Every person was holding their breath as they watched in awe. The air felt strange as the park was consumed by silence. He tightly held onto the leash, hoping that things would go well, but he was ready for anything to happen. The two pairs of eyes met and they spent a few moments checking each other out. That was when the first move was made. But no one could have expected what would happen next.
A few months prior, John Reinke had no clue that he would ever be in this kind of situation. He had just brought two feline babies to his home, but they weren’t exactly your typical pet. He had welcomed a lion cub named Bonedigger and a tiger cub named Tony. John’s job is to take care of rescued wild cats in his home in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. In the past, John had hand-raised two tiger cubs named Orlando and Tippy. But this pair was a bit unique.
John groomed Tony and Bonedigger, played with them, and hand-fed them formula and raw meat. Even though the two cubs were different species, they acted like brothers. They loved play fighting with each other and with John, and they enjoyed frolicking around outside. Tony was a bit more playful and played a little too rough with John at times. But Bonedigger always made sure to keep Tony in check, growling at him so he wouldn’t harm John. And there was a reason behind it.
John received Bonedigger because he wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild because he was born with a metabolic bone disease. The disease made it so his bones would be deformed and a bit more brittle than a normal lion. Bonedigger would need to stay in captivity for his whole life, making sure that he was kept away from stronger, bigger animals that might hurt him. Luckily, Bonedigger met someone who could understand what it was like living with a disability, and that person was John.
John had always lived on the wild side, even before he started raising wild animals. John was bungee jumping one day in 1994, but unfortunately, the trap door failed and he fell 55 feet to the ground. Luckily he survived, but he broke his hip, his back, and both of his feet. He was told by doctors that he would never walk again, but John was extremely stubborn. Thanks to physical therapy, John was able to use his legs again. But sadly, John kept getting infections and received some heartbreaking news.
John had both of his legs amputated at the knee, but this only made his determination grow. He began caring for wild cats, and it wasn’t long before it was his passion. John quickly developed a strong bond with Bonedigger, most likely because they both understood what it was like to be a bit different than other people. But they were huge cats, so he couldn’t exactly keep them in his home forever. But luckily, there was a great place waiting for them when they were ready.
Not only did John take care of young cats in his home, but he also worked as a park manager for the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. The park would become Bonedigger’s and Tony’s new home, where they would be able to play and roam in the huge, grassy enclosures. Tony was brought to meet all of the other tigers, but Bonedigger was given an enclosure to himself. Even though he had a lot of room, Bonedigger wasn’t happy.
Bonedigger missed playing with his friends, John and Tony, and he quickly became lonely. He would bite at the enclosure and pace around. John understood that there was no way he could put Bonedigger with other cats because he could get hurt. But he also didn’t want Bonedigger to be lonely, so he came up with a unique idea.
There were a bunch of wild animals at the park, but there was also a pack of four dachshunds: Milo, Angel, Bullet, and Abby. The park considered them to be its mascots and they were allowed to freely roam around. The dogs were extremely friendly towards the humans, but they were friendly with the other animals, as well. Abby was the leader of the pack, and the most brave of them, which gave John his idea.
John put Abby onto a leash and climbed into Bonedigger’s enclosure while another keeper kept Bonedigger still. The two animals stared at each other for a minute, until Abby began to jump around, wanting to play with the lion. All of a sudden, Bonedigger pulled away from the keeper. The moment was intense because the men didn’t know if Bonedigger was going to attack Abby. That was when the unexpected happened.
Bonedigger moved away from Abby as if he was frightened of her, but Abby refused to give up. Soon enough, Bonedigger’s curiosity consumed him and he moved closer to the dog. As he got near her, he began to sniff Abby as she wagged her tail. Abby was excited and started running around in the grass. That was when Abby noticed Bonedigger’s toy stash. He quickly ran over to protect his toys, but Abby just licked him on the nose. That was when John knew that his plan was a success.
It was an awkward meeting, but Bonedigger decided that he did indeed like Abby. It was amazing to see such a small dog seem so unafraid of the large lion, whom despite his young age, could still cause her harm. John explained that it was due to her cluelessness. It seems that dachshunds don’t really know how big they are, so they aren’t affected by the size of a bigger animal. The large lion, who was in need of a friend, found the perfect companion in Abby. Soon enough, Bonedigger would have his own pride.
Abby and Bonedigger were moved into a bigger enclosure where Abby got her very own bed next to her new companion. Eventually, all of the dachshunds were brought to meet Bonedigger, and they all got along just fine. He became a part of their pack, and they became a part of his pride. They run around chasing and playing with each other, and they’re never separated, except for when their enclosure needs to be cleaned.
Occasionally, John has to go into their enclosure to get rid of the weeds and trim the grass. The dachshunds enjoy attacking the weed-whacker, so John has to remove them while he works. Bonedigger spends the entire time crying, while pacing around the fence. “As soon as I’m done weeding, I let the weenie dogs back in and he counts his weenie dogs, makes sure they’re all there, and just loves all over them,” says John. But Bonedigger obviously loves Abby most of all.
“I think there’s a bigger bond between Abby and Bonedigger than the other three weenie dogs. He even bites at the fleas like you see dogs do with each other. It’s just crazy what they do,” explains John. And John feels that there is a lesson for us all to learn from this odd family. “He’s a wild animal, but he can be tamed. The weenie dog is a tamed animal, but it can be wild. There’s a little bit of each animal in each one of them.”