African servals, exotic cats as pets

Tigers
Raising Tigers in a Changing World, by Amy Rasmussen
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Arrow quickly adjusted to me and living in our small house on 36 acres with lots of trees and a pond.

He slept with me cuddling right next to me for the entire evening. We played during the day, and then he would take naps in his favorite recliner.

At six months, Arrow moved into my back bedroom that opens to an outside chain link enclosure of 87 feet by 23 feet with a seven-foot top.

Then one day, my USDA inspector came out for a visit. She kicked my chain link fence and said, “This is not going to hold him.”

Arrow was about eight months old when I stopped taking him for walks on his lead. I think he was about two hundred pounds then.

It broke my heart, but my relationship with Arrow was starting to change. He was becoming a beautiful but incredibly powerful Siberian.

I truly loved this big cat, feeling him close to me, playing with him, throwing toys into his swimming pool, and seeing his joy and delight as he played.

My heart and soul wanted to stay in that cage with him forever, but sadly my brain and intuition started to warn me that his brain was wired differently than mine.

At about the two-year point, I started taking pepper spray and a pump bottle filled with vinegar and water.

One day, as I was starting to leave the cage, he snuck up behind me and gave me a bear hug with one of his powerful forearms. It scared me.

At that point, a chill came over me and I knew that my relationship with Arrow needed to change again.

I decided I would not go into the cage with Arrow by myself, and I would not allow my burly six foot two inch son go in by himself either.

I started to give Arrow his bottle through the fence. If he sensed a change in our relationship, he accepted it well. He continued to be happy to see me.

I wanted my tigers with great passion. I love them dearly, but prospective tiger owners need to know there is a price to ownership and I do not mean just money.

The stress and worry that comes with such a tremendous liability never leaves.

Recognize that nothing can prepare you for the reality that these beautiful and cuddly cubs will become big dangerous animals that can potentially complicate your life at the most awkward time.

I strongly support private ownership, but that ownership needs to be responsible and endearing for the life of the animal.

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Raising Arrow was one of the happiest times of my life.

It all started in the spring of 1999. My friends and I drove to Dallas to an exotic cat meeting and to pick up Arrow. My friend was exhausted and she fell asleep right after we checked into the Best Western. I was left with this chunky five-week old baby tiger. He immediately cuddled in my lap and chuffed for his bottle. I prepared his bottle and the bonding began.

Arrow quickly adjusted to me and living in our small house on 36 acres with lots of trees and a pond. Arrow and I took long walks every day for the first seven months. He slept with me cuddling right next to me for the entire evening. We played during the day, and then he would take naps in his favorite recliner. As he got older, Arrow started to terrorize the recliner trying to kill it several times during the day. As part of this ritual, he started dragging the recliner from one end of our living room to the other.

At six months, Arrow moved into my back bedroom that opens to an outside chain link enclosure of 87 feet by 23 feet with a seven-foot top. I moved him out of the living room because he started to push on the windows. I didn’t want him breaking out while I was shopping at Wal-Mart.

Arrow’s constant companion in the outside enclosure was a black retriever-like mutt named Vadar. Vadar only weighed about 40 pounds, but he quickly put Arrow in his place. That dominance served Vadar well. He lived and played with Arrow for the next two years. Admittedly, Vadar enjoyed Arrow less as Arrow got bigger, but I still think that putting Vadar with Arrow during those early years was the best thing that I did to develop Arrow’s disposition. Vadar and Arrow would play for hours inside and outside of the house.

Then one day, my USDA inspector came out for a visit. She kicked my chain link fence and said, “This is not going to hold him.” Of course, I knew that. I was already designing Arrow’s future home. That enclosure is approximately 30 yards by 40 yards, and it is another one of those expenses that became considerably more than I ever imagined it would. The basic cage was not so bad, but the perimeter fence, swimming pool, cedar boxes, landscaping touches, toys, and lots of meat started to add up. I gave Arrow a bottle of Esbilac every day at 1:00 p.m. until he was eighteen months. The Esbilac and the continuous presence of Vadar helped develop a gentle but powerful side to Arrow’s personality.

