Of the hundreds of magnificent and endearing animals that have been part of my life through the years, the ones selected for this section represent very special animal friends that touched my life in extraordinary ways and deeply impacted me and the relationships one can obtain with unexpected beings.

Sabrina - The Most Beloved Tiger Ever

On November 2, 2011, my beloved Sabrina left this Earth. I really do not have adequate literary skills to articulate the depth of loss I feel, nor do I assume that the majority of people can relate to the closeness and love Sabrina and I had for17 years. While I have lost a number of domestic animals over the years, and their loss has been very sad with a great sense of loss, somehow the bond and love between Sabrina and I transcended those relationships, and we had a relationship unlike any I have had before or expect to ever have again between man and animal.

Sabrina was the most emotional big cat at the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, and that quality exhibited itself in great affection and desire to touch and be caressed on days that fit that mood. We would often take naps in her house or one of her two caves with her paw around my shoulder and my face next to her chest. Often When I was sitting with her and she went to sleep she would reach one of her massive paws out to place upon my hand, chuff contentedly, and fall sound asleep. These moments were like mediation for me; so tranquil and couched in the knowledge that I was experiencing a bond and love that few other humans ever have shared with such a potentially dangerous predator.

There were other times when she was in an agitated mood, such as when she was about to come in heat, and on those days she knew she just had to convey her feelings to me, which she would do with only a look that she knew I would understand. I would then respect her wishes and feelings and sit 6 feet away, sharing time and space. If I stayed longer than she wished on those days, she would let out a slight grunt that she knew was sufficient to express that I should come back another day. I understood and respected her desires and would exit quietly. We never had any physical conflict or hostile interaction in 17 years. In many ways, I felt we both understood a great deal. We each felt and thought in nonverbal communication in unexplained ways. When I had something bothering me, she somehow knew and went out of her way to rub against me and get me to lie or sit with her in her cave and share more physical touching than other times. She would often lick my hand or arm on those days while looking at me with the softest eyes a tiger can express.

She even had a very fun-loving sense of humor. One time I was napping with her in her cave, and I woke up and, seeing her still sound asleep, simply got up and walked about forty feet to the gate without looking back. As I was about to open the gate, I felt a nudge on my back and turned around to see her looking at me after nudging me with her nose; her face expressed very clearly her feeling, “You are not very smart. Do you not know that a tiger will jump on your back if you keep your back to her?”

Also, often I would sit with her in her house while she slept. She would be obviously sound asleep and my mind would drift off to various issues. She would sometimes just explode up without warning and hover over me before I could move; then, satisfied that she had sufficiently gotten my attention, she would chuff, and contentedly lie back down and go back to sleep.

This sense of loss and heartbreak has been the worst I have experienced. When I think I have no more tears to shed, I will think about her or see a photo of her and will again uncontrollably weep. I am sure in time I will accept the loss, as we all accept loss with time, but there is a place in my heart that will forever be more be vacant. She will always be in my heart and in my thoughts. The days with Sabrina were tranquil, mellow, full of love, and a sense of sharing a very special relationship which I am so privileged to have experienced with such a magnificent, majestic, loveable, and noble being.

Fritz - A gentle, loveable "perfect" companion German Shepherd

On November 5, 2007, Fritz was tragically taken from us by insidious cancer at eight years of age. We had Fritz for much too short a time, but the time we had with him was filled with love, joy, happiness, and wonder for the gentleness he showed not only to Julia and me, but to our six house cats, his dog companions Cleo and Angel, and to any human with whom he came in contact.

Fritz was perhaps the most sensitive dog with whom I’ve ever come in contact. Even slightly raising one’s voice would hurt his feelings and send him into a corner to mope until reassurance and love brought him back to his loving natural nature. Once when he was only two, I took him in the front yard to teach him such commands as sit/stay. He did fine on the sit, but he wanted to follow me when I stepped away rather than staying. After a few

miscues, I raised my voice slightly to emphasize he should stay. He silently got up, looked at me, started walking for the kitchen door and no amount of “come” (which he generally obeyed without question) would dissuade his trip to the kitchen door where he lay until I opened the door and let him in. I believe he taught me more that day than I taught him. I never again in six years raised my voice to Fritz.

