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Lodi vet operates on 300-pound Bengal tiger


A tiger escape was narrowly averted Monday in an industrial area on North Sacramento Street in Lodi.

A 300-pound white Bengal tiger named Twix was being operated on at Arbor Pet Clinic by veterinarian Richard Turner, but the larger-than-house-size feline became just a little bit scared when the anesthesia started to wear off.

Handlers were able to get a grasp on the animal and safely move it back to the trailer that transported her to Turner’s office.

The 3-year-old female was driven from Cave Junction, Ore., by owner Robert Ringo to have a lump removed from her lower neck to determine if it was cancerous. Ringo is the owner of an endangered animal sanctuary.

The biopsy results are due back later this week.

Veterinarian Richard Turner closes the tiger’s wound
Lodi veterinarian Richard Turner sutures Twix’s wound Monday after removing a tumor from the 300-pound tiger’s neck. (Jerry R. Tyson/News-Sentinel)

It took nine people to assist Turner with Monday’s operation, complete with a catheter, intravenous line, oxygen mask and makeshift operating table jury-rigged from an old bedspread and foam padding.

The tiger’s handlers and even the office receptionist were brought in to calm the animal and check vital signs throughout the 45-minute procedure.

It wasn’t Turner’s first time operating on a wild animal.

In fact, the veterinarian estimates he’s worked on at least 50 tigers — and that doesn’t count the numerous bears, lions and elephants he’s treated. He’s also worked on everything from pot-bellied pigs to exotic birds in his 25-year career.

On Monday, though, it took more than an hour to completely put Twix to sleep. After that, Turner said it was easy.

Clad in khakis and white tennis shoes, he cut open the tiger’s skin and removed the mass located near the animal’s neck muscle before using a needle and thread to stitch the gaping hole in her back.

All this was being done while one assistant checked the tiger’s heartbeat and breathing patterns and another administered oxygen through a makeshift mask created from a 1-gallon plastic milk jug.

And, it all went off without a hitch — that was until the animal started to come out of anesthesia. A groggy Twix then jumped off the mobile gurney before thrashing about and even letting out a muffled growl while its handlers were attempting to put her back into a cage to go home.

“I knew I could hold her because she didn’t have all of her vitals back yet,” Turner said. He added that it was planned that way so the animal would be alert on her eight-hour ride back to Oregon.

Twix lives at the Wildwood Endangered Animal Sanctuary which was started in 1994 by Robert Ringo, and his wife, Bonnie. The non-profit organization is now home to 22 exotic large animals.

They are often taken from stressed, abusive, and at times even deadly environments, similar to the efforts of Galt’s Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Turner also works extensively with that agency.

Twix’s parents were rescued by Ringo in Florida.

When the lump on their daughter’s neck started to grow, Robert Ringo said Turner was the only doctor available to perform such a surgery.

“I couldn’t get anybody in Oregon,” Ringo added.

So, with the help of a former University of California, Davis Medical Center doctor, he loaded Twix into a straw-laden wire enclosure inside a horse trailer and hauled her to Lodi.

“She was a nice cat,” Turner said.

The veterinarian takes great care with the large animals.

“It took me some time to get used to the big cats,” he said. “I’ve always got to be careful, but I’m more concerned about giving them too much anesthetic.”

To put a domestic house cat down, for example, it takes 10 to 15 minutes, a one liter bag of anesthetic and a 3-mm trachea tube.

Twix, on the other hand, needed 5 liters and a 14-mm tube.

Following the $570 surgery, Turner was busy going through post-operative care with the tiger’s caregivers.

And Twix, still a little sleepy, was on her way back home.

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