This was Howard’s first meeting with the animals. His first time to ADI’s Temporary Rescue Shelter. Tomorrow everyone would be on site and the real work would begin in earnest. Today, this was an introduction, a first impression, a getting-to-know-you opportunity and I wanted to tag along quietly in the background to witness and to learn.
Right from the beginning, unlike most of us, Howard never walked straight up to an enclosure or night/feeding cage. Not at first. He stood there quietly – watching instead – for a long time. He wrote notes, observations. He then asked Anna, the vet and person who cared most directly for the animals, questions in his best broken Spanish. Then he observed each animal again and ask the question from a different angle. He was careful. Thoughtful. Thorough. He noticed that Sasha, the lion stepped gingerly on her right front paw. “Ow,” he said, with a surprising tenderness, “She hurts!” He stopped. Flipped through the notes. Finally finding the section that told of a botched declawing and the infections and problems that followed, he immediately announced with clear relief, “Ah, good. We can help her. We’ll try some new meds. She doesn’t have to be in pain.”
Once more he had stopped. Looked. Paid attention. Become fully present.
Then he’d stepped forward – and only then.
I took a breath. It had been awhile since I retired from my decades’ long psychotherapy practice. Howard was doing what any good clinician does – taking the time to get himself centered and prepared to focus on the well-being of the other. Observing his compassion in action, I knew he was the right guy for the job as well as for our team.
He and Anna had made it more than halfway through the tigers when they came to the small C-shaped arrangement of cages that housed Itza, the biggest of the tigers, along with the females in his family.
Itza is father to the cubs, Max and Stripes, both of whom had somehow fortunately escaped the awkward stiff-legged gait that are tell-tale signs of excess in-breeding. Sombra, their mother, her sisters, Lupe and Bimbi, were not so lucky. All three suffered from seizures.
Howard had met Sombra and the cubs on the backside of the C. He and Anna then came around to this area and spent a long time kneeling on the ground across from Itza, getting to know Lupe and exploring as best they could her medical needs. When they finished with her, it was time for the vet to meet the biggest and most ferocious of the tigers face-to-face.
To be continued…