No Tiger Queen here, but maybe a contributor
My cat Hermione just went back into her suitical — a post-surgery garment designed to cover a cat's body as an alternative to wearing a cone — because she licked her bare belly, so roughly she created hot spots (sores).
Two months ago, Hermione had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and part of her intestinal tract that was damaged by processing food around the tumor. She was weak, skinny, and malnourished, and the day before the surgery, she peed on my face when she couldn't get out of bed and to the litter box. (Hermione likes to sleep near my head.) We could only figure out if the tumor was cancerous or not by her having the surgery.
For cats with Hermione's type of cancer, surgical removal is the only "cure." Not that we ever considered chemotherapy. Cats who survive the surgery and a week post-recovery will live anywhere from three months to five years. Their cancer tends to return. And we've already made the decision to not have additional surgeries.
The first week post-surgery, I slept on the floor of my office right next to Hermione. She was so drugged up that she kept climbing into the litter box, digging around, and then seemingly forgetting where she was. I barely left the office, except for food and hygiene reasons. Every time Hermione stirred, I woke up to check on her.
Hermione didn't want to eat. She'd associated food with throwing up and the terrible stomach cramps she'd get pre-surgery. Despite being a vegetarian, I touched all the meat as I force-fed Hermione special gastro-gentle wet cat food four times a day. A feeding session would take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on her mood. Like a toddler, half Hermione's food ended up projected back onto the plate, and we'd try again. The stronger she got, the surlier she became.
After a week, I started sleeping back in my bed, but as I work from home all the time, I spent every second with her. At 14 days, Hermione managed to wiggle out of her cone and annoy a staple. She was supposed to get them out.
We took her to the vet, and to my pleasant surprise, they reported she hadn't done enough damage to need repair, and they'd removed her staples right on schedule. But we needed to start wound care as she had a minor, topical infection. Twice a day, Hermione's belly surgery area required cleaning. Jacob bought Hermione her suiticals, and after cleanings, we'd apply baby powder, so the area didn't sweat and get more infected. We're still cleaning her belly as needed.
It took a month before Hermione started eating on her own. Malnutrition and not putting on enough weight were a big concern. She's still much more interested in her rabbit kibble than any other food. Hermione doesn't get to sleep in our bed very often because she'll eat more food if shut in my office at night. She went through a cuddle phase where all she wanted to do was be held or sit on my lap.
Two months post-surgery, Hermione's stronger and surlier. Even if I'm in the office, she cries at the door like she's neglected and alone. She's beaten up Zeta, our other cat, again. There's been blood. We thought we were past the suitical — which I have to wash every two days and now repair since she's tearing it with her teeth — but no.
I'm tired of the litter box in my office that Zeta likes to sneak and leave a big stinky poo in. I'm sick of vacuuming my floor of cat litter. (Our other boxes are in the tile-covered bathrooms, and they have tall sides and tops to prevent so much cat litter everywhere.)
When I listened to the Cat People (a podcast and accompanying article), and I heard Deborah Pierce talking about her lion Elsa recovering from an intestinal surgery and how Deborah force-fed the lion, who didn't want to eat, chicken — at least I only had a domestic cat. Sure, Hermione bit my fingers and drew blood, but she wasn't going to take off my hand.
Yes, like a lot of you, I watched the Tiger King documentary series on Netflix. My friend Max summed it up as — actually not about tigers, but instead three cult leaders and their followers. I tend to agree. Except for maybe Joe Exotic, the Tiger King, the other two cult leaders, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle and Carole Baskin, I'd seen on numerous wildlife and zoo life TV shows in the 1990s.
In Cat People, Rachel Nuwer reports:
"According to research conducted by scientists at Duke University, seeing a wild animal in an unnatural, human setting — a chimpanzee drinking out of a baby bottle or sitting through a talk show interview — makes people less likely to donate to a conservation organization that aids that species and more likely to think the creature in question would make a great pet. According to Kara Walker, now a behavioral ecologist at North Carolina State University and lead author of the research, published in 2011 in the journal PLOS One, this also extends to people’s thought process after an encounter with a cub, which might go something like: Look at this cuddly tiger! I got to pet it for 20 minutes and it licked my hand and now I can have a tiger, too!"
In the 90s, I never did ask my parents (at least seriously) for an exotic cat. I'd gotten rather into rabbits, and frankly, our menagerie of farm animals kept me busy until I left home for college.
But as a kid, I could not get enough of big predators, and I loved cats. I'd spend hours reading, frankly, horrific stories about people being attacked by big predators (tigers, lions, bears, wolves, crocodiles) and watching these shows. You bet when I was 10-years-old, I wanted a tiger. I even lived in the country with a menagerie of domestic farm animals and pets, including ~7 cats. We had to beware of cougars and lynx.
My 7th-grade teacher told us about how he and his wife had had a "pet" cougar; until one day, they came home to their garage half-opened and the cougar gone. My teacher would've been in his early 20s at the time, and now, I wonder if he ever reported it as the cougar ran through their suburb.
A cop shot a cougar across the street from us — claiming self-defense, but we all knew he shot it for his friends, our neighbors, whose awful children like to play near the cougar's den. (I babysat those children; they were awful.) But the cougar had never come down the hill to bother my mom or myself, during those early frozen spring mornings, when our sheep were giving birth, and there was always fresh blood and easy pickings.
I cannot help but wonder how many adult people, who watched Tiger King, now want a tiger. Perhaps the most shocking thing to me was how cheap tigers are — $2,000-5,000. I know people who've spent that on domestic, purebred dogs. While I adopted her from a shelter and didn't know what she was, my cat Zeta is a purebred ragdoll — a domestic cat that sells for at least $1,000.
And on top of tigers being cheap, some states don't even require licenses or any documentation to buy them. (Those same states often require you to register your domestic dogs and cats.)
As an adult, I would never want a tiger. In our current situation, I panic enough when thinking about what might happen if I cannot get my indoor cats commercial food. What if I had to feed a tiger? What if I had to force-feed one as it healed from surgery? People freak out every so often when there's an article about how your domestic cat will eat your dead body — mine fully have my permission and blessing if I'm dead and cannot feed them — but what about an animal who will eat your live body and sees you as prey?
I can't help but worry that the Tiger King will cause an uptick in people purchasing big cats. I don't know. Maybe it focuses enough on these cult leaders that it becomes more about the personalities than the cats? In fact, the last three episodes barely have animals in them as the director hones in on the money-hungry people and murder-for-hire story.
Honestly, I got bored with Tiger King when it became just meth'd up, white dirtbags talking about wanting to murder their enemies and swinging around the guns they bought at Wal-Mart. (I moved away from dirtbags like that, thank you.) Give me more big cats.
In Cat People, Nuwer concludes that Joe Exotic being convicted on tiger trafficking and animal abuse/murder charges (along with his human murder-for-hire scheme) will cause changes in exotic big cat legislation. I'm more skeptical.
I wouldn't buy a tiger, but would I pay for an experience near one? Very possible. I've done behind the scenes tours at zoos where I got to be close to cheetahs, servals, and ocelots, and I dove with great white sharks in South Africa. (Albeit, the sharks lived wild in the ocean.) If we were on a Florida trip near Baskin's cat sanctuary, would I be able to pass up visiting for myself? Even if I think she's a cult leader and that there's no way those big cats are treated as well as they should be on only 40-acres… I'd go.