LSU fans are mourning the news that the school's live tiger mascot, Mike VI, only has a month or two to live. But none are as upset as a Logansport, Indiana, man who never attended the school.

Steve Cotner, after all, raised Mike.

Cotner, 57, was a daily volunteer for Great Cats of Indiana, where Mike — then named Roscoe — was born 11 years ago. Cotner was assigned to care for him after being separated from his mother at 2 weeks old.

"Everywhere I went, he was following me or right beside me," Cotner said. "We had four or five people in there, but he would always come to me. So, I guess he picked me over me picking him."

 

Cotner played with Roscoe and taught him the basics — which Cotner defined as "to understand 'no' and not to kill me." To break the cub of his instinct to claw and bite, Cotner squirted vinegar on Roscoe when he misbehaved and gave him treats when he behaved.

Until Roscoe got large enough to be dangerous at about 3 or 4 months old, Cotner was allowed to bring the cub at night to his home, where he lived with his wife and a son.

"One of the things I made sure of was to introduce him to as many people as I possibly could so he would be socialized," Cotner said. "He was the lovable one, always wanted to snuggle. He preferred to be on my lap than on the floor.

"We kind of hit it off. We fed off each other's energy. I knew when he was in a bad mood and needed to stay away from him, but in return he also knew when I was down or angry and he would come around and basically cheer me up."

At home, they sat in the living room with the television on. Roscoe wouldn't pay a lot of attention unless other animals were on the TV screen, but he made an exception for a cast member of "Orange County Choppers."

"One day he was sitting there watching it and had never really responded to it before, but all of a sudden Mikey Teutul came on," Cotner said. "He was sitting on my lap and he raised up his head, and he jumped down and stood right in front of the television, and every time Mike came on he'd either jump up on the TV or pace back and forth watching it."

Though not a paid employee, Cotner said that Great Cats of Indiana owner Rob Craig respected his relationship with the cats and sought his OK before releasing them to other facilities. That included nine years ago when Dr. David Baker of LSU's School of Veterinary Medicine came looking for a new school mascot.

Cotner said he was initially reluctant to let Roscoe become Mike VI, but realized that LSU's elaborate mascot facility was far better than what Great Cats of Indiana or most other places would provide.

"I realized how selfish I was being," Cotner said. "Of course, I gave in. I knew he'd have a much better life and a much better home."

He did, however, get Baker to promise that Mike VI would not be forced into the trailer to attend games if he was unwilling, a promise Baker has kept to the disappointment of LSU fans who love the tradition of having Mike in Tiger Stadium before games.

"He assured me there would be caretakers on hand and the veterinary staff would be there at a drop of a hat and would be in no way exploited or mistreated," Cotner said.

Cotner said he has only been able to visit Baton Rouge twice to see Mike VI, who recognized him. Great Cats of Indiana was closed in 2014 after the USDA removed its license following complaints of malnourished cats and inspections that found that cages did not meet state regulations.

Baker, who confirmed Cotner's role, said the facility had treated its animals well when Mike was selected.

Cotner took the news of Mike's cancer prognosis hard.

"It's very traumatic," he said. "Compare it to you having this pup that you raised until it was an older dog and you were just so proud of him because of his behavior and the tricks that he knows and everything, and all of a sudden you find out this has happened to him. Plus, it hit me at home because I'm a cancer survivor."

On Facebook, Cotner thanked Baker and others at LSU who have looked after Mike.

"My heart is broken and eyes welling up," he wrote. "I feel I abandoned him due to not visiting him more often. I wish I could be there when the time comes... But I don't regret for a second to agreeing with Rob and Dr. Baker to donate him to LSU."


In response to this story, a GoFundMe page has been started. The fundraiser hopes to reconnect Mike the Tiger with his former caretaker, Steve Cotner.


 

Follow George Morris on Twitter, @GWMorris.