He showed Julia, me, and his animal friends great compassion and love, but if the other dogs, Cleo and Angel, started playing too wildly he would retreat to his “cave” in the bathroom, as he preferred peace and quiet to the sometimes rowdy nature of the “girls.” Once things calmed down he would reappear.

Never did he lose his dignity and regal presence. He came from highly desired German Shepherd bloodlines, and he seemed to always be aware of his heritage. Even when he became ill, he never complained or showed his pain, accepting his illness with the dignity and grace he always exhibited.

We will miss Fritz forever, and we feel blessed to have been his companion and friend, even for too short a time.

Petey - My Dear North American River Otter "He Personified Love" 

It’s devastating when one loses a child. It’s tragic when one loses a dear friend. But, when you lose both in the same being, the pain and grief are beyond comprehension. That’s what I felt when my dearest companion, friend, and child, Petey, died on June 12, 2005. He was 17 and many would say he had a long and good life. But, can you ever be ready for someone that has given you nothing but love and joy for many years to leave you?

He came to me as a three month old pup, and he was so dear and cute. I raised him first in my gym with a kiddie pool with which to learn to swim. Many don’t realize that an otter’s parents have to teach it to swim. He was so cute trying to decide whether the water was a horrid danger or another source of play and fun. He mastered it quickly, of course, and loved every minute he spent in the water.

Soon he moved into a large apartment just for him with an otter door leading to a patio with a small swimming pool. There was a gate that opened into my large pool which we shared in the warmth of summer evenings. He was so patient, knowing that I could swim only about 20% of his speed, so he would slow down to stay just out of arm’s reach when we played chase, only to speed up dramatically and dive, coming up from below to nip my toes. Oh, how he loved that game!

In a few years he was joined by his beloved Penny, with whom he shared great fun and greater love. He deferred to Penny’s decisions on where they would sleep, when they would play, and how long she would allow him to lie in my lap in the evening. She never stopped him from reaching up for me to lift him and carry him around in my arms, however. He loved that and made sure we did it daily until the day he died. Penny died two years ago, and Petey went into deep depression.

Fortunately, I found a three year old female named Lulu. From the first day they met, Petey and Lulu were inseparable. She has more energy and curiosity than did Penny, and she kept Petey young with her playful and loving nature. She was not jealous of Petey’s relationship with me and seemed to be pleased that they could share affection and love with me without it taking any of Petey’s time or love from her.

Until recently, he seemed to get younger and have more spark than he had in a number of years, as Lulu would coax him into games in and out of the pool and her playful nature was irresistible to him. She seemed to always know when he really needed rest, however and left him alone at those times. Petey became ill very suddenly, and what I thought was just arthritis and aging became a deathly illness in a few days. Lulu and I spent hours just holding him and being close to him for three days. Lulu knew exactly what was happening, and she was somber, loving, and attentive to him constantly.

I am now torn between such deep sorrow and grief, but also I feel so privileged to have known and shared 17 years with such a loving friend that was a source of such unbelievable love, playfulness, tenderness, and happiness. I never had a moment in all those years with Petey that wasn’t filled with wonder that such a perfect relationship could exist; much less between human and wild animal. I will miss him terribly the rest of my life but feel so honored to have been his friend!

Penny - North American River Otter "A Little Angel"

One of the saddest things that can happen is to have someone in your life that absolutely defines perfection, love, joy, and happiness, then have them taken away from you. Especially prematurely and unexpectedly. I now know what a parent must go through when they suddenly and unexpectedly lose one of their children.

On July 21, 2003, I took my beloved river otter, Penny, to the veterinarian for what should have been a routine procedure of extracting several abscessed teeth that had become infected. Something went horribly wrong after the surgery, and several hours later I got the phone call that she had died after coming out of sedation. The world has turned dark and bleak for both her beloved playmate, Petey, and for me.

Penny exemplified complete love, exuberance, joy, happiness, playfulness, and mischievous enthusiasm for life. Both Petey and I loved her as much as one can be loved. She would shamelessly flirt with both of us, then play lovely games to get us both enthralled with her presence.

