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Booktalking "Sniper" by Theodore Taylor
Imagine lions and tigers in your backyard and a house cheetah to guard your family. Thanks to an endowment from a wealthy widow his parents met in Africa, this is Ben's home.
Fifteen-year-old Benjamin Jepson lives on a zoological research preserve specializing in big cats. Crazy people go in and out of the cat compounds on dares, and staff enter the compounds to fraternize with the cats or switch their locations in order to prevent boredom. Ben's parents are researching and photographing the big cats in the African Serengeti and leave him in charge. His parents' lives inextricably wound around cats, Ben is on his own. Shortly thereafter, the cats are on the loose, and lions Daisy and Helen are found dead, killed by single gunshot wounds. It reminds one of Jurassic Park.
Ben goes into the compound with his father's favorite, Dmitri; 900 pounds of Siberian tiger; ten minutes of stillness and zero eye contact pass before the tiger finally moves. Felt like an hour. Ben also takes the lions for walks.
What about having parents who kicked the nine-month old Great Dane-sized lion our of your bed to the company of his peers? Ben finds his favorite lion Rocky, whom he bottle-fed, dead from a single gunshot wound. Another victim of the feline serial killer. Suspects in this thriller include people not keen on the idea of big cats in their neighborhood. Ben doesn't really know who did it, but the grief of losing his cats, including Rachel the house cheetah, found dead outside in her run, overwhelms him. How many more cats will die or will Ben be killed by the maniac? Ben's parents are in the African Serengeti.
Adopting my first cat: I am totally an animal person, and if I had to pick a favorite animal, it would have to be cats. I was fortunate enough to grow up with cats, and we had 2 or 3 cats at all times when I was growing up. Sad to say, the hardest part about leaving for college for me was missing the cats. It was 6 long, hard years without the cats until I adopted my first cat, a 2-year-old American shorthair. I decided to adopt at this point because I was going to stay in the United States, after study abroad in Australia, and work abroad in Scotland and Ireland. I did not want to have animals if I was going abroad.
My shelter cat friends: While I was living in Philadelphia, I volunteered at a shelter in New Jersey, and I hung out in the cat rooms there. I had cat friends in New Jersey that I visited on the weekends. There was Oreo, a black-and-white cat who had feline AIDS, and they had cats in the feline leukemia room, as well. Oreo was so gregarious, but I couldn't adopt him because my cat at home did not have feline AIDS. I also hung out in cat rooms in a shelter in lower Manhattan, as well. Just before I left Philadelphia, I adopted a 2-year-old Egyptian Mau mix, mainly to keep my other cat company. A couple of years later, I adopted a 5-year-old calico/tortoiseshell/striped Exotic mix. (Exotic cats look like shorthaired Persians; they are Persians crossed with American shorthairs.) Unfortunately, my first cat got sick later that year and died in the following year.
Black magic: Just recently, I adopted a 5-year-old black Mandalay cat. I cannot describe the sheer glee I feel when I tell people that I am a witch and I have a black cat at my house to prove it. She likes to decorate my broomstick at night and accompany me as we cast spells across the land. Actually, there are some interesting things about living with a black cat that I never knew before. For example, I am careful now, but she is easier to trip over, especially if it is dark and she is in the shadow. The inside of one of my cat carriers is black, so I have to look for her gold eyes to make sure she's in there. When I see her on my forest green couch, it's a little bit freaky because she blends right in. She has a patent leather-like shiny fur coat, and it makes her seem a little bit mystical or majestic, except when she's playing and acting like a crazy cat.