“Tigers are just a much bigger version of a domestic cat that we do all the time. But it was neat to see something different like that.”
What was tricky was the anesthesia. “It was challenging because he had to be down for the tests and the surgery. We couldn’t do them while he was awake.”
The surgery was a major teaching moment, with more than 30 veterinarians, residents and students observing – including neurologists, anesthesiologists and even ophthalmologists. The ophthalmologists, he explained, “don’t get to look in a tiger’s eye every day.”
Emily Mehlman, a senior veterinary student scrubbed in. She is pursuing a surgery residency in small animal medicine and will apply it to large exotics.
“The surgery didn’t change my mind. It was an amazing experience.”
Meanwhile Walker and Nick Sculac, center director, were nervously waiting in the lobby.
“I was very scared,” Walker said. “If the CT scan hadn’t been good we would have had to decide whether to put him down. I was crying.”
Several clients at the hospital waiting for surgery for their dogs and cats asked her who her “pet” was.
“When I told them it was a tiger they were blown away.”
The surgery took about two and a half hours. Snow Magic was then placed in his own cage in the truck for a recovery period. ‘We had to make sure he was breathing on his own and could control himself before sending him on his way,” Johnston said.
The doctors patted his head and moved his legs to help him wake up. Walker kept calling his name, since the tiger knows her.
She imitated “chuffing” noises, the friendly huffy purr that tigers emit. Snow Magic opened his eyes and “chuffed” back at her.
“I cried again,” she said.
In coming days, Serenity Springs staff will build a small outdoor enclosure onto the recovery room so Snow Magic can exercise a bit and get fresh air. He will stay in this semi-confined area for another three weeks.
Meantime, work on an accessible enclosure is under way. It will feature a den without steps and with a tall door so Snow Magic can walk straight into it. There will be a covered patio.
More than anything, Snow Magic loved to play in a pool. He will have a ground-level pool he can step into without jumping.
Donors have so far provided about $15,700 for the medical bills and construction. The new enclosure will cost close to $10,000 including the 12-foot fence that will cost about $4,000.
Tigers can live more than 20 years.
Walker said that Snow Magic is showing he will do just fine with three legs. “In fact he seems relieved.”