Gilligan’s age is unknown. He was purchased along with Skipper at an auction.
Gilligan had the tiniest cage measuring 5′ x 7′. It was also the dirtiest of all of the cages. The mud floor was not mud, but feces covered with a sprinkling of straw. It appeared as though Gilligan had tried to keep much of his waste confined to one area on top of his plastic dog house. He had perched atop the house day after day to defecate. The large pile of feces cascaded out of the side of his cage. It was clear that his cage had not been cleaned in several months.
Strewn about the cage were bits of meat, bones and fur. The dog house was too small for Gilligan to fit in and other than a small child’s play picnic table he had nowhere to escape the weather. He was forced to sleep in the open and surrounded by filth.
Because Gilligan’s cage was so small there was not enough room for Big Cat Rescuers to enter it with nets and a crate. So using wire that they had brought, they constructed a secondary enclosure to the door of his and inside placed the crate filled with soft dry hay. Gilligan was unsure about this new crate and despite its appeal of warmth and dryness he refused to enter it. He was left to contemplate entering the crate on his own while Big Cat Rescuers moved on to try and catch Skipper.
After Skipper was captured and carried to the Big Cat Rescue trailer, Gilligan had still refused to enter the crate. With no other options he was sedated with a blow dart. He quickly fell asleep and Dr. Justin did a full exam. After the exam he was gently placed in the crate and given the reversal agent for the tranquilizer.
When he awoke he was in a soft bed of hay being loaded into the trailer for his long trip back to Tampa.
Gilligan seems absolutely blissful in his new enclosure. In his first days he constantly sniffed all around soaking in the fresh air. He was also quite amazed with the wildlife that abounds at the sanctuary from cardinals, to lizards, to squirrels, he is very observant and intently watches as they flit and scurry about.
Skipper’s age is unknown. He had been purchased along with Gilligan at an auction before being rescued years later by Big Cat Rescue.
Skipper had the largest cage measuring about 5′ x 30′. He had a small plastic dog house and a plastic shelf precariously attached to the side of his cage. A large rabbit carcass lay rotting in the corner of his cage and the entire cage was just as dirty as the others, feces lying everywhere and urine soaked straw.
Big Cat Rescuers entered Skipper’s cage with nets in hand and a large transport crate. Because of his size and the fact that he was fully clawed the plan was to just corral Skipper into the crate using the nets. Well Skipper had another idea and ran straight into the net.
He was netted and then shifted into the crate.
Skipper was the first of the Kansas cats to exit his crate and begin exploring his new enclosure at Big Cat Rescue. He cautiously stepped into his enclosure while looking all around at all of the new sights. After a few steps he turned and looked at the Big Cat Rescuers who had just released him from his crate and then took a few big stretches before moving on and investigating every last nook and cranny of his new home.
Windsong Bobcat on left and Alexander Bobcat on right
When I met the Reverend Alexandra Montiel in 1994, she was 55 and I was 33. At the time I thought how hard this wealthy woman was working to preserve her youth and wondered if I would fight the signs of aging so fiercely. She had just undergone a chemical peel on her face to remove any traces of wrinkles and the skin looked so fragile that I feared the sun would just cause it to melt from her bones. I was soon to learn that “fragile” was not a term consistent with any part of this handsome woman’s makeup.
I wish I had written about her life’s story at the time, because that was more than 20 years ago, and the finer details escape me now. What I do recall is that she said she was born in a foreign country to the royal family that was in power just a few years before that empire was overthrown. In the mayhem that ensued, her entire family; mother, father and siblings were all executed in their home. Her nurse, although born into the opposing clan, could not bear to see the baby princess killed and spirited her away. If Alexandra were left alive, she would have rights to the throne, and be perceived a threat, so she was exiled and raised by strangers.
Fast forward to the 1980’s and Alexandra Montiel had several patents to her name, a cosmetic business, and a real estate investment firm in Brooklyn. Through utter force of will she had clawed and scraped her way back from the brink of anonymity to power in her own right. She had branched out to invest in Florida’s real estate market at a time when banks were failing, and real estate was selling for pennies on the dollar. She was fantastically wealthy, had a young stud at her side and a cougar as a pet. Yes, that is how we met; as part of the exotic pet trade.
I wish I remembered more about her, because she was a fascinating individual, but there was a lot going on in my life then, and writing wasn’t a luxury I could afford. We had just rescued 56 bobcats and lynx from a fur farm the year before, and were in the process of rescuing another 28 at the time that Alexandra visited Easy Street. At that time we had not incorporated yet, and were just exploring how we should manage our taxes. There was no money coming in, and a LOT going out, so we were thinking that it would be prudent to incorporate as a non profit organization. The Reverend Montiel suggested that we start the Church of Big Cats.
While the Church of Fat Cats is the pun that first played in my head; where all of the wickedly wealthy would come to absolve themselves of their guilt, I tried to bring myself back to the current situation. We did need to do something, because the IRS was saying this wasn’t a viable business enterprise, and we knew nothing of non profits. I never fully understood why Alexandra thought that a church was a better way to handle a sanctuary. I did learn later that she had founded the Sons of La Caridad Del Cobre in 1986.
