Two Bengal tigers were loose in Long Grove, an affluent suburb, just north of Chicago, Illinois. A cougar lay dying in his cage. The owner was giving up. There were lots of exotics on the farm. He called us. The animals had to be out by noon tomorrow. The tigers had been re-captured and were safely back in their cages, at least for the time being, though we had no idea where we could put them.
There were two tigers in the cage, the male, a rare endangered Sumatran, the female a less endangered Bengal. They were elderly, the male being twenty-three and the female twenty-one. They had been together for the last twenty years, first with Barnum and Bailey’s circus, where they performed until their hips were too weak for them to stand erect for all but the shortest periods of time. These two tigers had spent their whole lives serving man. Now they were surplus, worth much more dead than alive. Their names were Sammy and Farah.
Sammy came jogging up and puffed at me. I leaned down towards and a strong smell of infection hit me. Looking closer I saw that he kept rubbing his tongue over the stub where his lower left fang used to be. They had defanged him, surgically, in an effort to make him “safe”. If there ever was a perfect example of a cruel joke, this was it. You don’t make tigers safe. Amazingly enough, some people really believe you can, and of course, it’s the animal that suffers from the human’s misconception.
There was food in the pen, but nothing they could eat. Bones, with rotted meat on them, littered the pen. They had a single wooden pallet in the corner, too small for both of them to huddle on at once, and no way to get out of the elements. The rest of the pen was a concrete slab, soaking wet and freezing in spots. It was cold, late October, and both the pen, and the tigers, were soaking wet.
Dr. Rudawski, of Fox Lake Animal Hospital, in Fox Lake Illinois, came out the day after we brought them home and worked on Sammy’s teeth. He had to use a three-quarter inch drill, to open the tooth stub canal wide enough for drainage from the jaw bone infection to pass. It was one of the most horrible procedures I had ever seen, but Sammy felt obviously better, almost immediately. We sat out with them. We had all night vigils with blankets and coffee for us, and blankets and red meat for the tigers. After another operation on his tooth, Sammy was getting better. That next summer, they were like kittens again, rolling in the grass, sunning themselves and playing in the water.
Sammy and Farah did fine for the next several years, then Farah started going downhill. When Farah died, Jill, Corey, and Sammy were with her. As she passed on, she seemed to want to take her old, tired body with her, rising as if to greet someone. Sammy roared to say goodbye, as did everyone else in the main barn. The roars were filled with sadness and pain, not at all like those we were used to hearing. As we lowered Farah to her final resting place, Sammy roared a final farewell. All the large cats joined in. One could feel the emotion in the air. The animals responding to the loss of Farah were neither dumb, nor ignorant. They had acted with emotion, feeling, and honor.
Just after Sammy and Farah came to us, we started our sponsorship and membership support program. To this day, even though we bounce checks from time to time, and wonder where next month’s funds are coming from, we have never turned away a needy animal. We will do our best to continue the promise we made to Sammy and Farah: “None of your brothers and sisters will suffer the way you did if we can prevent it.”