Tommie Girl

hear big cats

Female Bobcat
DOB appx 10/1/11 – 12/13/15
Rescued 3/6/12



Tommie the bobcat's rescuer Tommie DeanerOn Mar 5 we got a call from the Florida Wildlife Commission asking if we could help a blind bobcat that had been reported by the Manager of the Cemex Mine.  His name is Tommie and he loves the wildlife that calls his land a sanctuary.  He knew there was something desperately wrong with this little kitten from the first day he saw her, which was about two weeks before.

We made arrangements to drive up to the mine on Mar 6 to set a humane trap because the kitten had not been seen since Feb 27.  Jamie and I drove up with a trap, nets, carrier, and bait for four days and Tommie Deaner agreed to check and set the trap daily.

On the way to Center Hill Tommie texted that the bobcat was in sight and that he had caught some fish for her and was feeding her.  Jamie texted back to stop because traffic had us running a half hour late.  Since there was no way to get a fish away from a starving bobcat, Tommie improvised and got a box out of the trash to trap her in.

When Jamie and I drove up we were waved to the scene by Cemex staff.  When we saw the box we were thrilled at the prospect of NOT having to chase a bobcat all over place. The problem was that the box didn’t have a bottom.

tommie-girl-watchingWe slid a piece of plywood under the box, like you would pick up a spider with a cup and cardboard (per Jamie) and then put the whole thing in the van.  The plan was to shift her from the box to the carrier inside the van, so that if the bobcat escaped, she was at least trapped in the van… with us.  Well, that part wasn’t very appealing, but it was better than the risk of losing her and having her starve to death.

If you have never seen Jamie net a cat; you haven’t seen art in motion.  Quicker than a blink she had her in the net and backed up to the carrier door.  Since she really couldn’t see well enough to put up much of a fight, we got her in the carrier pretty neatly.  She growled for a while, but the belly full of fish and the swaying motion of the van for an hour and a half put her right to sleep.

She was suffering from starvation, blindness and parasites and was so badly debilitated that she will never be a candidate for release.  She has very limited, if any sight, so she will spend the rest of her life at Big Cat Rescue.


Tommie Girl watches Gale and the interns cleaning out Canyon Sandcat’s third section to prepare it for a tunnel, all of the weeds out of Nirvana Ocelot’s enclosure and many more landscaping projects.

On 12/13/15 Tommie Girl was found laying next to her water bowl, completely drenched, as if she had a seizure and had dumped the bowl on herself in the process.  Keepers found her breathing shallowly and staring out into space.  The vet happened to be right next door and rushed in, but she was dead within minutes.  We sent her entire body out for necropsy to two facilities in Georgia, but despite one of them specializing in brain issues, neither could determine her cause of death.  She was one of our youngest residents and we never expected to lose her so soon, even though she had arrived with severe neurological issues.





It is very rare that we get video of Tommie, so this was a real treat!


AdvoCat 2015 12

AdvoCat 2015 12

Happy Holidays from Big Cat Rescue


We have so much to be thankful for; wonderful people like you who help ensure that our big cats stay fed, our AdvoCats all around the world who work for laws to end the abuse of big cats, our Big Cat Rescuers who donate their time to caring for the cats, running the sanctuary and educating our guests, and to live in paradise.  This issue is our gift to you!


Holiday Goody Gifts for YOU!

Big Cat Rescue has teamed up with who is hosting LIVE STREAMING video of the cats. See tigers playing, swimming, sleeping, and eating.  Watch Nikita lioness as she plays and sleeps.  Watch adorable funny kittens playing.

FIRST: Go to to see the live streaming videos and use the “Snapshot” feature there to take your own photos of the lions, tigers, and kittens.

EVERY photo submission gets YOUR NAME placed in a drawing for a free t-shirt.

