The next animal interaction also misfired. One after another, the volunteers McCarthy chose to hold Harriet the tarantula backed out. Finally, a seemingly brave boy withdrew his hand just as McCarthy let go of the spider, and the animal handler caught the creature just before it went splat. "Don't drop the tarantula, OK big guy?" McCarthy said. "If the tarantula fell on the floor, it would surely crack and die." He spoke from experience. A kid once dropped and killed one of his tarantulas.
Finally came Sandy the panther, who had spent the previous hour lounging silently inside her large crate, facing away from the audience. McCarthy instructed the children to back up and then tugged on a leash. There was a flash of fur. He lifted Sandy by the underarms, just as a father would pick up a toddler from a playpen.
Mark McCarthy and one of his charges: Getting bitten is "part of the job."
For an instant, before McCarthy released the panther on top of her green plastic crate, he was face-to-face with the enormous feline. The trainer hurried through some nuggets of information about the species, including a reference to Roy Horn, half of Siegfried & Roy. "Here in Florida, you're not allowed to keep the big cats like lions and tigers as pets, for one good reason: They will kill you! Or, if you're a magician, they might drag you all over the stage in a place called Vegas."
Then McCarthy grabbed the cat under the jaw to plant a loud kiss on the top of her head. The panther nuzzled him back. "She's a lover, not a fighter, aren't you?" he cooed, his lips a few centimeters from Sandy's nose.