Snarf the Magic Serval
Snarf the serval passed away at 11:00 a.m. last Wednesday, February 10. Angie slept with him in his recovery cage all night the night before, and I held him in my arms when he left us. He was 14 years old.
Six months after Angie and I were married in 2006, we watched television one evening when she asked, “Hey Bob, what do you think about getting a serval?”
This was music to my ears. It reaffirmed how well I did when I found Angie and married my mate.
People often joke about things like, “He married way above himself,” In my case, this is definitely true.
This is no false husband-to-wife compliment. Angie is beautiful; Angie only says things that are perfectly poignant and on target, Angie has a native IQ of 191, and with Snarf, she is the most loving mother I’ve ever seen. Yes, I done good.
We flew 1,000 miles north and picked out Snarf from among his litter of three brothers. Our spotted, striped and ring-tailed little guy rode with us back home to Dallas in our rented extra bigass SUV.
I had a collective total of about ten years experience with mountain lions, having had three as wonderful house cats. But servals are different. We both ahd a bit to learn.
Angie became our stay at home serval mom for the first year and a half. When I got home at night from work I’d get the reports of Snarf’s most recent developments or mischief. Very often, the latter.
Also, the laws in Dallas County had changed since those halcyon days when I had my USDA and Dallas County Class C Exhibitor’s Permits for the cougars. No more. You prety much just can’t do it in Dallas any more.
So this beautiful, incredibly talented little guy had to remain under wraps, the cat in the iron mask, his entire life. Otherwise, some animal agent might have knocked on our door to confiscate him, give him a “better” home in a stainless cage somewhere, where he would die of separation anxiety. Servals are highly susceptible to it.
I hated that his life was led in total secrecy. “I coulda been a star!”
African Servals are often referred to as dog-cats, due to the fact they exhibit unique doglike mannerisms for felines. For example, Snarf was gregarious. Many nights all three of us sat together and watched TV, like any other family. He played fetch with Angie when she threw his favorite ball. He’d bring his favorite toy over to you to play with him.
Often, I’d feel him quietly step up on the bed, turn around a hundred times like any cat, then plunk down against me with the impact of a horse, pressing his back hard against mine.
Snarf was the most incredible athlete I’ve ever seen in my life.
If you surprised him, in an instant he would spring five feet up and five feet back.
We used to hail him as Super Snarf! when he vaulted 12 feet up from our downstairs floor to the top railing of our upstairs loft. There were days I counted him doing this up to seven times a day.
Then it happend. The big one. The single most incredible athletic feat I’ve ever withnessed. And I have two other eyewitnesses to the event.
Please remember, just as a matter of qualification: I’ve known the world’s fastest Olympic humans, world’s best high and intermediate hurdlers, seen the world record set in the pole vault right at the pit, seen the Southwest Conference high jump record set, trained with record-holding sprinters out of the blocks.
They’re all phenomenal – for humans. Snarf could laugh at every one of them.
One night I was gently herding him down our staircase. He was sauntering down the steps ahead of me, when my friend James suddenly and unexpectedly walked into frame and appeared ahead of Snarf at the bottom of the stairs, blocking his exit. Suddenly he felt trapped.
Keep in mind, Snarf was standing downhill, with his front paws two full steps below his hind legs. From that static position, he launched himself vertically – 15 feet (we actually measured to the inch) straight up, pushed off the wall, and landed a full 15 feet out onto our couch, and was gone. All within the space of one second.
I got out a bottle of Mumm Grand Cordon and we toasted him with chilled champagne.
If I could have trained him to catch frisbees, the world championship would have resided in Deep Ellum every year.
Snarf the Serval
The Back Story
Before I met Angie, I decided to forego a fourth big cat and domesticate myself. I got a dog. But not just any dog.
Every Christmas eve I drove to the Dallas animal shelters to personally hand out Milk-Bone treats to all the inmates so they could enjoy Something Good on that holy night inside their cages. It was one of the most difficult things I did every year.
I never had any intention of taking anyone home, and never did. Until one year I turned the corner from a long line of small dog cages and saw him. His immense physical presence made me recoil. Honestly.
I said, “Oh my God! You look like Broderick Crawford!” It was the Incredible Hulk shoehorned into the largest dog cage they had.
