Charlie the Cheetah

Charlie the Cheetah

When I was 4 or 5, I wrote to Santa Claus to ask for two pet cheetahs. Not just one, but two real live cheetahs. Instead, Santa got me a stuffed animal that I would grow to love and defend. I had to defend him because in truth, he wasn’t a cheetah. He was a leopard. He lacked the distinguishing tear lines that are part of a cheetah’s costume. But I didn’t care. His name was Cheetah and I wasn’t about to come up with a new one.

Fast forward twenty years.

I was living in Australia and about to go to New Zealand for a month long adventure. A friend of my family was one of the head people at the Wellington Zoo and was kind enough to arrange a very special zoo encounter for me and my friends. We were going to meet a cheetah.

The day came and we pulled our busted old Wicked van into the zoo parking lot. We piled out and rushed to the entrance. We were taken on a behind the scenes tour and got to hold a baby kiwi bird. Despite how cute the bird was, all I could think about was the cheetah.

The time came and we met with two zookeepers who led us back to the cheetah enclosure. There they were. Two beautiful male cheetahs. We were going to meet one of them and his name was Charlie. We entered the enclosure and stood watching the big cat. He sauntered over and leapt effortlessly onto a platform. With my heart in my throat, out of lifelong love, I walked over and put my hands on his back. I ran my fingers over the intricate spots. I placed my hands on his rib cage, while standing behind him so as not to disturb him more than I already was, and felt the vibration of his breathing. He purred. I purred. It was love.

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