Paws for Applause
Big Cats making big impression at this year's Grundy County Fair
Normal animals fair-goers can see at the Grundy County Agricultural District Fair are pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, horses, sheep and a few others.
This year, however, for the first time, visitors were able to see the Tiger Encounter, featuring five of six Bengal tigers owned by the Frisco family from Peoria, Ill.
"I liked when they did the jump across (the platforms) through the hoops," Morris resident Stephanie Pfaff said after watching the show.
The Frisco family — Linda, Terry and their teenage daughter Felicia — have been training tigers their whole lives, Felicia said.
Terry's father was a zoo director for the former Glen Oak Zoo in Peoria, Ill., Felicia explained. Her grandfather then went on to working with his own animals, and Terry eventually took over. Now, the three Friscos train their own tigers and perform at fairs.
"I love it," Felicia said. "I grew up with (tigers), so it's pretty normal to me. It's a different experience than most people have."
For 20 minutes, Felicia and Terry close themselves in a cage with five of their tigers. The youngest tiger, Romeo, is not a part of their show, yet. He is too young still and is in training.
As the father-daughter duo show off their tigers' "behaviors," or tricks, to an audience, Linda educates the crowd on tigers in general and on her own cats.
The Friscos have two homes for their animals, Linda said. One is in Peoria. The other is in Florida, where they spend the winter months. Their tigers were born and bread in captivity and have all their teeth and claws.
Out of four varying colors of tigers, the Frisco tigers feature three of them. The only color the tigers do not represent is the rare all white tiger with no stripes. They have the traditional orange tigers with black stripes, golden tabbies that are orange with darker orange stripes and a white tiger with black stripes.
"Tiger stripes are like our finger prints," Linda told the crowd. "No two tigers have the same set. Each one is very individually marked."
The tigers performed several different behaviors for the audience.
When they were instructed to, the tigers showed off by rolling on the ground, jumping through a hoop Felicia held over her head and even spinning in circles as Terry walked around them.
"When you're around them so much, you're used to it," Felicia said about growing up with tigers. "It's like somebody's dog for them. These are mine."
She said Romeo, the youngest Frisco tiger, is the first tiger that is all her own. Her favorite trick to perform with the tigers is one where Romeo jumps up on Felicia and hugs her. She said it was too hot during the Grundy County Fair to show that one off, though.
Felicia hopes to train tigers the rest of her life. She loves what she does and wants to continue doing it.
"It was really cool," Hannah Eason of Morris said about the show.
Anyone interested in seeing the show can catch the Frisco's at 4:30 or 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 3 or at 1, 3 or 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 4.