Stuck in someone else's frames? break free!


by Terry Huffhines, with permission
September, 2000

It was a very sad time for me. My father had been hospitalized with leukemia and on weekends, I had been making the trip from Kansas City to Springfield to see him. He had been a very robust man and it was especially difficult to see my father in such a deteriorating state.

On one of my visits, I was riding with my Aunt “Tiny” when she just happened to mention, “Oh, by the way, you’ll never guess what I have staying in my basement. Not one for guessing games and thinking it was probably a raccoon or squirrel, I said “Gee, I don’t know. Is it bigger than a breadbox?” “Yeah”, she said, “I guess you could say that. Would you believe I have a lion in my basement?” Not quite sure I had heard her right, I said, “What did you say?” She repeated herself. “I have a lion staying in my basement. Greg, Jr. brought home this lion cub, and it is now staying in my basement until he can build a cage for it.” I said, “Do you mean a bobcat?” “No, a real lion.” Still not believing her, I said, “You mean a cougar or mountain lion, don’t you?” I knew those were far more common in North America than lions and thought she was probably just a bit confused. She stated more firmly, “No, NOT a mountain lion, a LION lion!” Greg, Jr. and his father had been doing construction work for an animal preserve in Branson, Missouri, which was being prepared for sale. The preserve was selling some of the animals, including four lion cubs and Greg convinced his father to let him to buy one the only male in the group. And now, my Aunt Tiny had a lion in her basement.

I scolded her saying, “Why didn’t you tell me before?” She said, “He’s only been there since yesterday!” I couldn’t believe it. I was an animal nut and I’ve had a lot of strange pets, but never one as exotic as a big cat. I couldn’t wait! Like many others who are still unaware of just how dangerous it is to be to keep such animals as backyard pets, I anxiously asked “Is he dangerous?” “Well, he has pretty long claws, so I guess he can be, but he is just a cub and seems playful.”

I asked her if she had petted him and she said she had, “a little bit”. I was totally intrigued but still not quite sure I was hearing the story right. I rode home with her to see this story for myself. It was a little unbelievable. She handed me the leash and said, “Go on down and put the leash on him, if you want. Greg won’t care”. She told me he was as big as a “good-sized” dog and I envisioned a Great Dane or St. Bernard. Nevertheless, I was still very apprehensive about opening the door. She just laughed, and said, “Go on down, I promise not to turn the lights off”. I would later realize that this very situation is just one of many where people are seriously maimed and even killed by keeping such exotic animals as “pets”, wrongfully thinking that a “playful” nature or “cub” status somehow makes the cat a safe backyard pet.

What a funny feeling though, almost instinctively, to feel afraid of something when I had hardly ever been afraid of much. I had been around my share of animals…including horses, dogs, snakes, squirrels, crows, and raccoons, just to name a few. But they were all common pets. A big cat was different. I was now envisioning a sort of “hell on wheels” bobcat. A lion that was bigger than a bobcat…maybe two times as big.

“Did you say he has all of his claws?” Aunt Tiny answered, “Sure does”. Slowly, I opened the door to see if the lion was on the stairs waiting for his next visitor. He wasn’t there, so I slowly proceeded down the steps, looking all around me. At first, I didn’t see him anywhere, but I had the distinct feeling of being watched. I carefully perused the items sitting along the wall, all the way down to the partition at the end. Then…I saw his yellow eyes peering at me from behind a freezer. Suddenly, the lights went out! For about 10 seconds, everything was pitch black. Within that span of time, I became the hunted and my heart felt like it was jumping through my throat. Just then, the door opened. The cub was halfway to the stairs and my cousin Greg was coming down, jokingly saying, “How do you like my new pet?” Needless to say, I didn’t think his joke was all that funny. The cat was already attacking his legs, like a kitten does when you walk by it. He seemed to be playing. Greg petted him and proceeded to supply him with a bowl of fresh water.

I noticed an old mattress lying on the floor with a nice big hole in the center. Greg said the new pet had had fun making a mess of his bed. He showed me the lion’s claws…they were at least 2 inches long, maybe longer. He could sure do some damage if he wanted too. From looking at the mattress, I wouldn’t want to make him too angry with me.

Over the next couple months I got to know the spunky cat and felt a “connection” with him. My visits to southern Missouri were busy. When I wasn’t with my father, I was at my aunt’s playing with “Judah”, the name she chose because she believed if he was named after the “Lion of Judah” from the bible, this special animal would always be surrounded by a protective and positive force. Judah was fun to play with, it was like playing with an extremely large kitten with one exception…it was clearly best to wear gloves and heavy protective clothes when playing with him.

Judah loved stalking games. All I wanted to do was to get some decent photos with my camera, but the “star” wouldn’t allow it. He would hide and when I attempted to come down to his level to get into position to photograph him, Judah would charge, knocking me over in the process. I didn’t know at the time that one should never assume this position with a wild animal even when separated by a cage, as animals perceive anything on their level or lower as prey. And although I had fun with him, I only managed to get a few good pictures. I thought he was probably as “loving” as any lion is capable of being, and I certainly knew he was very smart.

Even at the young age of four months, I was amazed at his intelligence. I recall one particular incident when Greg had put a leash on him and Judah was pulling it around behind him. My aunt had called us upstairs for dinner. Judah came rushing up behind us. The leash had gotten caught between one step and the support. Judah tugged on the leash and was becoming frustrated. He then turned and appeared to be studying what was preventing his forward motion. I watched his eyes follow the leash down to the snag point. Then, with one flip of his paw, he instantly dislodged the problem. I could not believe what I had just witnessed. I would not have believe it if I had not seen it for myself. From such a young animal... I still have trouble with it, but I know it happened and I believe it was a calculated cognitive process on his part.

