Some experiences are hard to forget—and this is one of them for me. Keep in mind it happened over 50 years ago, and having grown up in Alaska, like a few fellow Alaskans, I’m a bit of a blowhard.
That being said, here’s the story.
In the late 50s and early 60s a full grown female lion was kept in a makeshift cage built into an old bus. It was in the parking lot of the A & W in the Mountain View area of Anchorage. I’m pretty sure she was named Princess so that’s what I’ll call her. That’s not what I called her for ten days however.
Somewhere around the winter of ‘63 or ‘64 the owners decided to head to warmer climes. The person who was to look after Princess decided to head south also and through attrition, a friend of mine ended up with the task. Unfortunately, after one of our Saturday night escapades, he was sentenced to ten days in jail, which left me with the job of feeding Princess.
No problem. That night I picked up her feed and walked nonchalantly up to her cage. The next thing I knew this huge snarling beast was charging at me. She was stopped, only a foot from my face, when she slammed into what looked to me like chicken wire. When I became aware of my surroundings again I was about thirty feet outside the bus. I’m pretty sure I made it in one jump. The worst thing was, I still had about twenty pounds of food in my hands that I needed to feed to the outraged lion. After about ten or fifteen minutes of sweet talking and whining, I finally got Princess fed and watered. But guess what? I still had nine days to go.
By the last day we had come to an understanding. She would crouch and snarl and scare the everything out of me, and I would call her everything I could think of except Princess, feed her, and leave … alive.
In my defense, and to maintain my macho Alaskan reputation, I never once cried out loud (at least not after that first night), and I never once had to pack an extra set of underwear. Thankfully, that chicken wire previously mentioned was actually pretty heavy-duty chain-link fencing.
Also, when I was a kid back in Minnesota I was attacked by a bear, but that is another story.
Story by Bill Beatty