Craig Walker from the Ojai Valley Museum contacted me recently. He was interested in an update about Tarra since our time living in Ojai. His article brought back fond memories of Tarra and me, and the community’s warm embrace of our unique relationship.
I am always amazed to hear recollections from people who have meet Tarra over the years. Some of the stories are simply outlandish. One such story that really made me laugh was Matt’s memory of seeing Tarra skating down Matilija Canyon Road with three or four guys on horses holding her back with ropes.
WOW. Even though that might sound fun, it never happened. I don’t doubt for a moment that Matt and his friends actually saw Tarra with her horse, donkey, pygmy goats and dogs in tow, but there were no ropes or skates involved. Most likely what Matt witnessed was Tarra and family darting across Hwy 33 on our way to Matilija Lake. I admit that Tarra runs as smooth as a gazelle, so perhaps she appeared to be roller skating!
Many have asked where the skating gimmick came from. Truth is, it was just another inspiration on the road to sanctuary.
As Tarra grew, performing became increasingly boring for her. I struggled to find a way for her to enjoy the work. Since retiring was not yet in the cards, I looked for other ways to provide her a lifestyle she would enjoy. By the time she was eight years old, that quest had already taken us from amusement park performer to circus performer to private party entertainer, to Hollywood bit player to watercolor artist. Keeping the work varied helped alleviate the boredom that seemed the greatest threat to Tarra’s cheery attitude.
While discussing my dilemma with a friend, I jokingly said, “I should teach her to rollerskate. It’s easy, fun and all the rage right now.”
We looked at each other and burst into excited laughter. He said, “That’s it! She’ll love it – Tarra, the world’s only roller skating elephant.”
The research that followed resulted in a set of clunky steel-frame skates with custom-made knee-high boots and industrial casters that rolled forward only. A star was born.
In those days I was unfamiliar with animal activism. I knew Tarra very well and was not surprised when she took to her skates like a fish to water…almost too much in fact. I know that animal activists reading this post will cringe at the very thought of me discussing Tarra’s skating in any positive light at all. But the truth is the truth. Tarra loved it.
Each skate fit like a glove and strapped on with seat belts. There was no way that anyone could have forced Tarra into her skates; she had to put them on herself. She would step inside the 12-inch high boot and wiggle her foot around until her toes slipped into custom designed padded toe spaces. Her assistants, all three of us, would then strap the sides of the boots and pull the seat belt straps tight.
Getting suited up with her skates took close to 20 minutes. The entire time she would chatter, trumpet and purr in anticipation of the fun. The hardest part was getting her to wait until she was completely and securely strapped in before bolting off, trunk and tail extended, in a mad dash around the roller rink.
It might come as a surprise why Tarra stopped skating. She never tired of the fun, but I learned how opposed to such unnatural activity certain people were.
One day, while Tarra was skating before a large crowd in an open parking lot, a well-dressed woman approached me, grabbed my arm and started yelling, “Animal abuse!” Of course I looked around to see what she was talking about and then realized she was talking about me.
I was shocked, unable to understand how this person could ever see Tarra’s play as abuse. But that was the point: Tarra was having fun but skating was sending the wrong message.
I really grew up that day, realizing that perception is everything. If even one person saw Tarra’s skating as abusive, we could not do it. I began researching the animal activist movement and retired Tarra’s skates.
I believe that Tarra’s skating was not just another effort on my part to enrich her life. I believe it was another step along the road to sanctuary.