By Mark Rushton
Abbotsford, British Columbia
Jun 19 2007
Back when a million dollars meant something, and Chilliwack was the City in the Country, I met Al Oeming.
Al was an infatigable campaigner, constantly travelling the country promoting his Alberta Game Farm and always with a Cheetah in tow.
I remember taking pictures of that incredible animal on the steps of the old Chilliwack Post Office, and stroking its head. Then it yawned!
Cheetahs don’t have claws but they sure do have teeth. After looking at the tiny chain leash, I figured it was time for me to find something else entertaining and bid Al and his cat adieu.
A few years later I took a new reporter named Bill Lillicrap (honest) for a tour to get him familiar with the community, and we ended up at the Aldergrove Game Farm (now Vancouver Zoo).
Bill had never been “up close and personal” with a tiger, so when we came to the big cage, he had to have a photo of one of the big cats. He got up against the chain link fence and focused in on an approaching tiger. Wanting a closer shot Bill waited a few seconds more.
I was standing back a bit because I saw the cat crouch and knew what was coming. Suddenly the tiger is spread-eagle on the fence, and Bill is falling over backwards.
I’m sure he lived up to part of his name that day!
It did prove though that despite that cat growing up with dozens of people stopping by its cage every day, it was still willing to take a chance on a free lunch.
And that’s why I find it so absurd that people are allowed to take these huge and dangerous beasts out in public, and to keep them at home.
I was astonished to discover recently that there are more tigers in people’s homes than there are in the wild, and that there is even one tethered by a chain in a Langley field.
As Kim Carlton tragically learned, no matter how “trusting” you may be of them, these are inherently dangerous creatures.
I’m even careful with my dogs around small children.
That said, in the late eighties I toyed with the idea of “exotic” animals, and travelled all over B.C., and even as far as Montana, to buy them.
Over the next decade the herd grew, despite often selling off the babies, and when finally the novelty wore off, I had a dozen them – donkeys.
And that’s about as exotic an animal as people should be allowed to keep. They may shatter your eardrums at three in the morning, but they won’t attack you, they won’t poison you and they won’t rip you apart.
It seems almost every week there are pleas in the news from animal rescue centres looking for funding to care for abandoned snakes, lizards, alligators and god knows what other “novelty pet” people should never have been permitted to acquire in the first place.
Why is it that it’s against the law to jaywalk, but perfectly fine to have a lion, a tiger or a houseful of rattlesnakes?