In 1994 the Internet wasn’t available to us yet. We were finding it hard to learn the truth about the relevancy of keeping wild animals in cages and conservation. (turns out there was none) We had been told that hybrids were sterile so we were surprised when a Bobcat/ Lynx hybrid named Czar produced a kitten with his Bobcat mate, Nakita.
Alexandra had given me a beautiful gift; a heavy gold bracelet, with 9 coins from Spain, France and England. It was so heavy, and jingled so much, that I rarely wear it, but it was a treasure to me. When this fluffy little treasure was brought into being by Czar and Nakita, I named him Alexander in her honor.
Up until as recently as 2004, Alexandra has continued to donate to the sanctuary, despite the fact that our attitudes toward owning exotic cats as pets has departed from what originally drew us together. I would think about her from time to time, but never tried to make contact again. It would just be awkward, I thought, since she may still harbor the notion that exotic cats should be kept as pets. It wasn’t until Alexander the bobcat’s death, at nearly 21 years of age, that I thought deeply about the source of his name and wondered if Alexandra was still alive.
Our sweet Alexander had begun breathing heavily on the morning of March 11, 2015 and was rushed to the vet by his “sister” Jamie Veronica. Jamie was 14 when Alex was born and grew up with him. Dr. Wynn discovered he had a mass in his throat that was closing off his airways. It had grown so quickly, and his age was so advanced, that we felt euthanasia was the only kind thing to do. Now he could rejoin Windsong, the founding cat of Big Cat Rescue, who had been his cage mate for most of his life.
Tragically my Internet research into the Rev. Alexandra Montiel was just about as heart breaking. In October of 2014 she had accidentally backed over a 79 year old woman in a parking lot in Ft. Myers and killed her. Alexandra’s work truck, a 2008 Ford F-350, had a big box on the back, like you would see on a utility truck. (actual image)
Apparently the visibility was bad and she did not see Wilma Thomas leaving the World Market with her groceries. My heart goes out to both Alexandra and the family of the woman killed.
The undeniable message here is that everything can change in the blink of an eye. Thinking about every sad moment; from Alexandra losing her family and losing her country, to us losing Alexander the bobcat, and the losses suffered from everyone involved in the traffic accident; they all happened in a flicker of time, but leave deep and lasting scars.
Just about every day I am giving a tour, or overhearing a tour, or responding to a reporter and discussing the way that Big Cat Rescue started; which was in buying all of the cats off U.S. fur farms to end that trade. Since I am thinking about cats being killed for their coats almost every day, I forget sometimes that there are people out there who don’t realize the cruelty involved in all fur products, until I hear from someone like Leigh.
She wrote to me recently and said, “In going through many belongings, I came across something I’d almost forgotten about. I have a lynx coat which was a gift that I want to “dispose” of. I do not want to sell the coat or donate it to any organization that would resell it or auction it off to anyone that might wear it (as some people have suggested).
I no longer wear fur, have not for a long time, and am very depressed, disgusted and want to cry any time I look at this coat. I do not want to do anything to promote the wearing of it.
Other than burning it, (or burying as some friends have suggested), I’ve tried to think of some way that it can be put to use as an educational tool. I do not even want to think about how many animals went into the making of this thing.”
I was touched by Leigh’s letter. She had obviously learned a long time ago that there is no humane way to part an animal from his skin. I know that I naively believed that animals were shorn for coats and have heard many, many people tell me they thought their fur coats came from animals who had died from natural causes. I think a lot of people just don’t think about where fur comes from in order to justify wearing it.
Leigh obviously had spent a lot of time thinking about the origins of this coat and how to honor the cats who had died. By donating it to our Education Department we can use it as a teaching tool to explain how such coats are made, how to tell real fur from faux and to contrast how beautiful our lynx are and how ugly a person wearing their fur is to those who have respect for life.
In talking with Leigh we told her that our presentations are limited to cat issues, so if the fur turned out to be made of fox or other animals, then the only use we would have for it would be to cut it up for nesting materials for our rehab bobcats. Her response was as beautiful as she is, “I do not even want to think of how many beautiful lynx died to make nothing more than an embellishment for the human willing to pay for it. I’d rather them become animal bedding than that.”
Who knows how many precious animals may be spared the horrific lives of being farmed for their fur or trapped and killed for the trade because of Leigh’s thoughtfulness?
For years I had mink coats, that had been purchased as gifts for me by my late husband, in the back of my closet. I didn’t know what to do with them either. I wouldn’t think of wearing them, but didn’t want to give them away and have others stimulate the demand for fur by wearing them either.
Part of me; that part that was raised to eat everything on my plate because children were starving in China, was sickened as I took scissors to the coats and made them into cat beds, but by the time I was done, I felt liberated. I believe that if I had been the mink who were turned into those coats, I would be happy to be set free from the awful design that took my life and glad to be back in the circle of life that enables the survival of wildlife.
We only rehab bobcats here, and very few each year, so we have all the coats we can use, but if you have a fur coat in your closet there are a lot of wildlife rehabbers, or even domestic cat foster homes, who can use the fur for bedding. You can get more information on those organizations here: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/fur_fashion/fur_coats_for_cubs.html