He was so huge, so ugly, I just knew nobody would give him a home. So, I named him Broderick Crawford and took home this mixed breed mutt of a Mastiff crossed with a St. Benard.
It was February, and I took him out for walks in the freezing cold. (Freezing to me, not to him.) I saw my friends’ faces laughing through my windows when they watched him dig his powerful claws and paws into the ice and pull me down the smooth, slick street in front of my house like a snow skier, on ice.
Then came the Amazing Angie. Angie didn’t give a damn about some corporate geek who sat in traffic for over an hour each way every day in his SUV with a cup of Starpuke’s in his cupholder, with his single-family home in the burbs 35 miles from work.
Unbeknownst to me while we were dating, Angie would sneak by my place while I was at work and take the “little guy” out for walks. She weighed about 105; Broderick was 180 at one-year-old. And she handled him, just fine.
So Angie’s question of our getting an African serval struck within me not a note, not a chord, but a symphony.
I never considered another mountain lion after Angie and I were married. I could handle one if it had one of its one-second-long violent bite/claw/wrestle cat attacks where it goes nuts for a second, runs off, comes back up to you, and licks you a few seconds later.
She just wasn’t big enough. For example, no matter how big and vicious a dog is, it is no match for a big cat. They have three-to-one strength ratios to humans. Fangs. Ungodly bite pressure with their short muzzles. Claws on all four paws designed to instantly decimate prey. No question, it was out of the question.
But I never had the thought to consider a 40-pound serval, a cat I had always admired, and if she could handle single-handedly walking Broderick, the starting offensive guard for the Philadelphia Eagles, she could handle a 40-pound cat.
Six months later we flew about 1,000 miles north, selected Snarf from his litter of three brothers and our newlywed couple drove our little “preemie” home. His eyes weren’t open, and his huge ears were folded over and down. And he sported a wonderful big bushy Afro hairdo between his ears.
My history with “exotic” animals
I had bred pet wolves for ten years. We subsidized the costs of running our national champion registered Texas Longhorn cattle operation by breeding one litter of wolf cubs each year and selling them. One guy was so excited to obtain a real McKenzie Valley wolf he brought me an extra case of beer as an unrequested vig on the deal.
Later, friends were visiting the ranch one weekend and asked, “So what do you think is next for you?” I had horses, cattle, wolves, dogs, land, a huge home, wonderful marriage, exotic cars…
I laughed and replied without a second thought, “Oh who knows. In a couple of years I could be raising big cats.”
You’ve got to watch those self-fulfiling prophecies.
They have a way of coming true.
Two years later I had lost everything I owned, then gone through a divorce, I sat in my downtown Dallas warehouse that I searched for and found so I could disappear like a lion, crawl into my cage and lick my wounds.
I needed to find a better home for my wolf pair so they had room to roam like they were used to. About 35 phone calls later I located a wonderful couple who were in high need of a high percentage wolf to breed to their female.
I took Kimo out to them, it was a wonderful home, and though I was distraught to have to give up my best buddy, they were overjoyed. I visited him often, 90 miles away, and he lived out a long happy life turning out litters of beautiful wolf cubs.
That night, they asked if I wanted to take any animal home in trade. Of course, that was the point of my being there. I was in no position to provide a good home to anything, myself included, so I declined, with the future open for a rain check.
DAUGHTER OF DARK AND STORMY …
It was a dark and stormy night … (Aw, c’mon, haven’t you always wanted to somehow pull off writing that line?) The scene around my ultra-urban downtown Dallas warehouse felt like a scene from a black and white film noir movie, complete with a sad solitary saxophone. I was lonely.
Kimo’s new owners told me over the phone, “We just had three cougar cubs born a week ago. Come out and get one!!” I did. And it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Kuma the Puma lived a fun and peaceful, playful nine years with annual USDA inspection, Zupreem exotic feline food daily, a ladder, a loft, a park bench, a rubber tire swing, color TV, AC/Heat, an igloo dog house, and toys galore. When the guys came over for poker, she would make her rounds around the poker table as if graciously welcoming each individual visitor into her home, then retire gracefully to her bed chambers upstairs for the night. She became the official mascot of the Deep Ellum Association, appeared on a TV commercial, posed for company Christmas cards, and appeared on the local DFW NBC news being blessed at my church for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
Over the next 20 years, I enjoyed living with three different mountain lions as house pets in my warehouse, Kuma, Cody, and James.
