From the Author
Jaipur rushes out of the trailer and breathes in the wildflowers tucked in the lush, green grass. She walks to the end of her leash, checking out every bit of her new surroundings. She completely ignores me.
After about fifteen minutes of enthusiastic exploring, Jaipur finally lies down in the grass. Tim fills a large metal bowl with water and places it in front of her. I sit on the step of Tim's truck watching Jaipur's pink tongue dip over and over into her water bowl. Sitting there with the trucks, trailers, and tigers, I feel like I've joined the circus.
"Ready to learn how to greet a tiger?" Tim asks me.
Although I hear myself say that I am, I'm not so sure.
"Okay, you're going to approach Jaipur from her side," Tim says. "Once you get close to her, position your greeting stick by her shoulder. If she tries to get her mouth near you, you'll push her away. If she's behaving, use your other hand to give her firm strokes down her back. Got it?"
"Yes," I say, forcing my voice to sound strong.
"When you're standing next to the tiger," Paul adds, "you'll want to keep the side of your body toward the animal, rather than the front of your body. That way you don't get eviscerated if the tiger decides to take a swipe at you."
Good to know. I'm starting to have second, or maybe they are third, thoughts.
"All right then. Go ahead," Tim says.
Jaipur is still lounging, not paying any attention to us. I slowly walk toward her from the side. Jaipur senses me. She turns to face me.
"Stop," Tim says in a low, calm voice. "Don't approach her head-on."
I freeze in place.
Tim continues, "The reason she turned toward you is that you seemed hesitant. If you're anxious, the tiger thinks there's something wrong. It makes her wary. Try again from the side, but be confident."
Just like that, Tim wants me to let go of all of my fears. He wants me to completely disregard the part of my brain that says, Do not go near a wild animal. It's the same part of my brain that has kept me safe for sixteen years.
But I do trust Tim. I don't think he wants me to get eviscerated.
I step to Jaipur's side and walk forward, faking a confidence that I don't have. I move closer and closer, forcing anxious thoughts out of my brain. Soon I'm near enough to place my greeting stick at Jaipur's shoulder. Then I'm near enough to touch her.
I watch my hand glide over Jaipur's orange and black stripes. Her fur is softer than I'd imagined it would be, like the fur of a puppy, rather than a full-grown dog. I stroke her more deeply, feeling the strong muscles of her back against my fingers. Dogs don't have muscles like that.
Jaipur's beautiful tiger eyes look up into mine.