Kelsi Johnson and Randy “The Tiger Man” Stearns are Head Trainers at Wild Things, an eco-tourism zoo in Dade City, Fla.
The two foster and socialize with over 100 different species at the zoo, ranging from lions and tigers to their very own energetic Rat Terrier and Jack Russel mixed dog, Tyber.
“Tyber has a ton of energy,” says Johnson.
As both teammates at the zoo and partners at home, Johnson and Stearns have carefully introduced Tyber to other wild animals, with high hopes of finding him a friend that will accept his upbeat personality.
Johnson knew a tiger would be perfect for Tyber, given his nickname at the shelter used to be “Tigger.” But she didn’t intend to introduce her well-loved pup to a fully grown tiger, only a cub.
In the midst of a storm one evening, Thunder, a Bengal tiger cub, was introduced to the zoo after being rejected by his mother. When they introduced Thunder and Tyber, Johnson and Stearns realized that it was love at first sight. Together, the two play, swim and spend every waking moment together.
While they’ll be forced to detach in a few months due to Thunder’s growing size, for now, the two are inseparable.
“I don’t think it’ll be wholly repeatable, because Thunder is a special cat. His personality, his tolerance level, his patience […] I almost wanna compare it to your first love in high school. The first one is always special. I’d like to think that it’s special for Tyber and Thunder, too.”