SECOND: Submit your photos to us before midnight on Christmas Eve.  The T-Shirt Winner will be announced on Christmas Day.  We will pick 30 photos to include in a special edition screensaver that we will give away Christmas Day.  Find out how to submit your photos here, where it says, Win A FREE Big Cat Rescue T-Shirt

Video Updates Since the Last Mews Letter

Bobcat Release Site Needed in Highlands County FL

State law requires that bobcats be released back to the same county where they were picked up for rehab.  Rain and Dancer came from Highlands County, so we need a release site that is in excess of 40 acres (the more land the better) where the owner will give us written permission to release them.  If you have land, or know a land baron, please email and let us know.


Can’t Get Enough of the Big Cats?

Now you can watch them LIVE on  Check out each of the webcams below:

Nikita Lioness

Vacation Rotation

Feeding Station

Kitten Cabana

Windsong Memorial Cat Hospital

Bobcat Rehab

AdvoCats Come in All Sizes

Our AdvoCats come in all ages, from all over the US and the world. Eleven year-old Alexander P. proves that anyone who cares about big cats can make a difference. For the past two years Alexander has supported Big Cat Rescue through our Buy a Brick program by collecting donations rather than gifts for his birthday. This school year, he and his fellow classmate are organizing a school fundraiser to sponsor one of our very own bobcats in honor of their school mascot.


Just this week, Alexander’s family surprised him with an early Christmas gift – a trip from Maryland to our sanctuary in Tampa, FL! During his visit Alexander learned more about the issues of private ownership and about our federal bill, the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Wanting to voice his support for big cats, Alexander plans on visiting the Capital next year to meet with legislators and tell them just how important this bill is to him.  Thank you for all that you do for the cats, Alexander!

Jennifer Leon, MPA Director of Outreach


Windsong Memorial Hospital

Windsong Memorial Hospital

Windsong Memorial Hospital

The Windsong Memorial Hospital was completed in January 2015.  Nikita the tiger was the first to benefit from having a tiger sized X-ray machine on site.

Vet-Nik-Tiger-Last-Day-2015-01-22 19.38.06

The X-ray table can easily handle over 1,000 pounds.  The nearest X-ray machine of this size is nearly 3 hours away.


The Windsong Memorial Cat Hospital is LIVE


State of the art X-ray and software in a lead lined room with lead aprons in fashionable cat prints.


Big Cat Rescue utilizes ZIMS for our animal care records.


Wet table with dental X-ray for any size toothache.

Vet-Joseph-Lion-2015-05-18 11.17.05


The Windsong Memorial Hospital includes an anesthesia machine, heart monitors, overhead surgery lights, a warmer for the patient, blood machines, auto clave, microscopes and more.

Windsong-Hospital-2015-01-27 16.22.16

The floors are easy to clean and yet a no slip surface.  The surgery table has been replaced with a new, hydraulic table.

Vet-Amanda-Tiger-2015-05-29 18.46.49

The second story loft has a plexiglass viewing window and seating for 20 people to watch the surgery without contaminating the surgery suite.

Video of surgery in the new Windsong Memorial Hospital

View from observatory above shows the delicate eye surgery.


The Windsong Memorial Hospital began construction in the Spring of 2014 after the generous donation of an X-ray machine and was completed in January 2015.

Here is a little bit of that history:

Nov. 2014  Steady progress is being made on the new Windsong Memorial Hospital. At this writing the concrete slab has been completed and the shell of the building is complete. The vendor for the X-ray machine has started the production process (they make these one at a time to order).

Windsong HospitalWe explored options for bringing the required 3 phase power to us. Because we are at the end of a long dirt road far from the nearest node of that kind of power, the cost to bring power under the only practical scenario was estimated to be $69,000 by our electric company. In addition it required them to get easements, put in new poles, and then put this into their construction backlog. In short, it would have been hugely expensive and taken months.

