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15 July 2015 ·

Lost and found lion friends

It’s happy book birthday for the new paperback editions of Wanted! A Guinea Pig called Henry, and Abandoned! A Lion Called Kiki. Harry the Rescue Dog is celebrating with an updated post on the origin of the lion story – because believe it or not, that’s the truest story in all the Rainbow Street Animal Shelter series (the Rainbow Street Pets book in Australia).

Can you imagine getting a phone call from an airport to say, “You’ve got a parcel here!” – and when you get there, finding out that a friend has sent you a lion cub? That’s what happened to friends of my parents when I was a kid, living in Colorado.
The cub was a lioness, and she was named Cappy. Her father was a cross-eyed lion named Clarence, who starred in Daktari, a TV series set in Africa, but I’m not sure why someone decided to send this cub to our friends – who already had six dogs and a three-legged goat! (And can you imagine how excited my brother and sister and I were when they came to visit us? The cub even met our horse!)
Our friends took wonderful care of Cappy, but of course she grew into a lion, not a big pussy cat. In the end they realized that the best thing for her would be to take her somewhere where she could live more like a lion. It was as heartbreaking as it would be to give up any pet. They chose the zoo at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, although she was later sold to the Topeko zoo in Kansas. They visited her there a couple of years later, and she seemed to remember her name when they called her.
That was the happiest ending that little lion could have had in 1967, but when I wrote the story I set it in the 1980s and so was able to make it even happier. I used a wildlife refuge in Zambia because when I phoned the Melbourne Werribee Plains Zoo to ask some questions, I spoke to a vet who was about to return to Zambia to set up a wildlife refuge to look after lions and other native animals.  
It also struck me that if the memory of the visiting lion cub had made such an impression on me, it would have had a much bigger effect on a child who’d been given it. So as authors do, I used some bare bones of truth, and fleshed out a story that explains why the Rainbow Street Shelter manager Mona has dedicated her life to animals.

And thanks to my original post when the book first came out, we’re back in touch with the friends who were surprised by that parcel so long ago. A lovely bonus to the story.

Harry’s hoping to interview a guinea pig rescuer in a later post. (I don’t really trust him to interview guinea pigs…)

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio