“I jumped over a tiger once,” my friend, a doctor, started as we closed the circle around the coffee table. “I was a pre-med student in Florida, and worked part time for a place where they ran tests on animals. One day, as I pushed open a set of double doors and walked into a corridor, I came face to face with a huge Bengali tiger stretched across the tiled floor. Backing away was a possibility, but the flimsy doors would not have constituted an obstacle. The thought of becoming animal fodder paralyzed me while the tiger measured me with his green eyes, seemingly dazed by the pleasure of our chance encounter. Suddenly, a young man wearing a lab coat appeared from a room abutting the corridor. ‘No worries, my friend, he’s tranquilized,’ he assured me in a voice that I perceived as slightly condescending. ‘They think he ate something that didn’t agree with him and brought him from the zoo for surgery.’ I was happy for the explanation but still hesitated. One quick snap of those powerful jaws and a good chunk of me would add, involuntarily, to his gastronomical affliction. Nevertheless, as I was much nimbler then, I opted against displaying my true emotions. I closed my eyes and flew over the tiger.”
My friend then proceeded to tell us how they handled various other animals in the facility, most of them less unusual than the tiger. “They operated on an alligator once and when they opened it up, they found twelve dog leashes in its belly.” “That means the alligator had swallowed twelve dogs that just happened to be walking by,” my horrified wife noted. “I play golf several times a week,” someone else jumped into the conversation. “I live in South Carolina by the coast and to get to my club, from my house, I drive by fifteen golf courses. There are alligators sunning themselves everywhere. We keep our distance when we play golf and they don’t bother us, but if we hit a ball close to them, forget it. Those creatures are fast, although, luckily, they cannot maintain their speed on dry land for too long.”
The doctor talked about tests on rats and chipmunks, raccoons, stray dogs and feral cats. “The cats were awful. They had claws, those cats. They liked to bite. They were ferocious. We were clad in full protective gear, including ½” thick gloves made of felt and still, it wasn’t easy.”
His comments reminded me of Vaska, my family cat when I was growing up in Bucharest, Romania. One didn’t fix animals at that time with today’s dedication and frequency, and our cat would disappear for days on end during the mating season. Luckily, Vaska was a male tabby cat and we were not the ones forced to deal with the consequences of his dalliances. Even though Vaska looked like a miniature tiger, he was soft and cuddly. When at home, unless he was in the kitchen meowing for food, he was sleeping in the living room on top of the television set. I guess he enjoyed the mild heat generated by the lamps and tubes inside the device, which was sufficiently bulky and deep to offer him a good, flat resting surface. The screen was maybe the size of a brick,. Vaska’s striped tail would invariably dangle in front of the screen, making the viewing challenging. My grandmother’s eyes were deteriorating. In an attempt to help her, my father, who sometimes traveled to the Soviet Union on business, brought back a magnifying glass designed for TV sets. Two glass disks partly fused together, one flat, against the screen, and the other convex, supported on spindly metal legs, created a space in between to be filled with tap water. Predictably, as soon as my father installed the gismo, Vaska’s tail fell into the gap between the screen and the magnifying glass. Duly augmented to the size of a monster’s tail it blocked rather than facilitated our view.
I never had cats after that, although I value the idea of a cold winter night, a good book and a cat purring in my lap, with all the wholesomeness entailed by such a cozy image. We had dogs. My family had dogs while I was growing up and later, when my wife and I had children, we agreed that a dog was a necessary and educational addition. I hoped for a large dog — a German shepherd, a lab or, at the very least, a golden retriever — that I could take out on walks through the neighborhood and enhance my proud manly image. Instead, my wife and kids bought for me, as a birthday gift, an apricot miniature poodle. He didn’t shed, was cute and, at least, had a human, manly name, Robert. It goes without saying that in the presence of family and friends we mostly called him Bobby. I think that names in general, and for dogs in particular, will enhance the bearer’s personality. The best examples I have are two dogs that belong to a friend, the first a black full size poodle named Chase, who jumped as high as a man and ran faster than a bullet, and the second, Bailey, his successor, a poodle as well, who has a chocolate milk fur, an Irish sense of humor, and simply flows from one place to another.
Being a small dog, Bobby lived for seventeen years. His progress in life, from a restless pup who would dash out the door without a moment’s hesitation, to an old dog having difficulty hearing and coming down the steps into the kitchen, served to me as an omen, showing me the arch of one’s life in accelerated motion. My wife had purchased him for me and she was the one to take him away to the vet on the last day of his life, when I refused to play God and witness the moment. A week after he was put to sleep the vet, in an obvious attempt to be nice and sensitive, sent us a card with pictures of several dogs running through a golden pasture. He wrote to assure me that Bobby was happy in some dog heaven. I resented that correspondence. My dog stayed with me by becoming a protagonist in one of my short stories. I blogged about him, then I wrote about him in a newspaper.
My children loved Bobby and both of them have dogs now, for their children. My daughter has a miniature schnauzer, appropriately named Spartacus. My son has just purchased a black, full size poodle they named Lucy. She is six month old, has a gray muzzle and her claim to fame is a perfectly calm demeanor, ideal for a house with two children. I appreciate her composed personality and trust her breeder, wondering at the same time at how such a well-trained dog would react if she came face to face with a tranquilized Bengali tiger.
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