Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Big Cats

One of my first jobs was working for Tom, a Pennsylvanian veterinarian. I recently found a series of journal entries and damn do they bring back memories! Here are my experiences, as I remember them.

It was another busy day at the clinic. I still worked in the kennel; administering medication, cleaning dog crap and doing laundry—I know, sounds like a dream job.

The kennel was crowded as the weekend grew near. At lunch, I took a well-deserved break. One of the girls I worked with asked if I wanted to go see the large cats at the sanctuary.

We walked behind the clinic to the log house which was the rehab center. Ducks waddled in our path, headed for the nearby pond, which was surrounded by colorful deciduous trees and shrubs. The ducklings were cute as they moved around steadily, their mother’s tail.

We walked to the back of the log home. The cat enclosure appeared—fences about fifteen feet tall, completely enclosed so the animals could not jump over. Two mountain lions stared intently, vocalizing as we came within feet of them. One rubbed her teeth against the metal fence in a rather playful manner. The blackish-tan fur was extremely short and dense, the nose a color near maroon. She stopped her rubbing motion and stared at me. My companion, a thin girl in her twenties, pulled some tall, green grass from the ground. 

“They love this stuff,” she said, bringing her hand close to the fence. The cougars rushed for it, both eager to get a bite.

“O wow!” they screamed as they gently pulled the blades out of her hand. That explained what I heard every morning since I started working at the clinic! And it sounded really cool.

She laughed. “Oh, wow, Kiki!” she mocked, letting go of the grass and rubbing one of their noses with her index finger. “They say that when they see something they want,” she explained. She wiped her hands on her dirty black jeans and turned away. She told me I could stay until my break was up.

I sat on a knee-high rock by the cage, watching them hurry about, rubbing themselves against one other. Kiki got on her hind legs at one point, gripping the fence like she had human fingers. 

“O wow,” she cried loudly, echoing. She seemed anxious for more. I found it odd that a carnivorous animal could get so worked up over grass. They had no access to grass; their enclosure primarily housed them and lots of dirt.

I reached over, pulled on some long blades, and carefully brought them close. Her teeth poked through the fence as she tried to get ahold of them. I was too afraid to bring my hand to her mouth—especially with all the signs posted on the fence, which depicted huge canines and broken, falling human fingers.

That's when the tiger emerged from the building. It stunned me. She was twice the size of any mountain lion there, and obviously dominant. They moved aside for her. Her mouth hung as she paced by, at first ignoring me. Her coat was like a bright fire, her stripes jet black, with a white chest and long white fur encircling the sides of her face.

She moved past me but turned, her orange eyes meeting my blues. I stared at her in awe. She stared me down, unpleased with my gaze. Large cats don't like to be challenged. After a minute or so, her eyes grew narrow. She looked at me, rather irritated, and made a sound like a sneeze. Her tail twitched, and the white spots on the back of her ears came into view—annoyance.

She gripped the fence with her paw, pulling herself up closer to my level. She vocalized, a rather pleasant Rrrr. Then she got down, turned her butt to me, and used her back paws to kick up some of the fine dirt beneath her—we all know what she thought of me.

Luckily, she liked me when it mattered.

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