Freedom was born in September of 2001. She was named Freedom as a symbol of the events that had just occurred on 9/11, and to honor our freedoms in the light of those who wanted to destroy them. She has been a fighter from the beginning, and has truly lived up to her honorable name.
Freedom was being raised by her parents; however, when she was only 5 weeks old, she was severely injured by tigers on the other side of the fence (due to her mother placing her where a baby tiger should not have been). She received no internal injuries because of the fence, but she had extreme skin damage. She was immediately treated by a local vet, but it was soon evident that the treatment was not going to be enough to save her life.
A five week old tiger can fit in the palm of your hand; she was so tiny and fragile. I remember begging her to take a bottle to get nourishment in her so she could have a fighting chance. I was literally in tears at every feeding. I had to hold her to feed her, and she would fight me. If I held her tighter, the stitches would start separating. The medical procedures that had been done were not enough.
We drove her to the University of Florida Vet School. They accepted her for treatment, but I had to leave her. Leaving that tiny, helpless, little baby tiger was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I knew that I could not do anything else but that in order to save her life.
As part of the efforts to save her, her ears and tail were amputated because there was not enough skin to cover them to prevent infection and to heal. The university did a graft from Freedom’s stomach to her hip to fill in for additional missing skin. They were having a very hard time getting the skin to attach to the muscle tissues because a tiger that age almost doubles in size every 2 weeks. A student intern suggested calling the Shands Burn Unit. They brought a suction unit to stimulate growth between the skin and the muscle. This is what saved her life! It had never been used on an animal before Freedom*. She went thru this procedure daily for 3 months! She fought so bravely to live!!
I had not seen her because I was told by an “expert” that seeing me, and then me having to leave her would only be more stressful for her. I finally said that I HAD to see her. We had a wonderful visit, and she was SOOO very happy to see me. We got to go for a walk and play in the grass! The staff said that she made enormous progress the entire week after my visit. I got to bring her home shortly after that! Her bill at the University was very large. It took us over 9 years to pay it off, but we had our Freedom still with us! That was all that mattered to us.
Back at home, Freedom became a special needs tiger. She was still growing and developing and adjusting to her injuries, but she was healing very well. We did not let her stay out in any storms to avoid a chance of water getting into her exposed ear holes. She spent nights in her own “bedroom” in the garage next to her sister, Ahiyanka, who was also a special needs tiger. Her days were spent outside playing in the sunshine.
Freedom grew into a beautiful tigress with a very strong will. She is very particular about who she allows to get close to her. I was afraid that she might be scared of tigers due to the original attack, or of people because of the medical treatments, but she forgave everyone and loved both. She lived with her sister for many years, but when she had to opportunity to move in with a lonely male tiger, Tunpi, she took advantage of it. They enjoyed each other’s company for several years until very sadly, cancer took him away from Freedom and from us.
Freedom was too spoiled from her life with Tunpi to accept another roommate, so she remains a strong, independent tiger. She needed medical attention recently to trim her claws that were starting to grow too close to her pads. She is also almost 16 now and is staring to have arthritis issues, especially in her hips. She receives medication twice a day to help relieve any discomfort.
We still go for a short therapy walk once a week, and we both look forward to it. We want to keep Freedom happy & healthy for as long as possible. Prescription medications and healthy supplements are never cheap, and veterinary care is very expensive. Your support is greatly appreciated to help purchase the needed items to achieve this goal. I have lived with them for over 17 years. I have cared for them night and day. I cannot remember what it felt like before we started sharing life together. It has been my honor to share my life and my home with them. Thank you for your support.
*Freedom’s groundbreaking wound vac treatment was published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 38.2 (2007): 341-344.