Judah further proved his intelligence to me in various ways over the next couple months. Even when he would appear to attack and bite, it would still seem to be with restraint. Sometimes Judah would play too rough, but I never felt it was intentional. It was just his natural enthusiasm. When that would happen, we would usually box his face and tell him to play easy. He would actually pout, sulk, and go lay in the corner, as though he were saying, “What did you do that for, I was just playing?” I loved him. Judah was an actual entity with a thinking, feeling personality. I talked to him when we were alone like he always knew what I was saying. Whether he did or not didn’t really matter. I always felt that he was somehow special, and that, on some level, he understood what I was trying to tell him. I now know that when these exotic animals harm people, they may be just playing with no intent of harming anyone.

With Judah, there always seemed to be some sort of a divine intervention going on. My aunt, mom and most of my family are fairly religious. They chose the name of Judah because she said that maybe it would help protect him in the future. (She liked him too!) I don’t know whether it was because my aunt named him after the Lion of Judah or for other reasons but all I can say is everything seemed to fall into place for him. From the very beginning, when Greg rescued him from the snow and mud to his ultimate destination, the lion was blessed.

Next to Don Johnson, Judah was the luckiest cat ever to come out of the Ozarks! And that is yet another part of this amazing string of coincidences that led Judah to paradise on earth. It all started when Greg began having trouble keeping up with Judah’s diet, something my cousin had not foreseen. He was having trouble feeding such a hungry boy. Judah was growing very fast, getting bigger every day and his appetite was growing right along with him, totally funded by Greg’s limited pocket change. Although Greg’s father wanted to keep Judah, Greg was getting concerned about where all of his money was going and how he was going to pay for all that expensive chicken Judah had developed a taste for. Being a young guy of 17, Greg was also noticing that his girlfriend was feeling somewhat neglected since Judah was requiring not only much of his money, but also his time and attention. The cost of just feeding Judah was taking its toll…Greg hardly had enough money left to do the extra things he used to do. The whole landscape was fast changing for a boy and his pet. The exciting plan for having an exotic pet in one’s basement and backyard was suddenly taking on dramatic and overwhelming proportions.

Although he didn’t want to, Greg started thinking about selling Judah. He thought he had no choice. He wanted to advertise him in various publications, starting with the Springfield newspaper. I told him not to do it because he would surely fall into the wrong hands. I said I would buy him from him, and somehow, find a good home where Judah would be safe from human predators, the kind of people who would de-claw him, possibly put him in a canned hunt as target practice, or just abuse him in general. I just couldn’t bear the thought. Actually, when I first heard that Greg was going to sell him, I promised Judah that I would find him a good home. I was thinking that perhaps I could find a zoo, hopefully near Kansas City where I could visit him occasionally. Judah had bigger plans though. Little did I know that he would find his way to such an incredible place. Judah’s destiny was one that even I would envy.

Greg was also more interested in Judah’s well being than he was in making a profit, so I bought him. I promised Greg that I would do something...I just wasn’t sure what. I was living in Lenexa, Kansas, at the time, a suburb of Kansas City. Of course, exotic pets are not allowed within Lenexa city limits so I couldn’t take him home and I had to leave him with Greg until I figured out what to do next. I just wasn’t sure what to do, or even where to start in finding Judah a new home, I just knew I had to, and fast.

The first thing I did was to start calling all the zoos, animal preserves, and vets in the four state area. I tried Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis, Topeka, Tulsa, and even a zoo in Texas. They were either full or suggested obscure contacts that were questionable, at best. One vet suggested calling a person outside Kansas City who had other exotic pets. After talking with the woman, I discovered that she had a cougar, a bear and a bobcat and would love to have Judah.

She said, “ Of course, he will have to be de-clawed.” She said all of her animals had had the procedure done. I couldn’t justify that. That was not what I had meant when I told Judah that I would help him. So, I continued with my search. I decided that if I was going to be dealing with a growing lion, I would have to learn the proper procedures about what I would be dealing with. None of us had a clue, really. I went to the library to start my research on this rather obscure topic.

Trying to find information on lion taming was not an easy quest. This was before the internet. There were a few articles about the Lions of the Serengeti, a book called “The Cats of Shambala”, and not much else. I checked out what I could and proceeded to digest all tidbits of information that were relevant. “The Cats of Shambala” by actress Tippi Hedren turned out to be quite informative. Actually, it was the only real help that I got from all that I had read. The story was very entertaining. I decided to take the book with me on a flight to St. Louis. It would give me something to read. I had seen the movie, “The Birds”, and had remembered seeing Tippi in other things. One special show in particular I recalled, was “Circus for the Stars”. All I remembered was the sight of this petite woman surrounded by huge cats. It came back to me that she was into helping save lions, tigers and other cats that people could no longer care for, kind of like Judah’s situation. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. The book was so interesting that I almost forgot to read for content. I became lost in the amazing storyline…what hardships and perseverance!

As I read on, an airline stewardess walked by. She commented that the book looked interesting. Looking at one of the pictures she remarked , “Isn’t that Melanie”? I said, “Yeah! I believe that is Tippi’s daughter.” She said, “Don’t you recognized her?” Shrugging my shoulders, I said, “Do you know her?” She said, “That’s Melanie Griffith when she was a young girl. Tippi is her mother”.

Her parting bit information left me rather stunned. Though I had scanned the book looking at pictures, I had not put that interesting piece of information into place. It was starting to seem more like destiny; “divine intervention”, that Judah possibly had a guardian spirit. Did animals have spirit guides? I know humans think they are the epitome of intelligent life in the universe, but the reality is, we are just foolishly arrogant. Maybe certain animals are on higher karmic levels than certain humans are. Who’s to say that reincarnation follows a specific species? All beings must evolve. I’ve always thought that other animals were as worthy of heaven as we were…Interesting, to say the least.

