When a tiger dies in a backyard, who is at fault?
Original Story: When one of our cats at the Sanctuary passes away, it is devastating. But recently, I learned that it hurts just as much when it was a cat we couldn’t help. I want to share my personal story.
Two tigers could be seen as we entered the pole barn in Chisago County, MN. A male tiger, who I am calling Delta, lay curled up on the dirt floor. Shifting his back legs in pain, he did not want to get up. But, when a staff member and I provided him water, he did. I could see the discomfort in his eyes and his gate as he slowly walked over. But he still was a calm and social tiger. Ohio, the other male, was limping in the next kennel, but in good spirits.
It had been years since I had visited this owner and her two tigers. But nothing had changed. In all these years, not ONE thing had changed, things had only deteriorated. The pool was in the same spot I had seen years earlier when it was first purchased. Now, it lay shredded in the same place, only able to hold a few inches of water. The perch was missing a complete board, but still recognizable as the same single perch. The transport crates she promised to build last time her cats were ill were still at the same half way completion mark, but now were filled with old milk jugs and covered in shovels and other tools. Shredded and bent metal water bowls were strewn all over from the tigers chewing them, which is why there was no real water bowl in the pens.
The pen was clean. The owner still loved them. She loved them so much that she herself couldn’t see that nothing had changed. It was like time had stood still. Her love for the tigers blinded her so that she couldn’t even see one of them was dying right in front of her eyes. And he was dying without veterinary treatment. He was dying in pain. She was loving him to death.
My heart saddened not only for the tigers, but also for the owner. This was a person who cared about animals – even the feral cats in her garage. This was a person who used to volunteer her time with rescue groups. But this was no longer the person I once knew.
I asked the owner several times to surrender the cats to TWS. She dismissed this offer as if it was too painful to even be discussed. Instead, she asked for our help in finding a vet that would not charge her a large fee. She wanted to borrow our darting equipment or a “syringe full of drugs as she put it,” a transport crate and even a trailer. She called vets on her own, without leaving her name or location of the cats. We made several calls on her behalf, but no vet would take on the liability of the situation without all the proper equipment. To do that would mean she would need to surrender the cats to TWS and that she would not do. She said they were not like other cats at our sanctuary, they needed her.
But what Delta needed was vet care and a pain free end to his life.
Three days after I saw Delta, he passed. My heart broke, I shook to the core. The same seemed to happen for the remaining tiger Ohio who could be heard bellowing for his brother. Would Ohio have the same fate? He had a limp, a skin condition that looked as if hundreds of cigarettes were put out on his body. When would he be seen by a vet? How would he feel spending his days alone without Delta, his lifelong companion? Would the companionship of his owner be enough for him like it was for her? Doesn’t Ohio deserve to have companionship of his own kind?
Every day since Delta’s death I am overwhelmed with sadness and anger. Then the guilt flows over me. Could I have done something more? Should I have done something more? But then the core truth hits me. I was powerless, just like Delta. The power lies within his owner to put the tigers first, but instead she continues to put her own feeling first. The feeling that she loves Delta and Ohio and would have missed them. She also had, and has, the power to continue vet care for the cats, to purchase transport crates, darting equipment and anything else that is needed to care for tigers. She failed to do that even if her intentions were good.
I know blame seems easy. The owner’s family blames us for not finding a vet, for not helping pay the bills. They also blame us for answering questions when authorities called. The blame and accusations hurt, but those feelings aren’t mine. In my opinion, it may be their own guilt of knowing they did not do right by Delta. In my eyes, he died a slow, painful death. Emails from the owner show months had gone by where he wasn’t properly eating. Weeks went by once he was in excruciating pain and would rarely get up, yet the owner would not initally pay the $600 fee one vet quoted her. After confronting her that Delta was dying on the evening of my visit – she finally made an appointment for the next week. But it was too late, Delta died just three days later.
Even though neither I, nor TWS has the power to change what happened to Delta or what is ahead for Ohio, I know I had to tell my story. I will think about them every day and our hearts and doors of TWS will always be open to provide Ohio a home – free of charge. But the ones with the power – his owner or authorities – are the only ones who can accept this offer. Ohio is powerless to do so.
The tigers names were changed for this article.