With the help of the X-ray manufacturer and our electrical engineering firm we came up with a better solution. Since the X-ray machine is only used intermittently, it can be powered by a generator. Of course, we are not talking about those little units you see in Home Depot. We are talking about a 50kW diesel powered generator that is 8 feet long and weighs a little over one ton! This generator will cost an estimated $25,000 – $30,000 installed. Still very expensive, but less than half the cost of the power line and it can have us up and running MUCH sooner. Currently our engineering firm is completing the electrical drawings that are needed to apply for the electric permit.

So, what is left to do? We need to get the electrical permit, install the wiring and fixtures in the hospital, install the air conditioning and the generator, finish out the inside of the building, get the X-ray machine and install it, and set up the ultrasound system. A lot to do, but we are on the way.

The total cost of the building including the generator is currently estimated to be about $85,000. This week our fundraising received a huge boost from Sarah and Bruce McWilliams, who previously provided the funding for the X-ray machine itself. These passionate advocates for the cats have generously offered an additional $42,500, half the estimated cost of the completed hospital, as a Matching Grant to match all other donations dollar for dollar.

Our sincere thanks to the McWilliams’ for this very generous matching donation and to all of you who help us earn the match!


.WindsongMemorialHospital4 WindsongMemorialHospital3 WindsongMemorialHospital2


Windsong-Hospital-2015-01-27 16.22.26


Little Feather

Little Feather

hear big catsLittle Feather

Female Bobcat

DOB 5/3/93

Rescued 5/8/93


Bobcat_LittleFeatherLittle Feather was five days old when she came to Big Cat Rescue. She had been bred at a game farm that bred bobcats and cougars. Game farms often breed wild animals to be shot as game, or to be exploited in other awful ways.  One of the most common is one that you have probably seen.

If you have ever seen bobcat or lynx mothers with their kittens in a field of flowers, you have probably seen game farm cats.  Photographers will pay a lot for images they can’t get in the wild because no mother bobcat or lynx is going to let you get anywhere near her kittens.

The mothers are drugged, and wired down in place behind the flowers or log so you can’t see that their back legs are tightly secured to the ground.  The kittens are turned loose and they run to their mothers.  As she awakens, surrounded by photographers, she is terrified and gives them the hissing images they know will sell.

The photo session is concluded by the mother being darted again so that she can’t move.  This constant drugging destroys her kidneys and she will die young, but game farmers just consider that the cost of doing business.  Kittens who don’t look just right, or who grow too old are discarded as pets, to hunting ranches and other bad places.

Please, don’t buy books, calendars or other items with wildcat mom and kitten photos and don’t pass them around on social sites, unless you know that they were really taken in the wild or at a sanctuary that doesn’t buy, breed or sell wild animals.

When Little Feather arrived we began bottle feeding her, and she quickly became everyone’s little darling. Her surrogate mother was Breezy, a freebred domestic cat rescued from the streets.

Little Feather was very sickly as a kitten and spent days in a pouch around Carole Baskin’s neck to keep her warm and to monitor her every breath. She never grew to be very big for some unknown reason, and full grown she weighs only 16 pounds.

Little Feather is a very odd looking bobcat, she is stocky and has a fluffy coat like a northern bobcat, but has the dark coat pattern with small spots and her face has little ruff like a southern bobcat. She is likely a cross between the two.

She is now over 20 years old, but still just as cute as a kitten thanks to those huge eyes.

Due to blood clot, Little Feather has been lame in her back leg and has been receiving K-Laser Therapy three times a week thanks to K-Laser Veterinary.  She still limps a little, but the overall improvement has been amazing.  See the video below to show the progression from the time of lameness until her near recovery.

Here are a few pages that show the K-Laser therapy for Little Feather:



Sponsor Little Feather


2014:  Little Feather is a 21 year old bobcat at Big Cat Rescue. She was reported for having a puffy looking chin, which turned out to be some bad teeth. The dental work went fine and she seemed to be well on her way to recovery, so we took her back to her Cat-a-Tat.