Maybe, just maybe there was a chance that Melanie’s husband, Don Johnson, would put in a good word for Judah. After all, Don went to high school in Crane, the Missouri town where Judah was currently living. Don’s mother-in law, Tippi, just happened to be the “Cat Lady” from this book. How perfect that would be! From reading the book, I had pictured in my mind a paradise for cats or anyone else that might be lucky enough to become a resident at Shambala. He would have lakes, waterfalls, huge sycamores to laze under, and the companionship of his own kind. Sounds like heaven on earth to me…a perfect place for Judah.

It was a long shot at best, but the pieces were there. I just had to find a way to try to put it all together. Not a snowballs’ chance in hell, I thought! Don Johnson didn’t know me from Adam. Besides, he hadn’t been back to Crane since he had left for the bright lights of Tinsel Town. Still, I felt an undercurrent of something. There are no coincidences. I pretty much believe that, so I decided to go with it and investigate further. I started looking for some sort of contact information.

There happened to be a nice map in the back of the book of Shambala Animal Preserve. After I got home, I contemplated calling the operator to see if Shambala had a listed phone number. I put it off for a few days, thinking, what if she did say “yes”? What would I do? How would I get him there? If everything did work out, how would I make good on my promise to Judah? The point would be mute though, if she said she didn’t have room. Everyone else had turned him down. Why would this avenue be any different? What if Tippi didn’t believe I even had a lion?

After thinking about it for a while, I decided that nothing would happen if I didn’t do something to make it happen. I called information and, almost to my surprise, retrieved a toll-free phone number for Shambala Animal Preserve in Acton, California. The next step was a little more difficult. I knew this was the perfect place for Judah, I just didn’t want to fail him in my effort. I took a deep breath and dialed the number. A recording came on and I was somewhat relieved. But I still had to try to cram all the pertinent information that I wanted to convey into a meaningful message, within about a minute or so of tape. Panic started to set in. I started to babble about how I have this lion cub and how I’m trying to find it a good home where it would be safe.

I felt like I was failing miserably, when a lady’s voice breaks in and interrupts my spiel. She was trying to make sense of everything I was saying. She had another agenda though, I could tell by the questions she was asking. How long had I had the cub? Where did I get him? Was I a dealer? I could also tell by her manner that she was probably a caring and concerned individual. That was understandable, considering this lady was talking to a total stranger. I could also tell that she probably had dealt with this sort of request before. I told her I had read that Tippi had quite a few big cats, and that I was hoping she might like a little (ha!) male lion cub to go with her collection. I told her my lion was supposed to be of Asian descent.

She listened quietly and finally said, “This is Tippi.” Once again, it never occurred to me that this could actually be the “Lady of the Manor”. Although the under-current in her authoritative sounding demeanor should have given her away, I had assumed this lady was probably one of Tippi’s assistants. I have no idea what I said after that, other than when she asked me the question I feared… if she should take Judah, how would I get him there? I didn’t have an answer, other than to say, “I don’t know, but if you are so kind to take him, I will get him there!”

She said she would check on some things, that I should call her back in two or three days and she would know more. When I hung up the phone, I was elated! Not only had she not said no, but also she left me with the impression that it was within the realm of possibility. I was so excited! But I had a lot of work to do. Two or three days didn’t leave a lot of time to figure out how I would deliver Judah to her.

Between phone calls over the next couple hours, I received a very unusual call. A strange person called up to ask if, by chance, I might have a lion cub for sale. I told the person, “No!” He then preceded to ask me if I knew where he could get a lion cub and I told him that I knew where a lion cub was, that it was in southern Missouri, but it was not for sale. I asked him where he had heard about me and he said, “That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that exotic animals are not allowed within the city limits of Lenexa, and that if I was housing one, I would be in violation of the city ordinance.” I reassured him that no such animal was living in my house and never would be. He finally dropped his interrogation and hung up.

So this must have been what Tippi had to check on. She wanted to make certain that I wasn’t a dealer. She was very spunky and thorough and I liked her attitude. I knew if Judah was lucky enough to ever end up with her, he would be in very good hands.

I was more determined than ever to find an airline that would send him to Shambala if she gave the word. I called them all…every airline. There was always an excuse for why they couldn’t do it...regulations, etc. I explained that it was a rescue mission and that they would be somehow rewarded. But they wanted a “monetary” reward! I came closest with Fed Ex Air, but there would be a lot of waiting, paperwork and then, there was the fact that they wanted to send him to Chicago for a day or so, and then ship him out from there. I couldn’t do it. Somehow, I just didn’t think Judah would survive that.

I called Tippi back a few days later and told her that I was running into a few snags with the airlines. She said that if I could get him to the LA Airport, they could pick him up. I couldn’t believe it! She was saying that she would take him if I could get him there! I heard her say it. “If you can get him to the LA Airport, I’ll send someone down to pick him up.”

No doubt about it, someone was watching over this cat, Judah was a blessed animal but I still had some major problems to contend with. First, with the exception of Fed Ex, the airlines had all said “no”! I would have to try again. I got the same response from everyone, “We would like to help you but there’s nothing we can do.” That was crap, but it was their airline. I had to come up with something else, whether it is via truck, train, bus, or car? Car… yeah! That could really work, I thought. The only problem is, cats are notorious for not wanting to go for rides. Having a lion riding 1500 miles inside a car would have to be the dumbest solution of all. It would be better to walk 1500 miles than to try to haul a big cat even 100 miles inside an automobile. Did I mention his 2 1/2 inches long claws? His current fighting weight was a solid 85 pounds of enthusiasm. He could trip you in a second. He was a good cat as lions go, but he did have a dominant personality by nature, even at 4 months.