Arrow was about eight months old when I stopped taking him for walks on his lead. I think he was about two hundred pounds then. I would jerk the lead out of my hands at times. If I’d had some other adults around, I could have continued taking Arrow for walks, but he was starting to get to big for me to handle by myself. Arrow missed those walks. Shortly after being confined to his pen, he saw my husband and I walking to the pond and he roared. It broke my heart, but my relationship with Arrow was starting to change. He was becoming a beautiful but incredibly powerful Siberian.

I kept going into Arrow’s cage giving him his bottle and strategically placing some of his stuffed animals in the trees. Arrow use to love playing with his toys, but as you can imagine, they did not last long. I can still remember, as Arrow got older, his toys got bigger. I had a hell of a time getting the 55-gallon drum and truck tire into his cage, but he loved them. He immediately started picking them up with his mouth and throwing them into the air. Virtually every day, I had to take his new toys out of his swimming pool.

When he dropped his baby teeth, I saw the canines replaced with three to four inch long permanent teeth that look like railroad spikes. At about the 18-month point, Arrow started to turn into the large Siberian Tiger that he was meant to be! I was still going into the cage with him, but I started to get nervous for Arrow’s 1:00 bottle-feeding. He would jump up on his cedar box to take his bottle, lean his head onto my shoulder and chest. In his mind, he loved me. I was his nurturer, his protector, playmate, and his “Mama.”

And, in my mind as well, I truly loved this big cat, feeling him close to me, playing with him, throwing toys into his swimming pool, and seeing his joy and delight as he played. Life just does not get any better for those of us who love cats. My heart and soul wanted to stay in that cage with him forever, but sadly my brain and intuition started to warn me that his brain was wired differently than mine. Yes, Arrow was a tame captive tiger on the surface but an inherently wild predator within.

At about the two-year point, I started taking pepper spray and a pump bottle filled with vinegar and water. All I had to do was point the vinegar and water at Arrow, and he would behave. But Arrow was sneaky. One day, as I was starting to leave the cage, he snuck up behind me and gave me a bear hug with one of his powerful forearms. It scared me. I had become increasingly more careful every time that went into the cage, but this time, despite my vigilance, Arrow caught me by surprise. At that point, a chill came over me and I knew that my relationship with Arrow needed to change again. I decided I would not go into the cage with Arrow by myself, and I would not allow my burly six foot two inch son go in by himself either. I started to give Arrow his bottle through the fence. If he sensed a change in our relationship, he accepted it well. He continued to be happy to see me.

Life was still good. I cleaned his large cage as needed—you know, scrub the algae out of the water buckets, scrub and refill his pool (a twelve foot wide circular cattle tank). Taking out the old hay, bringing in new bales of hay, and scooping poop was a weekly chore. Of course, there’s always the filling of five gallon buckets with left over chicken and deer heads. The smell didn’t bother me, but I have to say, in the summer those gross wiggly maggots that form overnight made it impossible for me to eat hindquarter chicken again. I could go on and on about the work and money that goes into this but you get the idea.

At this point, I had exactly what my friend had predicted, “A beautiful cat in a cage.” Not long after that, I had to take his little back dog Vadar away from him. They really didn’t play anymore. Arrow would get too rough and bite which sent Vadar into a rage. One day Arrow was dragging Vadar across the cage. I was scared but Arrow let Vadar go and then let out those sweet churdles. Nevertheless, I let Vadar out and we all knew it was for the best!

A little more time went by and I put the word out that I was looking for a new companion for Arrow. After interviewing a few people, I met a great animal man, Tom Harvey. Tom was looking for a good home for one his female Bengal Tigers. So Kamari was delivered and placed in the cage next to Arrow. Tom just walked her in like a puppy dog. He had more control than I had over Arrow, but Kamari was only about 65 percent of the size of Arrow.