When we let her loose, we were horrified to see that she was lame. See how three vets, a number of techs, K-Laser and Big Cat Rescuers all came together to try and give her back the ability to walk.

See how you can help:

More About Little Feather:

* January 2015 video has some footage of Little Feather:

* Wildcat Walkabout Video has footage of Little Feather looking cute – February 24, 2014:

* This page has a short video clips of Little Feather enjoying being scratched:

* Today At Big Cat Rescue for October 2, 2014 – This page has a lot of photos including Little Feather.

* Today At Big Cat Rescue for November 12 – This page has several photos of the cats including photos of Little Feather:

* Now at Big Cat Rescue for July 29, 2014 is a video that has some footage of several cats including Little Feather:

* Now at Big Cat Rescue for June 22, 2014 is a video that has some footage of several cats including Little Feather:

* Today At Big Cat Rescue for September 16th – This page has a lot of photos including Little Feather:

* Today At Big Cat Rescue for October 17, 2014 – This page has several photos of the cats including photos of Little Feather:

* Walk About Video for May 3, 2014 has some footage of several cats as well as Little Feather –  Little Feather turns 21 and gets a doll house.


Big Cat Coalition

Big Cat Coalition


Timeline of the Big Cat Coalition


If it seems rather late to be discussing these coalitions,  it is because we have to be as stealthy as the cats we are protecting, so that those who abuse wild cats cannot thwart our mission.  There are LOTS of exciting things going on behind the scenes right now that we can’t talk about, for that very reason, but now that we have achieved many of our goals, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.

The timeline of the Big Cat Coalition starts with the


Timeline of the International Tiger Coalition

This is being told from the perspective of Carole Baskin, Founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue.


2007  A loose coalition of NGO’s began working together and had achieved some unprecedented goals by 2009 when Big Cat Rescue joined the coalition.  Judy Mills was the facilitator for our monthly and sometimes weekly meetings.   

HelpWanted2009 Big Cat Rescue attended the launch of the World Bank’s involvement in Washington, D.C. which was emceed by Harrison Ford and attended by Bo Derek and Robert Duvall.  The coalition’s initial goal was to stop tiger farming for their parts in China and to increase the wild tiger population to 10,000 animals by the next Year of the Tiger.  Big Cat Rescue joined the International Tiger Coalition to ensure that these groups considered the fact that cub handling in the U.S. was exacerbating the poaching in range states and giving China an excuse to farm tigers for their parts since breeders in America farm them for cub handling exploitation.

2010 Big Cat Rescue sponsored the ITC booth at CITES and sponsored the attendance of the ITC Moderator, Judy Mills at the Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

2010 Big Cat Rescue sponsored the International Tiger Coalition booth in Doha, Qatar thanks to your votes for us in the Chase contest where we won $25,000. Your votes help save tigers!

2011 Big Cat Rescue made introductions to the Rose Church of members of the ITC to form the Big Cat Coalition.

4/4/2011 Rose Church a pro bono attorney for the Ian Somerhalder Foundation contacted Big Cat Rescue asking what Ian could do to help Tony the tiger be saved from the truck stop in Grosse Tete, LA.  Ian Somerhalder is the star of the Vampire Diaries and from Louisiana and had a Twitter following of 2.3 million fans at that time.

We had been working to save Tony since 2009 and so had the Animal Legal Defense Fund and there wasn’t anything more that could be done at the time as these things drag out through years and years of appeals, so Howard Baskin and I suggested that if Ian really wanted to make a difference for big cats that he help us stop cub handling.

Rose couldn’t believe that such abuse actually existed in this country and contacted her law professor, Diane Sullivan, to see what could be done. They thought that bringing together the big non profits who work on big cat issues together for a round table would be a good idea and asked if I knew anyone.  I gave her the contacts we had in the International Tiger Coalition and she managed to get representatives from a number of them to come to a meeting on July 25, 2011.

