Monday, November 7, 2016

Lions and Tigers and a Fireman in the Treehouse—oh my!


            When Kelly walked into the big cat house at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo, she broke into tears. She has wanted to be a zookeeper since she was in college but she was focused on ungulates, hoofed animals like giraffes, pigs, deer, and hippopotamuses. That was before she met the lions. In that single moment she realized what she wanted to do with her life.
            Kelly is very pretty with a mane of long, lion-colored hair. Always protected by a barrier, she says the tigers are a challenge to train, but she trains the lions by praising them and giving treats when they do as she asks. She gets an old male to open his mouth so she can check his teeth and gums for sores, and if he has a cut on a paw pad, she has taught him to hold up his paw so she can reach through the mesh to apply an ointment. When the lion behaves badly, she ignores him and he doesn’t get a treat.
             She gives her boyfriend Will a sideways glance. “You can train men that way, too,” she says. “Praise them when they pick up their socks and ignore them when they’re annoying.”
            I’ll have to try that.
            But I can’t imagine Will doing anything annoying. He’s a firefighter, paramedic, and former U.S. Army vet with deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. A strong, hulking young man, Will wears size 16 sneakers (I peeked when he took them off in the mud room). He was a machinegunner in the military, carrying 110 pounds of equipment and ammunition through the scorching deserts for the entire two years of his assignments.
            Now he saves lives.
            Last Valentine’s Day he was on his way home to get ready for his late shift at the firehouse when he saw smoke. Black smoke, not the light gray that rises from chimneys. He knew it was a bad fire.
            Even though he was off duty, Will approached the house and saw that the dumpster against the building had caught and was igniting the clapboards of the back wall. When he knocked on the door, there was no answer, so he let himself in.
            Inside he found an elderly woman sitting in a chair with her walker beside her and a young man who appeared to be disabled.
            “You have to get out,” he told them. “Your house is on fire.”
            The young man the woman said was her son left the house, but she struggled to get up. Will scooped her up in his arms, carried her out, and put both mother and son in his truck to keep them warm. Then he called the fire department.
            While the fire truck was on its way, will looked for a hose and faucet. Finding no source of water, he grabbed a recycling bin and began scooping snow and throwing it at the fire. He managed to keep the fire at bay until the rescuers arrived, saving the house with minor damage.
            Will never bragged about the rescue, but one of the firemen reported the event to the fire chief, and the local paper printed a story about him. When I read the article, I realized we had a hero in the Treehouse. Actually, two heroes. It takes more courage than I could muster to face an open-mouth lion.
            Kelly says the zoo houses only rescue animals and those born in captivity, and she stresses that the zoo does not take in wild animals and donates every year to wildlife conservancy. She and Will have their own little zoo with a dog, two cats, a corn snake (Kelly’s), and a python (Will’s).

Will and Kelly are lucky to have found their life’s passions. From what H and I could tell, there was also some prodigious luck at work in finding each other.

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