Does your town have a problem with tigers? Probably not. Most cities don’t have problems with large, predatory cats. Parts of India do, and every now and then a puma stalks a jogger out west. New Jersey had an animal hoarder that made the news, and there was that one-off freak accident with a tiger in the San Francisco zoo in 2006, but for most cities, this isn’t an issue.
It’s not a problem for New York – at least, unless your neighbor was Antoine Yeats in 2003.
The story of Ming is one reason why we say “anything can happen in New York”. You thought we were talking about falling in love with someone watching free theater in Central Park, or seeing Tina Fey stroll down Fifth Avenue. I guess those things don’t happen everywhere, but that’s not what I mean. When I say “anything can happen in New York”, I mean that your neighbor might have a pet tiger.
Just to level set here: owning a tiger is not legal in New York City, even with a permit. That didn’t stop Antoine Yeats, though. Naturally, he didn’t just go to PetCo and get a tiger. How it came about was like this: his mother and sister had decided to start a private zoo upstate. They got the permits and bought a lion cub and a few tiger cubs. When they decided this wasn’t such a good idea, they asked Antoine to return one of the tiger cubs.
Antoine didn’t do that. He had bonded with Ming, and somehow each day ended and Ming was still in Antoine’s apartment in Harlem. The days turned into years, and Ming grew into a muscle-bound silent top predator found in the forests of Asia. Unfortunately, he was living in an apartment in East Harlem. Later, Antoine said he didn’t think there’d be any problems as long as he kept the tiger well-fed. Anyway, Antoine already owned an alligator that lived in his bathroom – so where’s the harm in that?
When the octogenarians at the Senior Center on 141st Street began telling attendants that there was a tiger in the apartment across the street, naturally no one believed them. Of course, dear, there’s a tiger looking out the window. Now take your meds. And that’s how things might have gone on forever, except for one problem: Ming didn’t like cats. He was fine with his human friends and the alligator in the bathroom, but one day Antoine brought home a stray cat. When the cat tried to sneak a bite of Ming’s dinner, the tiger went nuts and attacked. Antoine, trying to protect the smaller cat, got badly mauled by the big one. This is the problem with tigers.
Antoine realized his wounds were serious, and called his brother to take him to the hospital … in Philadelphia. He didn’t want to blow Ming’s cover. In Philly, he claimed his pit bull had attacked him, but the alert hospital attendants realized the tooth marks came from a much, much larger jaw.
When police were dispatched to the scene, they could feel the walls of the building shake as the angry tiger threw himself against them. The public gawked, amazed at the 400-pound tiger and at the size of the apartment (“5 bedrooms? FIVE? What’s the rent?”). The story had a happy ending, kind of: Animal Control was able to tranquilize and transport the 400-pound kitty to a sanctuary in another state. The alligator left too. Not sure what happened to the pussycat that started the whole thing.
I love this story because…
Odor Control This was not reported by anyone at the time, but what was Antoine using? I want to market that as an additive to kitty litter everywhere.
He paid retail? I’ve heard tell of animal hoarders scouting the highway for roadkill to bring back to Kitty. There isn’t any roadkill in New York City. So what was Antoine feeding Ming? Lots and lots of raw chicken. He would go out at 7 a.m. and “buy out the meat department” from his local supermarket. In some ways, that’s the craziest part of this whole story. Antoine — why didn’t you buy wholesale?
Bad Press for Pit Bulls Antoine clearly thought his story at the hospital would fly, because he sees tigers as a threat equivalent to pitbulls, and thought everyone else would, too. Words are powerful – but not as powerful as a 400 pound tiger.
Creative Control Come on, Antoine! You have a tiger and alligator in your apartment. You named the alligator “Al”? At least get clever and name him “Jimmy Choo”
Roommates That’s right – Antoine Yeats and Ming and Al had roommates. It’s New York, after all. At first, it was unnerving to see a 400 pound tiger face to face, according to one roommate. But she got used to seeing Ming, and eventually, “We all became family.” Awww! That is so New York. We understand that it’s easier to get used to a tiger than to find that kind of a great deal on a share in Manhattan.
Good ‘ol New York Chuzpah. It takes nerve and gall not only to have a tiger, but to sue the city once that tiger is removed. After the incident, Yeats sued New York City for the loss of his pets (including a bunny) and for $7000 cash which he claimed had also been in the apartment. A judge dismissed the case, calling him full of “chutzpah”. Way to go!
Philly Sometimes we New Yorkers don’t know too much about Philly, and I guess Yeats figured it was far enough away that the doctors there wouldn’t be able to call the cops on Ming, but close enough that he wouldn’t bleed to death.
Next! If it happened once….nothing happens once. Are there other apartment dwellers near me who own large killing machines? I’m waiting for the next story. I once saw a spider monkey escaping up a brownstone on the Upper West Side, but that’s hardly newsworthy. I’m sure something bigger will turn up before too many more years pass.