I remember watching home videos of Judah running through the fields like a dog, following Greg and his dad, as they herded cattle. He would entertain himself by chasing ducks and geese around the pond. I’m not sure he even knew he was a big cat. Then again, maybe he did, but he was not a scaredy cat ...he was totally unafraid. Maybe he just liked having fun.

The fact that Judah had this dominant personality worried me. If not properly handled, a four-month old, 500 lb. lion could get in trouble, if he so chose. Our society is not tolerant or understanding of the “lesser species” when, even through their natural instincts they have mishaps or make bad judgments, especially when they are bigger than we are.

I had just read about a perfect example. A beautiful lion by the name of Robbie from the book “ The Cats of Shambala”, Robbie was shot and killed, after the flood, while protectively standing guard over an injured companion. Through no fault of his own, he was senselessly gunned down by a group of keystone cops simply because he was displaying a protective attitude toward his friend. They had just shared a traumatic experience, so why wouldn’t he be a little apprehensive about a group of morons running around with weapons. He instinctively knew he had reason to fear them and ultimately he gave his life to protect his friend. Sometimes, I question God’s choice of “caretakers”! Apparently, He must expect better things of us somewhere down the line. It’s too bad for other beings that man is such a slow study! The fact that no airline would transport Judah didn’t really make me feel all that bad for some reason. I had heard many stories about animal shipping accidents, deaths, etc. Something told me to go with whatever happens next. The trouble was, nothing was happening, other than I was getting nowhere with transportation. It had been a week since I had last talked to Tippi, so I’m sure she probably thought I was questionable at best. Trouble was, I didn’t even know anyone with a truck. My possibilities were dwindling. It would take a fairly large animal cage to haul him around. I had a large dog cage, now if only I had a truck. The cage was too big to fit inside the car. Besides, the idea of attempting to navigate with an irate, nervous lion, as big as he had become, was not the best idea in the world. He had gone from about 70 lbs to about 85 lbs just in the 3 months that I had known him. I didn’t have the luxury of waiting much longer. Soon, he would definitely be too big to handle.

While in the process of strategizing, I went to my garage to try to visualize the size of him compared to the size of the cage that I had. That was when it occurred to me that the cage was in two pieces, meaning, that two sections made up the cage, with nuts, small bolts, and lock washers securing it around the center. As I tried to envision squeezing one portion of the cage into a car, I thought, even if this could work, I could never get the second portion in. However, I had no choice but to try. After moving the cage out to the car and disassembling it, I tried the impossible. Close, but not close enough. Maybe if I moved the front seat to the extreme forward position, I could then bend it and squeeze it, until it popped in. It worked! Eureka! I looked at it setting in the back seat. Headroom, along with trying to maneuver the other piece into position to replace the nuts and bolts would be a secondary problem. Trying to get the second piece past the first piece was the trick.

You know, when something is meant to happen, it will, no matter what obstacles are encountered. The top piece miraculously slipped past the door and slid on top of the bottom piece with little headroom to spare. I still had to assemble it and put the door in place. That could be a problem. After all, I would have to get Judah into the cage before I could haul him. If you couldn’t open the door, or more importantly, close the door once he was inside, it would be pointless. I would be going nowhere with a lion in the open back seat of my car. My beautiful leather interior would soon be shredded along with the hair on the back of my head.

For some reason it seemed that God had chosen a special destiny for this cat, with me as his victim of stress and circumstance. One thing was for sure… if this worked, I would not be making this trip alone. I got to choose the victim that would be riding shotgun. Fortunately, my only choice was the one person who had no choice but to follow my instructions… my 20 year old son, Justin. Unknown to him at the time, he was about to become a very important accomplice to either what would become “mission impossible” or the “world’s craziest animal adventure”! I kept working on the mechanics of the cage. Everything was going smoothly. I managed to get the 2 pieces of the cage bolted together with the door in place. Unbelievable! Wouldn’t you just know it? The door opened up just far enough to push in a German Shepherd dog or hopefully, a reluctant lion. I thought to myself, this is too cool…and…you’re a fool!

I was thrilled and begin to make some fast plans. I called my son Justin and told him he had been drafted for the “mission of a lifetime”, to plan for imminent duty and that I would call him back with the details. “And by the way” I told him excitedly, “you have no choice…we are going to California and we will be gone approximately six days”. Always one for excitement and adventure and an occasional surprise, I added one additional incentive for him saying, “I thought we might as well take a vacation while we’re there”.

I called Tippi and told her what I was planning. I asked her if someone could take Judah if I could deliver him directly to the compound. She said “Probably…what day would you arrive?” I said if everything went smoothly, I would have him there by the following Wednesday. I’m not sure she believed me, but, she was gracious and said, “Call when you get to California”.

Next, I called Greg and my Aunt and told them my plans. They were skeptical, to say the least. I called Justin and told him that we were leaving Monday, so he could make plans to be off from Monday through the following Sunday. I still hadn’t told him what we were doing. Since he was always ready for excitement, adventure, and an occasional surprise, I simply told him he would have a great time and that I would foot the bill. That’s all I really needed to tell him anyway, since he loves California almost as much as I do. I told him that we just had to go by and see Granddad in Crane, before we left.

I thought perhaps my vet might be able to help me out. I called him and told him I was trying to get this lion cub to a preserve in California and I had no choice but to drive him out there in my car. He thought I was a little crazy, but agreed to supply some tranquilizers at no charge…for Judah (not me). He gave me specific directions on how to use them and wished us luck.

Justin showed up early Monday morning at my house and started load his gear. The trunk was already full and so was the backseat. “Dad, why do you have a dog cage in the back seat?” I told him that I was taking it to Greg for the lion. He just said, “OOO--K,” and forgot about it. When we were about 70 miles outside of Kansas City, heading south on 71, I said, “Justin, “your assignment, if you choose to except it, is to help me deliver Judah to California via the back seat of this car, in this cage…providing of course, that we can get him in”.

