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  • Writer's pictureBrian Watt

Caring For My Bengal Tiger

Not many people have a Bengal tiger at home. I do. Mind you, raising a Bengal tiger can be challenging. One might get the impression that when they’re younger, they are easier to control and essentially easy to domesticate. This is a silly notion. There’s nothing easy about raising a Bengal tiger.

During his cub years, my Bengal tiger was always getting into trouble and never wanted to be confined for any length of time. He was always squirmy, excited as most cubs are and climbing over and onto everything and he always wanted to get out and expand his territory. When he was only a few years old, he got out of his room’s window and out onto the roof. Luckily, a neighbor hurried over and told us that our tiger cub was on the roof. A few years later, he punched out a screen in the living room and raced up to a nearby toll road where some motorists and then animal control finally captured him. He escaped again, a few weeks later and was hit by a large pickup truck but miraculously survived after sustaining just a broken jaw.

Keeping a Bengal tiger in the house can be hard on the furniture, the walls, the china, lamps, bed sheets, clothing and electronic equipment. My tiger has destroyed at least three television sets, several DVD players, a car stereo system, numerous dishes and glasses (often for fun because watching a glass fall to the floor and break is a lot of fun for cats even bigger cats), broken a windshield, cracked the door to his room, and ripped apart some plantation shutters. He gave one of his trainers a gash on her shin sending her to the hospital to get stitched up. He has bitten a few people, attacked a few more. He’s gotten loose numerous times because, like a lot of wild cats, he can be very sneaky and sly. He’s gotten into neighbors’ homes and raced around from room to room. It can be startling when you see a Bengal tiger in your house when you weren’t expecting one. When he was an adolescent cat he terrified one of his trainers so much that she had to seek refuge by locking herself in one of the bathrooms until help could arrive and my tiger could be calmed down and pulled away.

So, why do I have a Bengal tiger, you ask? Aren’t you afraid he’ll hurt someone? I do warn people. Especially when he gets very still and then gets a sort of dark expression on his face. But honestly, he’s sort of like family and even though he’s now fully grown, most of the time he’s playful and can be quite funny. He enjoys being chased. He likes to swim. He enjoys getting back scratches and relaxing by watching Disney movies of all things. Go figure.

At this point, I’ve taken a lot of precautions and done what I can to keep him and the community we live in as safe as I can but he did escape the other day when he thought he could squeeze through a partially open but bolted window and shredded his way through the window screen. His trainer was able to catch up to him and coax him back to the house; but even after the broken window had been taped up, he kept glancing at it with a very obsessive almost otherworldly look, considering another attempt to escape.

I’ve often thought that I should place my tiger in a facility where wildlife professionals who routinely deal with big cats can handle him but honestly I haven’t been impressed with their security measures. In fact, all of their enclosures aren’t locked from the inside, like mine is, so even though they have alarm systems, a determined wild cat could easily escape. This is by law, because the state has determined it would be too unsafe to keep the wild cat locked in an enclosure during a fire or earthquake. So, for the time being, I’m going to keep my Bengal tiger here at home even though he may, on rare occasions attack me or try to escape. But there may come a time when I may not be able to care for him like he should be cared for. Odds are he will outlive me and in probably ten years he’ll be much stronger than I am since I’m sixty years old now, though he’s pretty darn big and strong now.

What’s interesting is that I’m not alone. A lot more families than you realize are raising or caring for Bengal tigers. Some of them get loose and escape and every once in a while you’ll hear or see a news report of one that is found dead which is very sad.

A lot of people can’t understand why in the world one would ever want a Bengal tiger in one’s home. Well, I’m not sure how to answer that. I never really wanted to raise a tiger. I guess for me, it’s an obligation and I do it out of love and devotion and some measure of hope because you see, my Bengal tiger is my Autistic son and everything I just related and more happened and a lot of what I’ve described happens almost on a daily basis with other families who care for headstrong and determined Autistic children and adults.

My son and other Autistic children and young adults, of course, aren’t as terrifying as fully-grown Bengal tigers but they do require a different kind of care and probably a higher degree of patience than some other children and, despite the analogy, many of them just want a way to fit and live peacefully in their communities. If you’re driving around at night, in the wee hours of the morning and see a young but fully-grown man wandering around the streets or a toll road in bare feet, in his Star Wars pajamas by himself, please call the police or 911. It may be my son or he or she may be the Autistic son or daughter of another family or if much older, perhaps he or she could be an Alzheimer’s patient. We all do what we can to keep them where they’re supposed to be but every once in a while one gets loose, so your additional vigilance and response may be required. Thanks.

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