Attendees were:

ALDF  Stephan Otto from the Animal Legal Defense Fund

BCR  Howard Baskin and Carole Baskin from Big Cat Rescue

BF USA  Adam Roberts and Tracy Coppola from Born Free

GFAS  Patty Finch from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries

HSUS  Debbie Leahy from the Humane Society of the United States

IFAW  Jeff Flocken, Nathan Herschler & Gina Miller from the International Fund for Animal Welfare

ISF  Rose Church from the Ian Somerhalder Foundation

MSL  Dean Diane Sullivan, from Massachusetts School of Law, filmed the Plight of Tigers further down

WCAR  World Council for Animal Rights

WCCLAS  Wild Cat Conservation Legal Aid Society

WWF  Leigh Henry from the World Wildlife Fund

Combined we represent more than 18 million supporters.


8/22/11 After a meeting with the USFWS the Generic Tiger issue was published to the Federal Register for public comment and got over 15,000 comments in support of our request to ban the breeding of non purebred tigers.

The coalition continued to have weekly calls and hundreds of emails to compile the evidence and drafting of our submissions to USDA, USFWS and Congress.

1/26/2012 Met w/ USDA to present all of the evidence that they can and should ban public contact under the Animal Welfare Act.

2/29/2012 Rep. McKeon and Rep. Loretta Sanchez introduced the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act in the House (HR 4122) and Sen. Kerry commits to introducing into the Senate, which he did just prior to the elections.

3/2/2012 Ian Somerhalder tweets it to his fans.

3/28/12  Massachusetts School of Law won a Bronze Telly Award for the Plight of Tigers film.



July 2012  Carole presented this at the Taking Action for Animals conference in Washington, D.C.


One person can be the cat-alyst for change. If you are sitting in this audience, YOU might be the kind of person who has the passion to overcome the impossible in order to help save thousands, or millions of animals. Rose Church is one of those people.

How many of you have heard about Tony the tiger who has been kept at a Louisiana truck stop for the past decade?

How many of you have heard of, or recognize Ian Somerhalder from the Vampire Diaries?

Ian Somerhalder

Rose Church is a pro bono attorney for the Ian Somerhalder foundation and she wanted to get Ian involved in freeing Tony the tiger. Ian has 2,300,000 followers on Twitter and she thought that getting him to Tweet about Tony might help raise awareness about Tony the truck stop tiger. She contacted me to ask what Ian could ask his followers to do.

Even though we get more complaints about Tony than any other single situation and have been working to free him for the past decade, we had exhausted our ability to do anything. We had hired the tiger a lawyer and had shown up with plenty of supporters to testify, but it had become obvious that the state of Louisiana was not going to do anything. USDA has revoked the license to display the tiger, but that rarely seems to stop exhibitors from exhibiting.

The ALDF (Animal Legal Defense Fund) had continued the fight in the only venue left, which was the legal system. Court cases wind their way through the system like a river of molasses so there wasn’t much anyone could do. It seemed like the whole world already knew about Tony, so having Ian Tweet his audience didn’t seem like a terribly productive thing to do. If we had the help of a celebrity we told Rose that he could make a far great impact for thousands of tigers like Tony by educating his fan base about the issue that causes so many tigers and other big cats to end up being bred, exploited and discarded.

The underlying cause for almost all of this suffering is cub petting.

I explained to Rose that it was big business in the U.S. for breeders to charge the public to pet or pose with big cat cubs. One claims to have made $23,000 in a single weekend at a mall, charging people to have interaction with the cubs and / or have their photos made with the cubs. The breeders and dealers were doing these pay to play sessions with older lions and tigers up until the death of a high school student named Haley Hildebrand.

