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He Said a Pit Bull Mauled Him. The Truth Was Much Stranger

A look back at the 'Tiger King of Harlem'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2020 1:20 PM CDT
Updated Apr 26, 2020 3:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – Years from now, millions of Americans' recollection of the pandemic will also include a memory of binge-watching Netflix's Tiger King. With that show high on everyone's current watchlist, in a piece for Mel Magazine Zaron Burnett III introduces us to another tiger king: one that, nearly 17 years on, has largely been forgotten, though not due to a lack of a story. On the first day of October 2003, a 911 was made reporting a vicious pit-bull attack in a Harlem apartment. First responders arrived to find Antoine Yates in agony in the hall, with an injury to his right leg so intense you could see his bone, and a right forearm bearing what looked to be injuries inflicted by fangs and claws. He, too, said a pit bull inflicted the injuries. The truth "was far wilder"—literally. The 450-pound Siberian tiger Yates had lived with for 3 years had inflicted the injuries.

In an interview with Burnett, Yates explains why it "was never an attack," and of his failed fight to retain possession of Ming after taking a plea deal on a reckless endangerment charge and serving five months; he believes his case was dismissed because it would have exposed too many failures by the NYC Housing Authority to properly inspect his building. Yates explains what his day-to-day was like (he left the apartment for just an hour each day, to buy 20 pounds of meat) and why he thinks Ming ultimately harmed him (he took in a sick house cat and says he jumped in front of Ming when it charged at the cat). One of the more fascinating details: the recollections of the NYPD officer who was tasked with rappeling down the building and shooting Ming through a window with a tranquilizer dart. It didn't go according to plan. (Read the full story here.)

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