He just sat there for a moment and then said, “No way! That’s insane!” I just said “Wa-a-ay...ALL the way!” “Cool…let’s do it!” I was a proud dad and relieved with his enthusiastic response. “We’ll just call it an adventure” I said. “Yeah, if we survive” he said.

All the way down the to my parents Justin just kept saying, “This is so cool”! I knew he was “in”. A big problem still remained, however. How would Judah react to being put in a cage? Especially a cage that was not much larger that he was. I had cleaned the cage before we left and had found some nice smelling, deodorizing, kitty litter to put in the bottom…alfalfa pellets! What a concept! Maybe it would help keep his attention, kind of like catnip I hoped. I covered the bottom about an inch deep with pellets and spread out rags on the bottom for bedding. We had water, food and bowls for food. We had cheese and cracker snacks for us, and packages of hamburger meat for Judah. We had everything except brains.

Monday was a very nice day. My dad had been out of the hospital and in remission for a month. We though everything was all right. Late Monday, I took Dad out to meet Judah for himself. Judah was playful and accidentally jumped on Dad. He didn’t really hurt him, but I could tell Dad was weaker than I had thought. It caused him to lose his balance a little bit. He told me to be careful and not take any chances, and if I had problems, to turn around and head back. I said I would.

Later that evening Justin and I made a dry run to my Aunt’s house to test Judah’s response. We turned the car off, opened the door, and proceeded to fetch the cub. I had thrown some chicken into the cage and tempted him with a small piece from my hand. I led him to the cage by his leash where Justin, Greg, and I picked him up, shoved his head into the cage and let him investigate. He sniffed around, found the chicken, and then proceeded to come back out. We did that a few more times, allowing him to retrieve the chicken without having to shove him so much. At one point, we closed the door to the cage to see what he would do. I found that I could latch the door before he could turn around and start back out. That was a good sign.

It looked as if we had no more excuses. “D-Day” was fast approaching. I had spoken to my cousin, who was a trucker, about the best way to bypass the Inspection Point at Needles, California. He had recommended skirting the dam and crossing over that way. I was sure that if inspectors stopped us, we would not have cleared Needles. They probably would have confiscated Judah, and refused to give him back. I couldn’t take that chance, so we would head north, crossing over by the dam.

Tuesday morning arrives and Justin and I were up by 6 am. It was a nice, spring morning, but I could tell Dad wasn’t feeling all that well. Mom had packed us a few sack lunches. They wished us luck, and we were off to Aunt Tiny’s to pick up our lion. She was already up and had managed to sneak a tranquilizer into a piece of Judah’s chicken an hour prior to our arrival. She also had packed us lunches and a thermos of hot coffee. Greg brought Judah out to the car… he sure didn’t seem very tranquil to me. “Are you sure he didn’t spit that pill out that you gave him, Aunt Tiny?”. “I’m sure he didn’t spit it out. He swallowed it in about two gulps”, she complained. “We’re going to miss the little fellow, though. You guys be careful!”

We proceeded to load Judah in the car like we practiced the day before. Just as he turned around, we latched the door. Justin continued to mess with the latch a bit, testing its springs.

“What’s wrong Justin”, I asked. The door is right behind my head, so I want to make sure it stays shut.” Judah was already starting to whine. Actually, it was more like a loud “Waow!” Justin got in and shut his door. Everything fit perfectly and the door shut firmly on the cage, leaving just enough clearance so that Judah could actually see outside the car through the cage door and side glass. He was getting enough light to see inside his cage. We had placed a few things inside the cage with him to give it a familiar smell. It looked like all systems were “GO”. I checked to make sure I had the bottle of tranquilizers. I started the car and handed the bottle to Justin telling him to stick them in the glove compartment. “Let’s make sure we don’t lose these,” he said.

I put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway. We waved goodbye and looked at each other. I knew what he was thinking and he knew what I was thinking, so we didn’t say anything, We just turned straight ahead and took off. W e had a full tank of gas so there would be no stops for a while. Let’s see; it was 8:10 a.m. now. Tiny said she had given Judah the tranquilizer at 7am, so it should be taking effect soon. Judah was still just as active as he normally was, and even a bit more upset! The sound of the car and the bumps in the old road were not soothing to our backseat passenger and he was already showing signs of “road wear”. The main highway would be better, we supposed. Judah was not consoled by our wishful thinking. He was starting to pace, occasionally stopping to dig.

We had been into the venture about thirty minutes when Justin said, “I sure hope that cage is made out of good stuff.” “Yeah, I was thinking the same thing” I said. With about an inch of litter in the bottom, he will have to dig quite a bit. I had put a quilt underneath the litter just in case he scratched through it. “I thought Aunt Tiny said she gave Judah the pill about 7am” Justin said with some concern. Judah wasn’t even sleepy. “It’s been an hour and a half, we can still turn around and go back. If these things don’t work, we can’t drive all the way to California with him like this.”

“I know!” I said, “But the vet said we could give him 2 pills every 4 hours. Tiny just gave him one. We can see what one will do and next time, we will know better. Justin wasn’t convinced. “How far do you want to go to test this theory? There has to be a point of no return” he said. “We will know more when we get to Tulsa” I reasoned.

We were about twenty miles outside Tulsa when Justin said, “Dad, I can’t believe it, he finally laid down.” Judah had tired himself of pacing and had merely taken a break, just fifteen minutes later though, he was back on his feet. By the time we were going through Tulsa, Judah was checking out the freeway traffic. He had never seen that much activity before. He wasn’t distracted very long though, and soon he was back to his mission of attempting to pull off his “great escape”.