Thanks to pressure from the media and then the public, the USDA issued a FAQ sheet suggesting that cubs under 8 weeks should not be used this way. In a separate appellate court case the judge ruled that cubs over the age of 12 weeks were too dangerous for such interaction. The unintended result was creating a loophole whereby breeders could still charge customers to touch cubs who were between 8-12 weeks old. That resulted in massive breeding in order to have profitable cubs to use. Since their shelf life was only 4 weeks, breeders decided to produce lion and tiger cubs every month so that they would always have “legal” age cubs to use.

Rose could hardly believe her ears. First of all, she had never seen these mall exhibits where tiger breeders set up shop and offer cubs as photo props all day over a four day weekend. Second, she couldn’t believe that USDA hadn’t done something to close that 4 week window they had created.

It can be anything from fixing a broken toy to curing some social ill; have you ever had one of those moments where you see a situation and think to yourself, “I can fix this.” This was Rose’s moment. She said to herself, “I can do something about this!”

Rose figured there at LOTS of animal protection groups out there and if they all worked together they could fix this thing. But, she doubted that anyone would listen to her if she made the suggestion that they do so. She took the information to her professor from Law School, Diane Sullivan because she knew that Dean Sullivan had her own animal law television show and a lot of clout in the animal protection community. She figured that if Dean Sullivan were to ask the big animals groups to come together that it might actually happen.

Rose asked me who the big players are that care about tigers. That was an easy question because I had been part of a team of more than 40 such organizations who worked together as the International Tiger Coalition. The ITC had been formed primarily to end the tiger farming in China, but time and again the hurdle was that China would resist our suggestions by pointing out the fact that the U.S. doesn’t even know how many tigers we have nor where they are nor how they are being housed. I gave her the names and contact info for the people who I felt had been most involved in the ITC and who could work well together.

Rose contacted IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and went over the list to get further input on who would be willing to work together on the tiger issue. The result was a round table meeting in D.C. at IFAW in July 2011. At the table were the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States, Born Free, the World Wildlife Fund, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Wild Cat Conservation Legal Aid Society, World Council for Animal Rights, the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, Ian Somerhalder Foundation, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and Big Cat Rescue. Combined we represent more than 18 million supporters.

I’ve been a part of other animal welfare coalitions but this group has worked better together than anything I’ve ever seen before. The meeting was hugely successful and we got to the root of the tiger problem: cub petting. In your conference bags you will find a four page summary of the Tiger Handling Crisis. There is another page of citations used for the document that we are providing online at

What the group concluded was that we can’t save wild tigers as long as there is such unregulated trade in captive tigers who provide a legal smoke screen for illegal activities such as poaching. China has made the argument that they should be allowed to farm tigers for their parts to fill the demand, but there will always be a demand for the “real” tiger; the “wild” tiger and expanding the market through farming tigers will only result in them being exterminated more quickly in the wild.

Right now there are more tigers in back yard cages in America than are left in the wild. It is thought that there are less than 3200 tigers left in the wild and at last count, by USDA, there were about 5000 tigers in USDA facilities. Only about 200 of those are AZA zoos, so the rest are in roadside zoos, circus acts, and back yards; and that is just the ones who voluntarily reported and who hold USDA licenses. For those who are not licensed by USDA, the people who own them as pets, there has been no census done.

As the group looked at the situation in the U.S., it became apparent that the number one cause for so many tigers to end up in deplorable conditions was the very lucrative cub petting industry. Two factors made this abuse possible.

Back in the 1980s white tigers became all the rage. White tigers would sell for $60,000 because the public was so enamored with seeing this freak of nature. What the zoos kept quiet was the fact that the only way to create that white coat was through purposely inbreeding, father to daughter, mother to son and brother to sister. Over time the cubs became more and more genetically impaired, suffering from club feet, open spines, crossed eyes and badly formed bones and teeth. Before long the Bengal tigers were so inbred that they were no longer reproducing or cubs were being born dead. But the public demanded to see white tigers, so the zoos started hybridizing Bengal tigers and Siberian tigers to continue the inbreeding a few generations more.

