KAYSVILLE -- Furniture covered with an array of sleeping bags and blankets served as the home decor for Kaysville veterinarian Clayne White during his 15-week stint as cat sitter for Lagoon's two white Bengal tiger cubs, Titan and Athena.
Anything of real value in their home over that period of time, the 45-year-old second-generation veterinarian said, was put away to prevent it from being destroyed.
But White and his family were prepared to make whatever sacrifice was needed to be part of hand-raising the cubs.
"If you're an astronaut, you want to go on the shuttle; if you're a vet, you want to hand-raise tigers. It is the highlight of what you do," White said.
The cubs, one female and one male, under White's watch grew from 31aN2 pounds and 5 pounds, respectively, to 50 pounds and 58 pounds. They returned to the Lagoon zoo Dec. 27. Going with them were chew toys, a couch and blankets from the double-car garage White and his family had transformed into an impromptu playpen for the tigers.
The items transported with the cubs were mostly mauled at the White home, with the intention that those household furnishings would help the tigers feel more at home in their new surroundings.
"My wife and daughter really had a hard time that first day," White said. "It was like giving up a child to a (LDS Church) mission, or sending one off to the military, knowing it was for their own good, but very hard to say goodbye."
White, with the help of his family, including daughter Tori, 12, who wants to be a third-generation family veterinarian, nursed the cats to health with a bottle-fed diet of a powdered-milk substitute and goat milk mix, Gerber beef-flavored baby food and table scraps of halibut and salmon.
White said that among the things he learned from his experience is how much you can love something you only have for 15 weeks, and how intelligent tigers are.
"They were potty-trained by 10 weeks. They were every bit as smart as training our dog," he said.
And, White said, he and his family were able to play like Santa Claus around the holidays by giving others the opportunity to see, touch and play with the tigers.
"People said they had been on safaris, swam with dolphins, but this was the coolest thing they had ever done," he said of those who came into their home.
"How do you top that? You don't. You cherish it. You write about it," said White, who works out of Bayview Animal Hospital in Farmington.
Lagoon officials credit White, who serves as the park's veterinarian, and his family for returning to the park two healthy cubs that will be part of Lagoon's 70-animal zoo.
"Yes, we have them at Lagoon," Lagoon Vice President of Marketing Dick Andrew said of the tigers coming back to their birth place.
The tiger cubs are adapting to their new environment, Andrew said, "and things are going well."
"I suspect it is because of (White) that they have thrived at this point," he said. "He saved the day."
It was on Sept. 11 at the Lagoon zoo that a female white Bengal tiger, in a weakened state from her lack of eating, gave birth to Titan and Athena.
The two tiger cubs were immediately separated from their mother on White's recommendation when the mother showed no interest in cleaning the cubs after the birth.
The tiger cubs were then moved into the White household, where they joined other family pets, including a small white kitten, which always found its own free space in the house during unsolicited games of tag with the cubs.
The tiger cubs were sometimes treated to walks around the Kaysville neighborhood -- but only while the cubs were wearing a nylon harness. Each time the walking activity brought stops and stares from neighbors, White said.
There was also one occasion when Clayne White's father, veterinarian Richard White, brought the tiger cubs to a Davis County Commission meeting. There, people were allowed to touch and take pictures with the animals, who appeared to enjoy the paparazzi-type attention.
But now that the cubs have returned to the Farmington amusement park, Andrew said, "We have not made a decision on how they will be presented to the public."
In earlier interviews, park officials stressed that if the tiger cubs are permanently placed in the park, it would be in an enclosure separate from the den where their parents are kept.
Regardless of how the cubs are presented, one thing that remains certain is the tigers won't remain cubs forever.
When the animals reach full maturity, Titan, the male, will weigh about 700 pounds while Athena will weigh between 450 and 550 pounds, officials said.