The woman looked out of her apartment and saw a familiar shape sitting in a window across the street. It looked like a lion, walked like a lion, and
acted like a lion, but on West 20th Street in Manhattan, was such a thing possible?
The 13th Precinct patrol cops got the job at the same time that Emergency Truck One was dispatched. The woman had
called 911 and explained that the animal was on the 7th floor of a loft building. The patrol cops were very happy when Police Officers George Toth and Henry Petersen of Truck One arrived on the scene.
If the patrol cops expected to see the Emergency Service cops with a whip and chair, they were disappointed. Toth and Petersen had seen some unusual jobs in their time on the job, and nothing much
surprised them. This could possibly be an unfounded call, but they all jumped on the freight elevator and chatted as it slowly rose to the 7th floor.
The jaws of the four cops dropped and their eyes
widened in disbelief at the sight of the full-grown lioness that greeted them as the doors of the elevator opened. The flimsy makeshift cage didn't ease their fears as they called for additional units to respond. The lion was clearly nervous at their arrival in
her "territory". Toth looked at the "cage" that someone had constructed to confine the lion. In an area measuring about 20 square feet, and six feet in height, wooden furring strips and wire
had been nailed to the floor. Inside the "cage" was a box filled with well-used kitty litter. There were two rubber tires suspended from the ceiling. The teeth marks
on the rubber showed that they were used as teething rings. A mannequin lay on the floor with the head chewed off.
Lieutenant Larry Savage and Police Officer Jack Madocks of Emergency Service came
up the freight elevator and joined Toth and other cops. Central sent another unit with Police Officers Mike McCrory and Gustave Roniger. The Emergency Service cops agreed that if they shot the lion with the
tranquilizer gun it might not be enough to do the job. If they needed to use multiple shots, they might just have a very pissed-off lion on their hands. They had rifles and shotguns, but that could get
Toth remembered that large cages were kept on the pier at West 57th Street to accommodate large animals that were transported overseas. An Emergency
Service truck was sent to the pier. A cop from the 13th Precinct told the Lieutenant that he believed the Circus was still showing at
Madison Square Garden. Officer Madocks was ordered to try to have an animal trainer respond to the loft.
As they waited in the loft, newspaper reporters and photographers arrived to cover the
story. The police radio transmissions of a lion in the loft was just too much of a story for the press to ignore. In the confusion, they got up to the 7th floor and began to take photos
of the lioness. The flashes of the cameras startled the lion and she grew more and more agitated. She began to pace back and forth as she watched the cops. Officer McCrory had
been standing too close to the makeshift cage and the lioness ripped his shirt as she took a swipe at him through the wire.
Madocks returned from the Circus and told the Lieutenant that the animal trainer had refused to respond. The trainer refused to deal with a strange lion, nor would he help the
police with the animal. Meanwhile, the truck returned from the pier with a large metal container.
Lieutenant Savage and the Emergency Service cops had dealt with animals but a lion was a
different matter. The tranquilizer gun made most animal jobs routine. They knew that they had to get a tether on the lion and draw it into the cage somehow. By snaking the rope
through an opening in the metal container, they could pull the animal into it. They didn't know how much physical power would be needed to do the job.
They would have to push the metal cage against the entrance to the lion's pen and have someone go inside and place a rope on the lion. The danger to the cop going inside the pen
was obvious. The Lieutenant asked for a volunteer. Police Officer Roniger had over twenty years with the Emergency Service. He volunteered to enter the pen and try to throw a lasso
over the head of the lioness. Toth and the other cops knew that they might have to shoot the lioness if she attacked Roniger. The Double "O" Buck shells in the shotguns and the
5.56 mm ammo in the rifles didn't give the cops much assurance.
The container was prepared and Roniger entered the flimsy doorway of the wire cage. He
had a running bowline at the end of the line that ran through the cage. As he entered the cage, the lioness jumped to her feet as he threw the loop over her head. Luckily, he did it on
the first try. He backed out of the pen as the Emergency Service cops slammed the container against the entrance. Six cops pulled on the rope and the lion went into the cage
without too much resistance. The door to the container slammed shut and the lioness was secured for the moment.
Now they had to get the lion to the Central Park Zoo. The Zoo had agreed to accept the lioness and was prepared to receive it. The cops got the container down the freight
elevator and onto the Emergency Service Truck. They arrived at Central Park after dark and only the security guards were there to meet them. They just showed the cops which cage
was available and gave them the lock to secure it.
The cops backed up the truck as close to the entrance to the cage as possible. There was a gap of about three feet from the truck to the entrance to the cage. They would have to
improvise and make a catwalk from the truck into the cage. The six cops lifted the container with the lion onto the guardrail in front of the open zoo cage. They feared that the animal
would escape as they pushed it from the container into the cage. They jabbed the lioness and she jumped into the zoo cage. The cops slammed the gate of the cage behind her as
she roared and bared her teeth at them.
My thanks to Detective George Toth, NYPD (retired) for this story. His experiences have
been the subject of many of the incidents that have been recounted here.
Copyright © 2000 Edward D. Reuss
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