She loved to roll on her back and have me tickle her tummy, then playfully nip at any finger I got too close to her mouth. Many evenings we would lie on our backs together on their patio and just enjoy each other’s presence for a bit, then she would roll over and go through my pockets then reach up and rub her adorable black nose and whiskers against my cheek to let me know that, at the end of the day, she really loved me as much as I loved her. Late at night, in the quiet of the evening, I would stand by their smaller pool that was elevated chest-high to me and swirl my hand in the water. Penny would lie on her back in the water holding my hand gently in her paw, floating suspended while sharing the lovely, tranquil moments of complete contentment and mutual love while I slowly moved her in a circle as her fingers curled around mine with the warmth palpable in our touch. She would look at me with the softest, twinkling eyes one can imagine, and I would feel the most complete happiness and love possible.

She and Petey were inseparable for 12 years. They never left each other’s side for very long, and sometimes in the late evening I would lie in their bed with them while they groomed each other, then each would reach over and groom me with their front teeth chattering away at my skin, even though it must have been very unsatisfying not to feel fur between their teeth as they did with each other. They just didn’t want me to feel left out of such a loving process.

Sometimes Petey would lie on his back in my lap, an act that Penny really thought went beyond good taste and respect for their relationship. She would come over and grab Petey by the neck and jerk him out of my lap, then reach up and touch noses with me to let me know she just had to put him in his place, no hard feelings.

They would swim in the large swimming pool for hours, side by side or chasing each other in and out of the pool in a game of tag that had definite rules only they could define. They would play frantically for some time, then the game would suddenly end for both simultaneously as if a bell had rung, and they would come rub up against me while I sat beside the pool; a loving gesture appreciated much more in the summer than in the winter.

Now, the fantastic joy and happiness has cruelly turned to pain and anguish for both Petey and me. Petey looks everywhere for Penny, expecting her to turn up suddenly, as she always did. He wants me to carry him about in my arms, for he feels if he gets up high enough, he’ll see her someplace he can’t see on the ground. He looks under doors, outside on their patio, in their pool, then comes to me with a quizzical expression, hoping somehow I can explain the unexplainable. I can’t explain it to him, for I don’t understand it myself. The real danger of having such love, joy, and happiness with a being is that you must be able to handle the pain, desolation, and feeling of loss if somehow that life is taken from you. Neither Petey nor I are handling it very well, and I only hope he won’t remember all the wonderful moments we shared and will never have again for as long as I know I will. I’m afraid he will, though.

Cleo - A Canadian Timer Wolf

Cleo personified love, sensitivity, and gentleness with a purity that can only be brought forth by a wild animal that has no instinctual programming for dependence, and so she chose to devote herself to me completely, once she made that decision.

My adventure with Cleo began when she came into my life at 5 weeks of age. I raised her as an adult wolf would raise a pup. In addition, I had a big male German shepherd, Caesar, that assisted and instinctually utilized all the methods used by adult wolves to raise their young-which are not same as those used by dogs! Apparently, at least with Caesar, those instincts were embedded in his genes, and Cleo brought them forth. I never tried to train her, never tried to housebreak her, never tried to make her anything but a wolf. In return, she treated me as the alpha pack leader, showing great deference to me when I looked a certain way at her, and she tried to please me in every way she possibly could.

She would lie beside me and watch television many nights, and she was more sensitive and affectionate than any dog I’ve had. She was also highly intelligent, and she would constantly amaze me by doing things I would just think about wishing she’d do. Her bright amber eyes would glint with satisfaction when she saw my look of wonder and surprise. Her mouth would curl up in what certainly seemed to be a smile, and then she would follow up with a loving mouth-licking that was certainly enthusiastic and thorough.

About four years after Cleo arrived, Caesar, the German shepherd, became very ill and had to stay in my bedroom for several months until he ultimately died. Before taking him for burial, I brought Cleo up to see him one last time. She sniffed him, looked at him, then sat back and commenced to make long, soulful howls unlike anything I have heard from her before or since that day.

Cleo was an extremely social animal, as are most wolves, and I knew she would be very unhappy and perhaps become depressed without a constant companion after Caesar died. So, Sam, the rottweiler, entered our lives. I will tell more about Sam in the adjoining tribute. Cleo took up with Sam immediately. They were loving and constant companions until they died within weeks of one another. Cleo and Sam were equals within their pack, neither being dominant over the other. Although they weighed about the same, Cleo was much stronger, and she was careful never to use that strength in a manner that could injure Sam.