“Wouldn’t they be happier in the wild? Free?”
Yes – except for these differences:
No extreme heat (AC), no extreme cold (AC/Heat), room service serving three square meals a day of the best food available (or hunt to survive all day and night every day for food that increases in scarcity due to man’s overexpansion and territory encroachment), receive love and affection daily (or live a solitary life except for breeding season), expert exotic cat veterinary care (or have ticks, fleas, insect bites, internal parasites, worms, and disease), safety and security (or, there is no regulated season for hunting cougars – they are considered varmints), secure environment (or risk injury from leaping, attacking, rocks, other animals like bears, and if it survives, it is wounded and cannot hunt.)
WHAT IS VITAL IN HAVING EXOTIC ANIMALS
Before you start making your own internal comments at this point and think you know more about rearing exotic “wild dangerous animals” (as defined by the federal, state, and county agencies that administer legal permits for owning them) stop right there. You don’t. So listen up to someone who has done so happily, successfully, and annually monitored by the veterinarian provided to inspect my premises by the USDA for decades.
You MUST obtain them within a week to ten days of their birth. This is vital so they bond to you. Because of this, they do not “turn on you” as so many unknowledgeable people like to hear themselves claim who have no experience at all themselves.
NEVER A LEOPARD. This is not the case for leopards. Never get a leopard. With leopards, it is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when they will turn on you.
3. You must bottle feed them about five times a day. YOU, not someone else. Again, this is a vital part of the bonding process. You must obtain the specific, correct formula to make for them from their breeder – and follow it to the letter. These are sensitive creatures in their infancy and you are not their natural mother. They need every bit of help they can get.
When we began weaning Snarf from strict formula to his canned Zupreem (the very best exotic feline cat food on the planet) he took to it so strongly we had to wear gloves to keep from getting clawed in his desire to consume the bottle in our hands.
4. GENERATIONS OF DOMESTIC BACKGROUND IN THEIR FAMILY HERITAGE. .I cannot stress this enough. The more generations of domestic family in your animal’s background, the better it will work into your life as an acceptable pet. Case in point. Our very first exotic animal was Calamity Jane: CJ for short. One look at that little cub’s face and I knew this was trouble. She was 100% Yukon Red Lobo wolf, crossed with a 199% AKC Husky. That’s like mixing acid and water and expecting a peaceful solution. CJ was wonderful and loving, but she definitely had her mood swings when she would go full wolf, a or full lap dog Husky.
To mate with her, I found Kimo. He was 15/16 McKenzie Valley wolf (Upper British Columbia) and 1/16 malamute. He even came with extensive papers that documented his eight generations of exactly 5/16 McKenzie Valley wolf and 1/16 malamute. Because of this genetic stability, he had absolutely no identity crisis. And he was my big best buddy. He really was a 170-pound lap wolf.
5. THE BIG ONE.
NEVER – EVER – EVER – EVEN CONSIDER GETTING AN EXOTIC CAT OR WOLF IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN.
I’d rather have you mad at me for one or two instants than have anything tragic happen within your family. And tragedy is virtually assured if you combine the world’s most effective predators in close proximity with children.
This too, like owning a pet leopard, is a matter of when, not if. You can go ahead and take a chance and challenge this guy who thinks he knows what he’s talking about, or you can abandon any thought of having a big cat if you have kids, right now, and do the right thing.
Here’s what happens. You have a wonderful harmless little cougar or serval or lynx. You rear it with the family for a year, while your two-year-old infant is also exposed to this fourth member of your family. A year or two go by. But that cat advances many times faster than humans.
Your infant is now four. Your big cat is also four, which means it is about 30 in cougar years. That little four-year-old child looks very much like a young rabbit to that four-year-old cougar.
You may have Fort Knox security on your cougar’s cage. You may tussle with your pet Cody the Cougar as I did, yourself, play rough, have good times. It still sees a four-year-old rabbit outside its cage.