“Past the point of no return, Dad”, Justin said. He was getting tired of babysitting, talking to Judah, and trying to entertain him. “Why don’t you let me drive for awhile? It will give me something to do.” “You have something to do and that is to see if you can distract Baby Huey!” Judah was still pacing and digging. Justin could catch his attention once in a while by sticking his finger into one of the holes and wiggling it. That would last about 5 seconds, after which he would return to his pacing. “Tell you what! We need to make a couple of pit stops. We’ll get gas and the next roadside park we run into, we will stop.”

The first stop was about three hours into the trip. Judah was completely in favor of this stop. Justin snapped the leash on his collar and easily led him to a shady spot. I grabbed the food dish and water bowl and we played in the grass for about fifteen minutes. He was playing like a cub, as if nothing was amiss. What a beautiful creature, with not a care in the world. That is, until we poked his nose back in the cage. We had managed to slip two pills into his food and made sure he had swallowed it. We would see how long this would last. Digging and pacing, pacing and digging, and in between that meowing! I felt sorry for him, but there was nothing we can do except to keep driving.

The passage of time would eventually prevail. Where he was going would be a paradise. Sometime tomorrow and it would all be over. But that seemed like such a long way off from this perspective. He had water in the cage and food, if he felt hungry. The car was nice and cool. We had everything except a lot of room. I think Judah had the most room of all. We kept waiting for him to lie down. Three hours later, he finally gave up and did lie down. Justin just looked at me and said, “ It’s going to be a long trip!”

The next time we stopped, we started to attract a crowd. A young boy saw us remove Judah from the car and came up to ask, “What kind of dog is he?” I explained that he was not a dog, but a cat, a lion cub to which he exclaimed, “Cool! Hey guys…come and look at this lion!” Judah was suddenly the hit of the moment. He had been there before and kind of liked the attention. But he soon grew tired of people and decided to check out a dog that was hanging close by. The dog just backed up and started barking. Thinking that this cat might be a little more than he could handle. Judah just looked at him, judging him to be unfriendly. We stayed there about thirty minutes and then hit the trail.

It would be another three hours before Judah would get tired. We were well into the afternoon and only about a third of the way there. Judah had been perfect outside of the car. He had apparently decided that being in the car would not hurt him, but was terribly inconvenient, not to mention extremely boring. He would stick to his plan of trying to escape by digging his way out. I had looked at his paws and decided that they looked no worse for wear. He was getting smarter though. While attempting to return him to his cage, he had found out that, if you put both feet out, it was harder to get him through the door. It took two of us.

I was thinking that it was a good thing that he was a pretty mellow lion to begin with; otherwise, this would have never worked. If he had really wanted to fight us, we would never have been able to get him back inside the car. So far, he had not been down for more than thirty minutes at a time. He was slowing down somewhat, but he was not sleeping. While in the cage, I could tell he was becoming more irritable. He would rumble the cage and slap at the walls like he was having a temper tantrum. Around dusk, we stopped to get gas. We were still six hours away from Flagstaff, Arizona. His next dose of tranquilizers would be due when we arrived there. We could no longer take him out of the car, and he would not eat his food. We had managed so far to cram it down his throat.

It was a long night. By the time we got to Flagstaff, it was 2 am and we were exhausted. We had to find a store that was open all night to find some food he would eat…not because we felt that he was hungry, but because we were discovering that the tranquilizers had been working just enough to tone him down a notch. I found an all night grocery and bought some hotdogs and hamburger meat. Judah wanted to get out of the car. We had to let him out again.

We found a truck stop outside of town and proceeded to try to sedate Judah again. He was getting a bit too unruly. I’m not sure how, but we managed to poke a hotdog down him and made sure he had a few good swallows of water. Justin could hardly stay awake. As soon as we were back on the road, Justin was out like a light. Judah, on the other hand was back at his routines and I was faced with a good case of white line fever. I could barely keep my eyes open. We could not stop to sleep; it just wouldn’t have been good for any of us. We had to get there as soon as possible.

Going down Flagstaff Pass into Kingman was the longest drive I have ever made. Watching the curves, going down, down, down. During this dream state, Judah decided to make his most ferocious stand. Everything was quiet, except for a fading radio. All of a sudden, Judah slammed the cage, actually rocking the seats in front. He let out an almost full-fledged roar, slapping the inside of the cage and thrashing about. I shot up out of my hypnosis-like state, striking my head on the roof.

Justin jumped up, exclaiming “What the **** was that?” I replied, “I think Judah is trying to tell us that he is not having fun anymore.” He wasn’t a happy camper, never had been, and was finally telling us so…right behind my head, too. Talk about the hair standing up on the back of your neck! It seemed like forever, getting off that mountain. We should be pulling into hell’s parking lot at any moment. Dawn was starting to break as we approached Kingman. Our next challenge would be to bypass the inspection stations at Needles by heading north toward the dam. I awakened Justin and told him to disguise the cage as much as possible. I wasn’t sure if there would be patrol cars out checking traffic or what exactly to expect from the move. Being so close to California, I just didn’t want Judah to go through any more traumas. This was enough for any cat. We made it safely through, and were finally across the California state line.

Soon we were heading across the desert on our way to Acton. It was getting light and Justin was beginning to wake up a little. I was about ready to let him drive, when I noticed that the car was looking unusually dusty. “Justin, what is all of this dust doing in the car? Do you have a vent open or something?” “We are going across the desert, Dad.” I guess that made sense, but the windows were up. We drove on for a while but curiosity got the best of me. The dust just looked too thick. I took my finger and ran it across the dash. “Look at this Justin…it’s green!” He wiped the dash with his hand and held it up. It was green!
“Probably some weird desert pollen”, he said. “But this is gross!” I touched other parts of the car. This stuff was everywhere. Judah had completely pulverized the alfalfa pellets with his digging and it was all over everything and all three of us. We had no choice now. We would have to find a room to check into so we could clean up. We were not going to visit an actress looking like two little green men that just stepped off a spaceship.