So many zoos and backyard breeders were cross breeding tigers that the USFWS decided it wasn’t worth their time to process the captive bred wildlife permits that are required for endangered species, so they created the “generic” tiger loophole. What this did was allowed zoos and private owners to breed non purebred tigers with no oversight and the tiger population exploded in the U.S.

The other factor that made it so easy for tigers to be bred and used as photo and petting props was that even though USDA had inadvertently created a four week window, between 8 and 12 weeks when cubs could be petted by the public, they had no way to enforce it because they do not require any sort of registration of tigers and rely almost entirely on what the tiger owner tells them as to the age of the cub or why the cub was taken from their mother. The same person who claims to make over $20,000 in a good weekend at the mall had 23 tiger cubs die over the span of just a little over a year, but to date the USDA has done nothing about it.

So, the coalition decided on a three prong approach to ending the abuse of tigers:

Close the generic tiger loophole at the USFWS

Ask USDA to close the 4 week window of cub petting

A federal bill that ends the breeding and trade in big cats outside of AZA zoos

Only a year has passed since one person arranged for a bunch of animal protection groups to work on this and we have good news so far:

The USFWS has put the suggestion of closing the generic tiger exemption out on the Federal Register for public comment and more than 14,000 commented in favor of doing so. The rule hasn’t been made final, but the government moves slowly.

We met with USDA, presented the Cub Handling Crises flier you have, along with the citations and the concurrence of 20 zoo vets who agree that cub petting should be banned. Unfortunately, the USDA has taken the position that they do not have the power to close the window. They made it; they should be able to close it, but they are unwilling, so we are still working on that one. For the most part their attitude seems to be that they don’t think it is a big enough problem because they don’t hear about it much. With your help we can fix that!

In March of 2013 our federal bill HR 4122 was introduced. It is gaining momentum and we currently have 30+ cosponsors. Senator Kerry’s office is working on a companion bill and we will be shepherding these federal bills through Congress by reaching out to our 18 million supporters and asking them to personally call or visit their Congress men and women to support this bill. These things usually take several years to gain the momentum necessary to be heard before the entire House and Senate, but the good news is that when they are heard, the support is almost universal.

The coalition continues to meet every couple of weeks by phone to update each other on our progress. We visited with Rose in Boston a few weeks ago and she tells us that Ian Somerhalder has met with President Obama. We are hoping that Ian might be able to persuade the President to direct USDA to make it a priority to protect big cat cubs by closing the cub petting window.

In summary I’d like to point out that one person can make a difference. Whether you are a young woman who is donating time to a non profit, like Rose, who gets huge organizations to all work as one, or you are a teen idol like Ian, who can manage an audience with the President of the United States, you can be the voice for the voiceless.


Back to the Big Cat Coalition Timeline


9/2/2012  By this time we had garnered more than 400 phone calls from our visitors to their members of Congress in our gift shop at Big Cat Rescue.

Sign Re Big Cat Ban

9/17/2012 Senator John Kerry introduced S.3547, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.

9/20/2012  Presented a unified front to a Congressional Briefing

Big Cat Coalition-Congressional-Briefing

12/31/2012 Due to a lack of action by the House and Senate, largely to do with the election and then the “fiscal cliff,” the Big Cats & Public Safety Act died.

5/15/2013 Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon & Rep. Loretta Sanchez re-introduced the Big Cats and Public Safety Act as HR 1998.

7/29/13 Sen. Richard Blumenthal re-introduced the Big Cats and Public Safety Act as S 1381.

8/5/2013 The USDA posted a request for public comment on our petition to ban cub handling for 30 days.

11/17/2013  IFAW and Big Cat Rescue arranged for a Fly In of 17 of Big Cat Rescue’s most ardent supporters who were in key Congressional districts.


11/18/2013 The above comment period had been extended due to the AZA wishing to exempt their cheetah petting fundraisers, but closed today with over  15,000 responses and over 100,000 responses if you include those submitted via coalition partner’s supporters.