If the departed truly become angels, I have no question that Cleo would be the leader of the angelic pack. Her loving nature and gentle gaze would be an example for all to see and emulate. My fondest wish is that, if there is a hereafter, it will be one in which I am united forevermore with my beloved Cleo.

Sam - Beloved

Sam came into my life when my German shepherd, Caesar died, and I was required to get a companion for my wolf, Cleo. I did no know how Cleo would react to a new dog, and due to her tremendous strength and powerful bite, I knew I had to get a dog that could at least somewhat protect itself. After all, it would be somewhat like bringing a member of another pack into our pack.

I found Sam, who was then two-years-old, at the facility of an individual that trained attack dogs that had been declared unable to socialize in a domestic setting. I thought I could both find a dog that could protect itself there, plus I would have the satisfaction of rescuing a dog from an environment that would not be very loving or happy. The gentleman that owned the facility brought out about five dogs, none of which felt right. The girl that worked there mentioned Sam to him, and he replied by shaking his head. I inquired about this dog, and he told me that Sam was incorrigible. He said that he had just picked up the dog a day or so previously, and the dog could not be trained or handled, that Sam might be a commercial attack dog, but that’s only if the handler would be safe. He wasn’t sure about that. I asked to see him, and Sam was reluctantly brought forth. Sam and I looked in each other’s eyes, and we both knew immediately. I told the fellow I’d take Sam right then, and he simply said, “You’ll be bringing him back here tomorrow!”

Sam went home with me and immediately became the most gentle, loving, playful dog one could dream about obtaining. The gentleman from whom I got Sam came over a week later and shook his head, saying, “You two fit like a hand and glove. I’d never believe it if I didn’t see it.” Sam and Cleo hit it off immediately without any friction or any aggression on the part of either party. Within a few days, Sam became friends with the seven rescued house cats that share my house, and they would constantly crawl all over him while he lay on the floor with an angelic glance at his favorite cat, Mouse. Mouse would lie between Sam’s massive paws while Sam gently groomed him with his tongue.

In the twelve years I had Sam he never once chewed an item of clothing or furniture, never messed up in my bedroom, where he spent each night, nor did he ever show any sign of aggression towards a single visitor or stranger that came to my house. He was the “perfect dog.” And his soft, loving, soulful eyes were always the last thing I’d see before retiring and the first thing I’d see every morning. He brought great happiness into my life, as well as Cleo’s. Unfortunately, he and Cleo loved playing tug-of-war with rope toys. While they weighed roughly the same, Cleo was probably twice as strong as Sam. As a result, Sam had to have two root canals from that game, and I had to retire the rope toys. 

There were times when Sam would be lying on my bed, and I would have either my Macaw, Zeus, or my cockatoo, Tina, on the bed with us. Both birds thought they were the size of a dinosaur and just as fearless. If I weren’t watching carefully, one of them would stroll over to Sam and nip his butt or foot. Sam would just raise his head, look at me out of the corner of his eyes and roll them as if to say, “What all do I have to put up with?” and move over or off the bed. He would always try his best to make friends with the birds, but they thought it was more fun to aggravate him and see the drama that would follow.

Sam became an invalid due to a pinched nerve in his back over the last year of his life. He therefore had to stay in my bedroom. He never lost his zeal for life or his loving manner, however. He did become like a “grumpy old man,” barking for a doggie bone or biscuit. In Sam it was cute. He knew I’d know what it was he was barking for. Or, if he wasn’t getting as much attention as he thought he should, he would lift his head and bark vigorously, his floppy ears flapping as his head lifted up and down with each bark. Oh, how I miss that bark!

My most fervent wish is that Sam and Cleo are now united forever, and that one day I shall rise over a hill and see them both waiting for me, and that we will never again be apart.

Caesar - Nobile and Extraordinary Tiger

On July 13, 2016, one of the most noble, unique, and extraordinary tigers that ever existed died at the age of 19 years old. 