We had alfalfa dust in every pore of our being. It was a long haul across the Mohave Desert. I had Justin drive while I slept. Judah had actually slept for an hour and fifteen minutes at one point, and we were starting to think we might actually make it. By the time I took over, Judah was back at keeping me company. I keep telling him that it wouldn’t be much longer, there would be lots to do there and someday he would thank me.

We pulled our tired butts into Palmdale about 12:30 pm. It was the most convenient spot to find a room and stay for a couple days. It was about fifteen miles from Acton and on the way. We found a likely looking inn and I parked on the side farthest away from the lobby. I walked to the front office and ask for a room in the back, as “I wanted to be as far away from the noise as possible”.

Actually, I wanted to sneak Judah into the room while we took showers and cleaned up. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to contact Tippi. If we had to stay for a few hours, we would need privacy. Plus, I didn’t want other curious travelers asking questions. After a few strange looks from the keeper, I had secured a room. She didn’t say anything, but I’m sure she was wondering why my skin, clothes and hair had a green cast.

The room was in a good spot…lower floor toward the center. Justin and I surveyed the area, then I got out and unlocked the door. The room was nice enough, cool with two double beds. I looked down the sidewalk in both directions. The coast was clear, so I motioned for Justin to open the cage door. Like a flash, we were inside.

The very first thing Judah did was to hop up on the bed and survey the area. He was happy…happy to be out of that cage-like thing, but mostly happy to just be alive! Judah was actually a pretty happy cat when he wasn’t being subjected to strange and unusual activities. I’m sure he was wondering where he was, and what was going on, but the fact that he was no longer inside the car seemed enough to pacify him.

I told Justin to start bringing our stuff into the room. As soon as Justin was out the door, Judah began roaring. It was not the kind of roar that he had stunned me with during the trip down the mountain, but more like a “Wow!” sound, the kind of sound that young lions make. It was very loud though and I turned on the TV and started running water in the sink, trying unsuccessfully to mask the sound.

Justin came through the door with the first load. “Dad you better shut him up. I just saw a maid about three rooms down. I could hear him out side.” “See if you can find a Tarzan movie on TV and turn it up,” I said.
“I saw him looking out the curtain while I was getting stuff from the car. You better keep him out of the window.” Justin surfed the TV channels, with little luck. “You’re not going to find a Tarzan movie on Wednesday at 1 pm in the after-noon...he’s going to have to settle for a game show.”

Luckily, Judah had stopped “Wowing” for the moment. He seemed to like having everyone in the room with him at the same time. Justin said he had to get something else from the car. I was quickly dousing shaving cream on my face when Judah pushed the curtain back to peer out to see where Justin had gone. Remembering what Justin had said, I hurried to grab Judah, pulling him away, but not before looking to see if the coast was clear. Just at that moment, the maid walked by.

What timing! Judah and I, both in the window, just as the maid happened to go by. I saw her look toward the glass…I knew she had to have seen us. It had to be a strange sight, to see a large funny-looking “dog” and a rabid human, foaming at the mouth, looking out the window at you. It was only for a second, but it was a long second.

Justin hurried inside. “Dad, you know the maid saw you, don’t you?” I replied, “Yeah, but she’s not sure what she saw. She probably thinks it was the heat.”
It was warm day outside. Palmdale sits at the western edge of the Mohave Desert. If she thought anything, she probably though it was a large dog. Even so, I didn’t think we could have dogs in here either, especially big ones. We needed to get out of there as quickly as possible.

I quickly took a shower and then relieved Justin, while he did the same. I called Shambala while Justin finished drying his hair. The answering machine came on and I left a desperate but brief message informing Tippi that we were in the state, holding up momentarily in a motel room in Palmdale and gave her the room number. Surprisingly, it wasn’t long before she called back, telling us to bring him on down. She asked how long we had been there and how long before we could deliver “the little guy”.

I told her everyone was ready to end this ordeal and we would be there as soon as we could find the place. She just laughed and gave directions for finding the preserve once we had reached Acton. I asked Justin if he was ready for this. He just shrugged and said, “That’s why were here. Can we sleep after this?”
I assured him that we would both sleep after this and maybe even Judah would get some sleep too! “That sure makes me feel better knowing he’s free to sleep now. That cat has more stamina than you and I put together.”

I chose to endure the last 200 miles or so of Judah’s fussing. I hadn’t given him any more tranquilizers since early morning. I felt sorry for him, because we had had to drug him to calm him. He was no worse for wear, with the exception that he had managed to rub his cheeks against the cage and had made raw spots on each side. He was a tough character. I would miss him.

One last time to load him up, or so we thought. I told Judah he would soon have new home and lots of new friends. I’m sure he believed me but you couldn’t tell by the way he resisted with his feet during our attempt to load him. It had become pretty routine, with each of us playing our part. I would pick Judah up while Justin would open the door and Judah would spread his paws as wide as possible. Then Justin would close his paws and I would push him in. I only hoped that Judah wouldn’t hate me after this! We were soon navigating I-14 South and closing in on our ultimate destination: Shambala, a “Place of Peace and Harmony for All Beings, both Animal and Human”. After the last thirty-one hours, we all needed a little peace and probably a whole lot of harmony.

Little did we know that within the next thirty minutes, we would meet with a beautiful actress, a wacko film producer and an active on-camera Jack Hanna and crew? We were really not prepared for any of it.

We followed a winding road along the course of Soledad Canyon, passing strands of pampas grass and various flowering desert shrubs. We pulled off the road at the entrance to a beautiful wooded alcove. A road descended a short distance to a flat area. I immediately knew we were in the right spot, when, looking up, I saw two large cats blocking our path. Painted metal tigers sprang forth from the surface of a large security gate. We sat in awe, looking at this large beautiful obstruction.

