‘No, I’m not a cat person, except this one’: Mike the Tiger’s longtime vet reminisces about his famous patients
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - You might not know his name, but you definitely know his most famous patient. After 26 years caring for the state’s most famous cat, Dr. David Baker is retiring as LSU’s Mike the Tiger’s personal physician.
The doctor makes his rounds at Mike’s cage almost every day, and when he does, he gets the greeting most Tiger fans crave.
“Most days when I come over here, he’ll come running over or walking over to see me,” said Baker before squatting to pet mike through the fence of his $4 million habitat.
But Baker and Mike’s relationship wasn’t always so cordial.
“When I came here 27 years ago, I didn’t even know LSU had a tiger. I didn’t know that the student athletes were called the tigers, so it was quite a shock to me,” Baker said.
And Tiger faithful might find it shocking that Baker has never had a pet.
“I don’t view him as a pet. He’s my responsibility,” Baker said.
Pet man or not, you can tell from the playful scratching and Mike’s reaction to his doctor that they grew on each other.
“I came to understand pretty quickly how important Mike the Tiger is to the LSU community,” Baker said. “He’s more than a symbol—but he is a symbol for many people of everything good that they remember about their time at LSU.”
Baker, along with two vet school students, oversees Mike’s day-to-day care. Over the years, Baker has gotten up-close and personal with three Mikes.
“We try to treat them in such a way that they trust us so that they’ll come up and visit with us—so that we can check them. If they don’t come up so we can smell them, see them, see him, listen to him, it’s very difficult to assess these animals,” he said.
When Baker arrived at LSU in 1995, Mike lived in an 11,000-square-foot cage. Baker helped oversee the design and construction of Mike’s 15,000-square-foot habitat. He said the natural turf and water features are important to Mike’s overall health.
“There are some things in life that have to be done well, and taking care of Mike the Tiger is one of those things,” Baker said.
First-rate care became even more important in the summer of 2016 when Baker diagnosed Mike VI with cancer. He along with the vet school went to extraordinary measures to treat Mike’s cancer, going as far as to transfer him to Mary Byrd Perkins Cancer Center for testing and treatment.
“A woman shared the newsfeed with another woman, and she said, ‘See, you and Mike can fight cancer together.’ And I realized how important it was that we provide the best care possible for Mike. Because in some way that I still don’t understand, it mattered to people,” Baker said.
For as much joy as Mike brings his fans and the bond that he and Baker share, Baker holds one thing higher than his responsibility for the tiger’s care—that’s his responsibility to his students.
“Having the daily responsibility of caring for Mike the Tiger for two years changes them, and makes them even better professionals,” he said.
And he admits, all those years with Mike have changed him too.
“I guess if it’s changed me at all, it’s probably given me an even greater appreciation for attending to the small things,” he said.
Baker will say his last goodbye outside Mike’s cage Oct 5.
He said even a quarter-century with the state’s most famous cat hasn’t changed his mind about cats.
“No, I’m not a cat person. . . except this one,” he said.
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