The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 14, 2021 1:00 am

May 23, 1968: A pet lion

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

A 70-pound lion for a house pet?

Meet Samantha, one of the pets Bill Minnick was raising in 1968. She was housebroken and lived (where else?) in the den.

The original 1968 story is below.

This story came about two years after one with Minnick showing off his snake collection:

To suggest a date or subject for History Journal, email Corey McMaken at


"70-Lb. House Pet: Lion At Home In Owner's Den," by Sandy Thorn (May 24, 1968)

Bill Minnick has collected and raised animals for 15 years – long ago graduating from the guppy and goldfish stage – so it's not too surprising that his concept of a house pet is a 70-pound African lion.

As Samantha romps through the living room (Who wants to argue with a lion?), its owner observed, "As house pets go, Samantha is surprisingly easy to control."

It's all in Minnick's understanding of the name "house pet" and the phrase "easy to control." It wasn't long ago that he astonished bystanders by whipping a 100-pound python around his shoulders and torso – he found the python and boa constrictor "easy to control."

In the future, however, Minnick hopes that Samantha will be more than a house pet. She is one of the first large cats Minnick has purchased for his dream of establishing an animal research center for the study of, among other things, the high mortality rate in exotic animals and breeding in captivity.

The six-month-old lion came to Minnick from a Miami animal dealer who brought her to the states from Africa. Since arriving, Samantha has pretty much had run of the house and, says Minnick, "Of course she has her own room – the den!"

Samantha's diet is varied and includes a dozen different things, however she usually munches on chicken (ground especially for her), dry or canned cat food and mineral supplements – not to mention vitamins. her appetite requires about six pounds of meat per day, but as her owner says, "That's nothing. She'll eat 12 to 15 pounds per day when she's an adult."

The "house pet" is housebroken and loves to play with people, dogs "and things." "Unfortunately, Samantha is too rough at times," commented her amused owner. "She likes dogs but she plays too rough. My wife and I try to walk her several times each day and when we do, Samantha prefers to stroll on the sidewalks – she doesn't care for the grass. If we meet a dog, she sits down and watches the dog.

"Little kids seem to excite her and we watch her very carefully when youngsters are around. I'm sort of uneasy when parents allow their children to pet her. You never know when one of the littles ones will put their hand in her mouth – and you never know Samantha's reaction!"

What do the neighbors think of the Minnick's pet? "Well, we try to protect her from the neighbors and so far we haven't had any troubles. I guess it's legal for me to have a lion in Fort Wayne – there aren't any laws against it."

Minnick said the funniest incident happened the first night Samantha was with them. "We put her in the den and locked her in there. I had never cared for a lion so I wasn't sure what to expect. Well, it wasn't long before we heard her beating on the door. She just kept beating on the door.

"Did you ever see a lion leap through the hair and land on your chest at 5 a.m.?" asked the owner – recalling the events of the first night. "Let me tell you, it's quite disturbing," Minnick said. "Quite disturbing!"

Asked what the African native does during the day when neither of the Minnicks are home, he answered, "She doesn't disturb anything. She sleeps about 15 hours a day so we assume she sleeps or prowls most of of the time we're gone."

Minnick," a pre-vet student at Purdue University, is extremely interested in studying the mortality rate of exotic animals and why it is so high. "There must be 17,000 kinds of worms and diseases that kill these animals," he assessed.

He currently is working with a man in Ecuador and another in Florida on the study. He also is interest din breeding the exotic animals in captivity and proving that animals aren't dumb.

The animal enthusiast speaks of the future and his hopes of training the exotic animals to do tricks (but not beat them into doing the tricks). "That project is at least five years away," he said.

In the meantime, Minnick hopes to get the public interested in his animal research center and would like to establish a permanent exhibit. At present, his collection of an ocelot, baby ocelot, monkeys, birds, small mammals from South American and Africa and a large number of reptiles – not to overlook Samantha – will be exhibited Monday at Gateway Plaza.

Samantha, now a housepet, is the first major step in Minnick's dream. As yet, she hasn't been told of her importance.

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