There would be no getting into this place without a pass. We should have expected no less. As we sat there, contemplating our next move, Justin noticed a keypad set off to one side. “Maybe there is a phone.” “Check that out”, I said. Justin returned shortly and said that no one had answered his page. Soon after, a pleasant, but rather scruffy looking fellow walked up and began talking to us, inquiring. “Bringing something in?”

“Yeah, we have a lion cub for Tippi” I said. Little did we know at the time, that we were in the presence of greatness? At that moment, we were talking to probably the bravest dude on the entire planet. I was later to perceive him as such and award him that honor after watching the movie Roar. (If you get a chance to see the movie you’ll know what I mean.) He was also the producer of this dangerously funny movie. He didn’t look all that brave; he just wanted to play with Judah. He asked us if we would let him out so he could see him.

Judah had been cooped up long enough, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt anything. Justin put the leash on him and led him out into the grass. This bravely weird guy lies down on the ground and began speaking “lionese” to Judah. Judah responded immediately by “Wowing” back and jumping on top of him. We were witnessing the most amazing rapport between a lion and a human imaginable. This guy knew how to talk to a lion. “Does Tippi know you’re here?” he asks.

“We talked with her earlier and told her we would be here by 3 pm” I said. It was about 2:50pm so we were early. He stood up and said he would go in and tell Tippi that we were here. “By the way,” he said, “I am Noel Marshall.” He had effortlessly worked his way through the security code. The large barrier slid open. We watched him disappear down the road.

“Justin, that was Tippi’s ex,” I said. He was the producer of the movie Roar and had helped Tippi build this animal preserve.

“No wonder he knows how to talk lion.” Justin commented. As we were checking out the compound through the fence, I noticed movement at the bottom of the path. A group of people was walking toward the gate with Tippi leading the way. She stopped, punched the keypad, and the gate slid open and greeted her visitors. “Hi, welcome to Shambala.” She turned and looked at a guy who looked somewhat familiar.

“These are the gentleman who are delivering a new lion cub to us. They drove all night from a little town outside Branson, Missouri just to bring him here. Terry, Justin, this is Jack Hanna” Tippi said. “We were in the process of shooting a segment for TV and were wondering if you would mind putting the little guy into your car and backing up a little, so that we can film your arrival? Justin looked at me, and I nodded my head in approval. “Sorry, Judah, but this will be the last time; I promise. Just think… your first day here and you’re already a star!”

As I backed up the car, I was thinking to myself, “We are going to have to talk on camera. We are actually going to have to say stuff!” I could barely think or stand up, much less talk. Talking with this beautiful blonde would have been hard enough with out all the cameras. When you think about Alfred Hitchcock’s sweetheart and “The Birds”, it becomes surreal. Throw in Jack Hanna, looking smartly “bush” in his khakis, and you’ve got a documentary. I didn’t sign up for this. Thank God we had time to discard the green Martian look. (No one would believe any of this anyway, so what was I worried about?) But I didn’t want to disappoint this sweet lady. After all, if not for her compassion for animals, we would not be here. Justin and I were just players in this divine intervention, anyway…nothing more than convenient pawns of transportation. Judah’s fate had been pre-ordained. We were just along for the ride. I’m not sure how or why we were chosen, but it was too late to back out. We were about two minutes from being on camera with Tippi and Jack. Justin wasn’t much help. “You’re on your own, Dad. Remember this was your big idea.”

Tippi was easy to look at, and Jack looked interested, so I related a brief story about Judah and his journey to Shambala. Tippi took his leash and easily walked him inside. “He is so sweet” she remarked. “We will put some aloe on his sore spots”.

Some of Judah’s luck had rubbed off on Justin and me. We got to watch the crew film the rest of Jack’s documentary, after which Tippi showed us around. She told us about a good place to eat and said that if we came back tomorrow, we could go with her on her rounds. We told her we would definitely be back. What a sweet lady!

We were there by 11:00 am with fresh strawberries in hand. Tippi introduced us to a friend that had dropped by. It turned out that this beautiful friend just happened to be a Playboy Bunny. What a place! For the next three hours we investigated the compound. She gave us the grand tour, introducing us to all the animals by name. We stopped by to play with Judah. He was happy to see us. He was all over Justin and Tippi. I guess he knew that Tippi was the one who held his destiny. It was hard to say goodbye! It was so relaxing and peaceful that I felt like hanging out forever. The rat-race didn’t exist here.

Judah would be happy here and had a new home, a new life and even a new name. He was soon to become “Leo” the Lion, Honorary Member and Mascot of the Acton Lions Club as well as poster animal for Shambala. What a lucky lion! Perhaps even a blessed lion.

About six months after he arrived at Shambala, I received a wonderful photo of Judah and Tippi together. He looked like a very happy and contented cat. He and Hitchcock’s “Silver Screen Siren” were hanging out. What a great picture! What caught my eye though, was a strange anomaly that appeared in the photo directly above his head…a halo perhaps?

I have since been back to visit Leo and Tippi at Shambala many times. Tippi is always the gracious hostess. Leo has grown into such a beautiful, regal black-maned lion. It never ceases to amaze me that he became so big. The little guy that we knew grew up… much too big to be kept confined in a small cage and much too dangerous to be kept as a pet. But he has plenty of space at Shambala. He always looks at me with recognition when I come to visit. He seems to remember the way that I used to talk with him when he was a cub. I just hope that he doesn’t hold the long, tense, and uncomfortable road trip against me. I don’t think he does…He is smart enough to know that, because of it, he is now living in a paradise with his own kind.

SHAMBALA, A Place of Peace and Harmony for All Beings, both Animal and Human.


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