in “Joe Exotic” being sent to prison for trying to hire someone to kill her.

After the series was released, both the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the producers glossed over the issue of tiger abuse.

Scholten hopes the web series brings attention to the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which proposes to eliminate two of the biggest sources of abuse of big cats — by prohibiting big cats as pets and stopping exploitative roadside zoos from offering cub petting and photo ops.

“I’m shocked that the bill has not been passed yet,” Fisher said. “I think this goes beyond animal protections, it’s in the public’s interest, and certainly in the private interest of the people who work in these private industries. It’s a human rights bill.”

While the bill passed the Natural Resources Committee, it has not been subject to a vote in the U.S. House. Scholten said the bill has received bipartisan support. However, Rep. King has not endorsed the bill.

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“It’s a bipartisan bill, and there’s 22 Republicans that have signed on board with it, and our congressman here has not,” Scholten said. “He’s not the strongest when it comes to animal protection.”

Since leaving the group, Fisher, a mother of three, has been involved with politics, caucusing for Sen. Elizabeth Warren in February’s Iowa caucuses.

Tuesday’s live stream drew 2,000 viewers.

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