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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
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