And it has nothing else to do all day but figure out how to get that rabbit. You wake up, get ready, get dressed, drive to work, work, come home, spend time with your spouse, your kid(s) have dinner, see the cougar.
Do you know what it has done every second of that same period of time? It has thought about how it will get that rabbit.
All that needs to happen is one slip. Just one slipup that takes one second to make. That cat is a natural-born predator. It is far superior to you and me combined in its hunting capability. is so fast, so powerful. so slick, it gets the job done in one second. And it’s too late. It’s over.
I have never had the misfortune od personally knowing anyone to whom this has happened. But I’ve seen it on TV news, someone who had no business with a big cat. No permits, a chickenwire cage, kids running around. Just flat stupid.
I’m only saying these powerful things because having a big cat as a family housepet can be a wonderful, joyous thing for many many years. But you MUST know what you’re committing to, know what you’re doing. For the cat’s sake. And for yours.
Geting an exotic “wild dangerous animal” for a pet is a ridiculous idea for any normal person. If you asked me if you should entertain the idea, I would say in all likelihood, emphatically No. Because hopefully, you’re a more normal human being than I am. I never have been; I never will be. Ask my college roommate. Ask my wife of 14 years.
If you have done it, you know that what I say rings true. If you have not done it, I guarantee you will screw up, more than once. I have, with each one of my precious family members. Fortunately, they are so hardy and resilient as wild animals with random genetics and hybrid vigor, they can survive even me. They may not survive you. I’m just saying the truth. I’m thinking of the animal.
So why can I say do as I say, not as I do?
I’ve done it. I’ve loved it. I’ve screwed up and lived to tell about it. (And that’s my cats talking.) But I, your humble author, have a lifelong history of doing weird stuff like this, and experience counts a lot.
First, think about it: my middle name is Danger. This kind of thing is normal life for me. I was given my first wolf cub over 35 years ago. I got Kuma the Puma over 30 years ago. I had the biggest dog you’ve ever seen 20 years ago. We have had Snarf the Serval for 14 years. I don’t recommend these things, they just become part of my life.
I’ve never lived where I”ve had real neighbors. In the country on my ranches, my neighbors were sometimes a mile away. In the downtown Dallas warehouse, my friends used to call me The Omega Man because I lived in a dilapidated warehouse section of commercial downtown.
In a recent catch-up phone call with my former three year college track team roommate, he asked me, “Were you that way back then doing all that wild stuff, doing something like preparing to be this way you are, now?”
It caught me completely off-guard. I thought, “What’s so weird about me? Doesn’t everybody live the same way I do, just a little differently?”
This was a thought that had never occurred to me. I was the way I was back then in college because I was that way. I’m the way I am now for the same reason. I see those as the only commonalities. I am who I am. I do what I do. And that’s about as complex as I get.
During a long drought between girlfriends and engagements I asked a former GF/fiancee:
“I’m not a bad guy. Women and I get along great. I have all these great relationships with beautiful, fun, wonderful women, but none of them ever lasts. I know that when it looks like the entire marching band is out of step except for me, it’s really me who is out of step. So – what is wrong with me? Truthfully. Honestly. Do me a favor.”
She said without hesitation, “Bob, you have a mountain lion living in your living room.”
This had become such a part of my normal life, it actually caught me by surprise. I said, “Really?”
“Bob, most men your age at your stage in their careers and lives, live in a single-family home or condo or apartment. They have a golden retriever. Their cars are SUVs. They’re single dads with stable jobs with real companies.”
“You live with a cougar in your house at large, your car is a Ferrari, you don’t live in a real house or apartment. You live in an abandoned warehouse in a shitty part of town. You make a ton of money but it’s all you, not any kind of stable company. Plus, you have pretty high standards about the women you go after. You’ve kind of diminished your odds”
So if you’re close to being diagnosed clinically insane, if your friends call you The Omega Man, if you drive exotic cars, live in non-livable spaces and want a big cat, and have difficulty maintaining close intimate relationships, get one.
Just not with any kind of child anywhere near.
So I have asked Kuma the Puma, Cody the Cougar, James the Cougar, and Broderick Crawford to show him around as a member of their family.