ANIMAL LOVERS were elated to learn that the Downtown Association has recently decided to ask the Santa Cruz City Council to lift the 1976 prohibition against dogs on Pacific Avenue. While I am not personally a dog lover or owner, I do like cats, especially big cats, and most specifically my pet tiger, Borges, who lives contentedly in my Westside backyard. For years I have wanted to bring Borges with me when I go shopping downtown but have been frustrated by the irrational ban on large carnivorous quadrupeds.
Surely Santa Cruz dog owners, in their progressive wisdom, understand that all animals are created equal, and once the dog is out of the bag, so to speak, other creatures dear to the hearts of law-abiding Santa Cruzans must also be welcome to accompany their human companions, and in the process keep our town as weird as its bumper stickers demand. Owners and lovers of domesticated camels, alligators, boa constrictors, bears, wildebeests, mandrills, pythons, pigs, cows, wolves, elephants and other intelligent creatures will rush to flood the streets with animalistic diversity.
But speaking for myself as a tiger owner, I anticipate some objections from other citizens who may not be big-cat people like I am. Some will object that tigers are large dangerous creatures that sometimes tend to bite, or eat, people and other animals whose paths they happen to cross. This may be true of a small minority of tigers, but the behavior of a few rogues in the wild should not be allowed to taint the reputation of the vast majority of pet tigers in captivity. Borges, for example, is extremely gentle and good-natured, and apart from the occasional raccoon or stray dog or cat that happens to wander onto our property, he has never to my knowledge eaten, or even mauled, a living person.
Then there is the always sensitive question of cat fights. When two or more tigers (up to the legal limit of three), being somewhat territorial creatures, meet on the street, after sniffing each other's butts, they occasionally get a bit aggressive and start hissing and making other noises and threatening gestures that tend to frighten small children. But this is just tigers' way of getting acquainted, and if kept on a titanium chain no longer than 5 feet or shorter than 3 feet, they are very unlikely to cause any serious damage to property or passers-by.
It's true that panhandling with a tiger can be somewhat intimidating—especially if the tiger happens to be homeless—so I would agree to a restriction on such activity. After dark, however, I would lobby strongly for tigers (unlike dogs) to be permitted, as they are naturally nocturnal creatures who burn, as William Blake observed, brightly, thus discouraging gang activity and contributing to public safety.
But perhaps the most delicate question regarding the permitting of tigers downtown is the matter of, to put it bluntly, tiger shit. Some people may fear that the droppings of a seven-foot-long (not counting the tail) 700-pound carnivore would be rather stinkily conspicuous on our city's streets, and that is a legitimate concern. But responsible tiger walkers would bring along a shovel and a large plastic garbage bag so our sidewalks would not become feces-festooned obstacle courses like those of Paris.
I'm certain downtown merchants will agree that our local economy will benefit from the increased foot traffic of all kinds of wonderful animals wandering in and out of our shops and restaurants. Some of people's best friends may be dogs, but we must not tolerate discrimination against tigers.
Stephen Kessler is a writer and tiger lover living in Santa Cruz.
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