This Tiger’s Tale
You came from a terrible and terrifying place, I know. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. After each rescue, the humans often have nightmares about the places from which they freed more animals. But very soon—perhaps right away, but probably within a few weeks—you’ll see that this place is the opposite of where you’ve been, and hopefully you’ll forget the worst of your old life.
I’ve forgotten most of my early days, but I remember that I’d been living in a dog crate with a man in his car. The man didn’t have a permanent home. My buddy, Diesel, also lived in a crate in that car. The man must have really needed money, because he let tourists pay to take pictures with us and cuddle us. We hated it. We were also getting bigger and more dangerous, so he’d give us drugs to keep us sleepy and relatively harmless. It was too bad he didn’t have a real home and maybe a little housecat, because he sure wasn’t thinking of what was best for wild animals.
Someone finally told the police about us. The police called the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), who had heard about Pat Craig and his sanctuary.
The SPCA called the sanctuary to see if they could take us, and Pat said yes. He and his teenage son, Casey, drove eighteen hours in their little truck to come pick us up. Diesel and I were loaded into Pat’s truck in our carriers, and our life in the man’s car faded away.
My Friend Pat Craig
Almost forty years ago, nineteen-year-old Pat Craig visited a friend working at a zoo in North Carolina. His friend showed him tigers and lions in small cages hidden from the visitors. The zoo had only a few cages for tigers, and the zoo owners wanted to show visitors only the cute babies. They had no room for the tigers that had grown too big or old, so those animals either stayed in those cages or were euthanized (“put to sleep”).
Back at his family farmhouse near Boulder, Colorado, Pat had to do something. He used his grandmother’s typewriter to tap out seventy-five letters to zoos across the country, asking if they had extra animals needing a new home. At the same time, he got all the right government permits and licenses he needed to build some decent habitats on his family farm.
Finally, a zoo in South Carolina said they had a baby jaguar that could use a home. Pat flew there and brought little Freckles back on the airplane. He had never even seen a real baby jaguar. Neither had the flight attendants, because they believed him when he said she was just a Himalayan—an exotic breed of housecat!
Pat’s work is known all over the world now. He’s even a professor, teaching about the captive-animal crisis. Pat lives with his wife and kids in a home right over the clinic.
Pat carried us right into the sanctuary’s clinic so the vet could examine us. Diesel and I both had ringworm (a skin fungus, not a worm). We hadn’t been fed well; we were malnourished. Pat gave us cut-up chicken breast and held bottles of formula in our mouths. We were still playful cubs, and we stayed with Pat at his house as we needed so many bottles each day! his place also had a big outdoor playpen, and he had a pack of playful, gentle dogs (he still does). They helped raise us, in a way. That dog pack has raised quite a few of the wild animals here.
We loved to lick Pat’s arms and head with our huge, rough tongues, but soon the day came when we licked his hair right off! After all, our tongues are made for cleaning meat off bone. No more playtime with Pat for us! We moved to a large cage outside the house, and soon Pat started taking us to visit Big Athos, a huge adult tiger. He became like another dad to us, and eventually, we moved into his habitat.
Diesel had many happy, healthy years here until he got sick and died a few years ago. Now I consider it my job to enjoy life enough for the both of us. I think he’d be happy to know that.
Pat visits a lot. My habitat has tall prairie grass and a pond, and it’s the size of a football field! I can see Pat coming from really far away. I can even tell if he’s looking right at me, because I can see the white part of his eyeballs! I always rush right over to the chainlink fence. I lie down and let him scratch me through the holes, rubbing my whiskers against the metal wires. I love the smell of my old friend. But Pat knows he can’t come in to play with me anymore—I’m so big and strong that if I play too rough, I could really hurt him. I live like a real tiger now. If humans have to come into our habitats for any reason, they stay in enclosed vehicles. You may be wondering if they have to come in and clean out our poop. They don’t, because our habitats are big enough that they can just let the poop biodegrade—break down naturally and become part of the soil.
Well, that’s my story. Every animal here has a different one. Soon I’ll learn yours.
Unlike lions, who are all about their prides (groups), tigers are pretty independent. But we’ll often have a few friends, especially here at the sanctuary, where we don’t have to compete for food.
I’ve always been very protective of my habitat-mates, Simon and Sophie. I’m the oldest. They were born here because their mom was pregnant with them when she was rescued.
Simon’s my best friend. We romp and play plenty. He’s bigger and heavier than me, but he still acts like a cub.