A Chance Meeting


Sheryl Kieper, Brunswick Forest

Harrods Department Store opened “Pet Kingdom” in 1917 selling animals including panthers and tigers. The pet area closed in 2014 and was replaced with a womenswear section. (Source: www.mylondon.news)

I was sitting on the sixth floor at the tea room in Harrods Department Store in London.

I was just about to bite into the most delicious strawberry scone putting my spoonful of clotted cream on it and anticipating the incredible taste to follow when out of the corner of my left eye, I saw an elderly gentleman approaching me.

“Excuse me, I’m terribly sorry to bother you but there are no seats left for afternoon tea and I desperately need a “cuppa.” Do you mind if I share this table with you?” he asked.  Noting to myself that this is a European custom–to readily share tables in restaurants with other patrons–I accepted his request.

As we sipped our respective teas and attacked our scones, he spoke.

“Lovely animal print vest you are wearing,” he said.

“Thank you.” I responded. “Of course, it’s fake. I respect animals too much to don a real fur.”

“Funny that you should say that,” he said.

“Why”? I said. My curiosity was piqued.

“Well, I actually bought something here at Harrods on the top floor with animal prints,”  he said, “about twenty years ago.”

“Really, what was it?” I asked.

“A tiger cub,” he responded.

“Get out of town,” I said. My obvious American slang just slipped off my tongue. “Tell me more.”

He then ventured to readily tell me his story. He and his partner had been childless years ago and they both had a fondness for cats. Except this purchase was a large cat. He explained that it was an emotional shopping decision and one that was not well thought out.

I kept thinking of all the adopt-a-kitten cages at various animal events in my past and how I had to restrain myself from becoming the “crazy cat lady.”

“Wow,” I said. “What happened”?

He then told me how he and his partner named the cub Rosie and how wonderfully sweet and playful she was. They would walk through the neighborhood Kensington streets with Rosie on a huge leather red leash and people would admire her. Shopkeepers started leaving very large water bowls out for her and restaurant staffers would leave leftover scraps of meat on the sidewalk for her.

Rosie was a wonderful pet–with one exception–she grew exponentially. Eventually, he and his partner had to make the heart-wrenching decision to give her to an African refuge sanctuary.

He continued his fascinating tale as we sipped more tea.  He informed me that Harrods no longer had the exotic animal sales floor for obvious  humane reasons. He also said that Rosie initially did not do well trying to survive in the wilds  of Africa.

Early human interaction is not good for wild animals. I remembered my training–never pick up an abandoned fawn as the mother is usually nearby hunting food for her baby and she will return to her. If she smells human touch, she most likely will abandon her fawn.

“Wow,” I continued to mutter through my mouth filled with clotted cream and scones.

As we finished our tea, the stranger then revealed some amazing news. Many years later, despite his fear, he went to the African savannah to inquire about Rosie.

As the guide took him out in his jeep, sunset was approaching. There in the distance about 100 yards to his left, a magnificent tiger was approaching the vehicle. It scented the humans and stood completely still.

My stranger table mate then told me that he approached the wild animal with extreme caution. He spoke loudly but gently. “Come here, Rosie, my girl,” he said.

And Rosie ran to him for a giant embrace. The African guide was overwhelmed with emotion as the former owner was reunited with his tiger cub. It appeared that the tiger was smiling as the man wept openly.

And I choked on my last scone as the tears rolled unabashedly down my face reaching my animal print vest.

Photo by Kartik Iyer on Unsplash