Caesar came to International Exotic Animal Sanctuary as a rescue at the age of 9 months. He was psychologically handicapped when he arrived after having been kept in a barn in virtual isolation most of his life. He was miserable, didn’t know how to relate to any living being, and was understandably angry and defensive. He had never known love or affection from any being, human or tiger, since he was removed from his mother.

I started working with him, utilizing our Emotional Enrichment Program to give him assurance, confidence, love, companionship, and the affection that all beings seek. He was initially very untrusting and unsure that any being could be trusted, and he tested me frequently at first to assure himself that I truly cared for him and was not another threat to his existence. He was one of the most intelligent and clever tigers with which I have ever dealt. He realized I knew tiger behavior, so he would charge me as if he was attacking; his intention was to first see if I deserved his respect. Unless he respected me, nothing else would matter, as he was a very instinctual tiger and would have considered me nothing but a toy or prey if I didn’t deserve his respect. 

Once he realized I would not fear him, he gradually diminished his bluff attacks and opened himself to developing a friendship with me. He gradually, over several years, lost his apprehension that any being was not to be trusted, and we became close and affectionate friends. 

Caesar was always a very, very dangerous tiger, as he was a large intact male Siberian tiger that had no patience or interest in anything or anyone that he didn’t trust and respect. However, he never once showed aggression towards me.

Over the years, I found our friendship to transcend all the otherwise dangerous and aggressive instincts that he would otherwise have exhibited, and in many ways I trusted Caesar more than most any tiger with which I have worked, as our relationship had at its core mutual respect and trust. I would sit with Caesar every week on his perch with my arm around his shoulders, and he came to accept and seek my affection to the extent that every time I entered his habitat his first action was to approach me chuffing lovingly and rub up against me for a back scratch before we got on his perch. 

What a magnificent and loving giant he was! As the years passed and I realized his life span was getting short, I spent as much time as I could with him, for I knew the relationship and unique world we shared would probably never be known by me again. 

What a blessing and unrivaled honor it is to have had the experience I shared with Caesar! I will always miss this majestic symbol of all that is pure and glorious, but I will always cherish the time we had together.

Buddy - Our Dearest Love

On Friday, June 20, 2014, the love and light of our eyes, our faithful and loyal companion, Buddy, died. Among all our animals that we dearly love, Buddy was somehow the brightest star that shined when we thought and discussed our many lovely furry and feathered friends.

This is a memorial to Buddy, not an article on Caucasian Ovcharkas, but to understand the special place he held and holds in our hearts, you must understand something of this breed, of which he could have been the poster boy for exhibiting the finest qualities of this most noble breed of dog. Like most Ovcharkas, he was fiercely loyal and protective of both Julia and me. He thought for himself and decided if someone were a friend or stranger, and he let strangers know quickly they proceeded at their peril.

He thought for himself in most other ways as well. He was never disciplined; not once. But, he was perhaps the most obedient dog we’ve ever had because he chose to be. We never even raised our voice to him, as his bearing, pride, and dignity discouraged even the thought that it would be well received. And, he never once lost that noble bearing and dignity. He loved us dearly, but he never once licked our hand or face, as it would be beneath him to exhibit such an emotion. 

But, he showed his love in so many special and wonderful ways. When Julia or I would go to our respective bathrooms, he would follow either of us and stand in the room guarding us until we returned to the bedroom, where he stayed every night. When he felt we had enough sleep, he would jump on the bed and forcefully tap one of us with his mighty paw, a definite sign that it was his time for attention, and we had ignored him long enough. If he was on the bed and we quit scratching him to answer the phone or look at something on TV, a quick and forceful tap with his paw reminded us he was not to be ignored.

But his eyes, oh! his eyes! No eyes are/were more expressive. They could be so soft and loving that they conveyed more intense love than the most perfect poem. Looking into his deep, intelligent, and soulful gaze would melt either of us and make us stop whatever we were doing to give him a big hug and kiss. While he never returned the kiss, his eyes said it all. However, when he sensed potential harm to us, no look could be more fierce or threatening. 

We can never replace him or the love we shared with him and will always cherish. We will think of him and cry throughout our lives, but we are so blessed to have shared his life with him for the time we had. Buddy, you have a big and beautiful place in our hearts that will be yours alone for eternity.