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Big Cat Rescue Volunteer Describes Tiger Mauling

Standing outside his Baraboo home Saturday, Jon Meeker, 38, describes an incident in which a 600-pound Siberian tiger pulled his arm through a cage and bit down. His wife, Emily, at right, now changes his bandages twice daily.

Ten days after a 600-pound Siberian tiger played tug-of-war with his arm, Jon Meeker says he’s just trying to take it easy.

“No one is to blame for this,” said Meeker, 38, at his Baraboo home Saturday as an IV pumped antibiotics into his system to help fight off infection.

Meeker and his wife, Emily, both volunteers at the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue in Rock Springs, were doing chores at the outdoor facility Oct. 22 when the incident occurred. Jon was using a five-gallon jug to pour water through the cages and into bowls for the abandoned tigers, lions and leopards that live there.

As he walked toward the cage that held seven-year-old Kahn, a 600-pound Siberia tiger, Jon noticed the animal rubbing its body against the cage.

“He was being affectionate,” he said.

He lifted the jug and began to pour, and the tiger clawed at the gate in what Jon described as a playful bat. One of the animal’s five-inch claws went through the gate and caught a piece of Jon’s clothing.

Before he knew it, the animal had pulled his arm entirely through the gate.

“Him popping my hand through was a one in a million chance,” Jon said. “When he did, he got a hold of me and let me know it was time to play.”

Even though he felt he was only being played with and not attacked, Jon said it was in that moment that a feeling of intense terror set in.

The animal clasped his arm and took a bite.

“I started screaming and my wife turned around and saw what was going on,” he said. “She came over and started banging on the cage.”

Volunteers helped get Jon away from the cage by distracting the animal and began administering first aid until first responders arrived.

Jon was flown to UW-Madison Hospital were he was treated for puncture wounds, a five-inch gash on his upper arm and torn tendons. Nerves had been pulled from his fingers and the cartilage in his wrist was “ripped up,” he said. He was released five days later.

Emily now helps care for his wounds, changing his bandages twice a day and giving him pain killers when he needs them. It will be four or five weeks before he is functional again, Jon said, and he’ll have to undergo cosmetic surgery and physical therapy.

The Meekers got to know Jeff Kozlowski, the rescue facility’s owner, when Emily was working at a pet food store. Jon started volunteering there last spring.

He said he plans to start helping out again as soon as possible.

“They are wonderful companions, but you’ve got to respect the size,” Jon said of the rescue facility’s abandoned cats. “If that was a full-fledged attack, I wouldn’t have an arm left.”

Jon said he likely will feel nervous the next time he is around Kahn, but he won’t let that stop him from volunteering. However, he said he wouldn’t ever wear baggy clothes near the cages again.

Emily said she will plans to continue volunteering at the refuge, adding that the work done at the facility is too important to give up. She said she is amazed at her husband’s resiliency.

“He takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’,” Emily said.

Send e-mail to tdamos@capitalnewspapers.com

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