After an orderly introduction, the door between the two enclosures was opened. Kamari walked into Arrow’s cage like she owned the place. The expression on Arrow’s face was funny. His wide gold eyes were frozen open in place like a statue, he chuffed, and tiger size spray came out the other end. It was love at first sight for Arrow. Kamari, on the other hand, just walked over to him and said something like, “Hi, big boy! You look like a big sissy!” She probably noticed he didn’t have any testicles.

I was so happy. My baby had a friend, and I was now less important. I still enjoy my cats. They are truly one of God’s most beautiful animals. I still try to sit next to their cage every day. I pet them both through the four-gage wire fence. They are happy and so am I, but now I long for a bigger enclosure and more time and opportunity to watch my big babies play. Maybe some day! In the interim, I also need to take care of the Servals, Caracals, Cougars, and Ocelots, but that is a story for another day!

So then life went on normally for a while but then a tragic event occurred. My daughter-in-law died. My son was heart broken. He had two beautiful children—a four-year-old son and a five-year daughter. He immediately moved in with his dad and me—he couldn’t bear to be in his home without his wife.

My world of raising cats turned upside down. I had a lot of wild cats living with me - tigers, cougars, lynx, servals, and caracals. I had told people for years that these cats were not for children. I did not approve of people owning large cats if they had small children. And, now I had them living in my house, running inside and outside all day long. My husband, son and I had serious discussions about getting rid of the cats. We could find good homes for them my husband would say. He had never wanted wild cats in his living room, and now he thought he could persuade me to get rid of at least the tigers and cougars for the safety of the grandchildren.

I was in the most horrible emotional turmoil. I had just been through a year of nursing my father for terminal cancer, and now I had to worry about my grandchildren and cats. Of course, the perimeter fence is there and locked, but we all know how weird things can happen. My son’s in-laws were not happy with the situation either and they arranged for unscheduled visits by the child protective services. Fortunately, child protective services and the sheriff’s department were pleased with the safeguards, but nevertheless, there were moments of uncontrolled weeping. I loved my grandchildren, and I loved my cats. My cats are everything to me, and they will be with me after my son and grandchildren move on with their lives.

The situation got better. I did not have to part with my cats, and there was some normalcy for my son and his children. I was so glad. The last thing I wanted was to have to put my cats to sleep or become one of those irresponsible owners that needs to turn their cats over to a sanctuary. The point in telling this part of the story is to point out how drastic changes can and do occur in our lives and those changes almost affected the long term care of my Arrow and Kamari.

I wanted my tigers with great passion. I love them dearly, but prospective tiger owners need to know there is a price to ownership and I do not mean just money. The stress and worry that comes with such a tremendous liability never leaves.

For prospective tiger owners, I encourage them to do extensive reading and research. Volunteer at a facility that keeps adult tigers. Get the license and then wait for at least a year (I waited five years). Have a large cage already built because they outgrown the house in a matter of months. Make sure you have a perimeter fence. Find a vet willing to work on a tiger. Have the equipment to safely transport a large tiger to the hospital and realize you will have some hefty vet bills if you ever have medical problems. And even with all this, recognize that nothing can prepare you for the reality that these beautiful and cuddly cubs will become big dangerous animals that can potentially complicate your life at the most awkward time.

I strongly support private ownership, but that ownership needs to be responsible and endearing for the life of the animal. As one of my cat friends has stated, “If private owners do a good job of raising and protecting their animals, it’s no one’s business if we have them.” I fully agree, and I appreciate the work of the FCF as it works to create the awareness and support that we all need.


Many thanks to Amy Rasmussen for allowing the use of this article on ExoticCatz.com.com in cooperation with the Feline Conservation Federation. This article is copyrighted 2004 by Amy Rasmussen , and originally appeared in the FCF Newsletter. All rights are reserved. FCF members receive a bi-monthly newsletter containing a wealth of articles like this one, and I highly recommend becoming an FCF member to learn more about exotic felines.




 

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