2/10/14  Big Cat Rescue hired a Republican lobbyist to assure Republicans that this is a bipartisan bill where everyone can agree that big cats don’t belong in backyards and basements.

6/26/14  Big Cat Rescue was the Diamond Sponsor at Taking Action for Animals in Washington, D.C. and brought the bill to the attention of 1,200 attendees through our booth, two one hour presentations, 3 workshop panels and a presentation at the plenary.

7/1/2014 Now that Congress is back in session we will continue to build the cosponsors for our bills.  We currently have 108 cosponsors in the House and 5 cosponsors in the Senate.  Want to help?  Call your lawmaker or send an email here:

1/6/2015 Judith A. Mills releases her expose on the tiger trade called Blood of the Tiger.  It connects the thousands of tigers being bred and killed for their parts in China to the U.S.’s own failure to regulate the captive trade in tigers, and how this is exterminating tigers in the wild.

2/5/2015  Our bills died without being heard last year, but the House version had 119 cosponsors and the Senate version had 6 and did have a sub-committee meeting that went very well.  In fact, the only negative statement made during the meeting was that the Senators thought we should be banning more and restricting more with our language.  We are currently looking to re-introduce the bill and will keep you posted.

7/7/2015  We expect the bill to be reintroduced any day now. Aids keep telling us they will be introducing the bill soon.

9/17/2015 HR 3546 was re-Introduced in the House.  A senate version is ready and the sponsor has committed.  A congressional briefing has been scheduled.

2/11/2016 SB 2541 was introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Blumenthal.  Congress moves VERY slowly.

2/11/2016 Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders and Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote a formal letter to USDA asking that they take action to protect big cats and their cubs. Bernie Sanders Richard Blumental USDA 

4/3/2016 USDA cracks down on abuse of cubs under the age of four weeks.  In response to a 2012 legal petition filed by The Humane Society of the United States, World Wildlife Fund, Detroit Zoological Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free USA, Big Cat Rescue, Fund for Animals and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidance making clear that exhibitors violate the Animal Welfare Act by allowing members of the public to handle or feed infant exotic cats like tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars or leopards.  Read more.

4/5/2016 USFWS announced that they are rescinding the generic tiger loophole. Big Cat Rescue has been pressuring the USFWS since at least 2007 to rescind this loophole and on 8/22/11 after a meeting with the USFWS the Generic Tiger issue was published to the Federal Register for public comment and got over 15,000 comments in support of our request to ban the breeding of non purebred tigers.  Read more.



hear big catsAlex

Male Tiger

DOB 1/1/96

Arrived 12/19/08

Alex el Tigre

Alex is an energetic and playful tiger who greets everyone with a hearty chuff. He loves lounging in his swimming pool and gets really excited about enrichment. Enrichment includes special food treats like turkeys or bones that they do not get every day, paper mache animals with treats inside, interesting scents from perfumes and spices. Providing these types of enrichment to the cats makes their lives in captivity more tolerable. In the wild a tiger like Alex would roam several miles a day, so being confined to a 2,000 square foot enclosure can be quite boring. His keepers are diligent in providing not only Alex, but all of the cats enrichment each day.

In 1996, the year Alex the tiger was born, a big cat collector by the name of Catherine Twiss, who was convicted on 73 counts of cruelty, ended up with her 86 lions, tigers and bears selling at bankruptcy auction. Twiss had changed names and had fled from Indiana, to Arkansas, to Texas and finally to Mississippi. In each case Twiss would partner with some local who wanted a zoo or collection, but she would soon be thrown out for the wretched conditions in which she kept the animals. For example, an adult cougar was confined to a feces filled oil drum with barely enough room to turn around. (USDA standards only require the cage be big enough for the animal to stand up and turn around)

As cubs continued to be born for fundraising purposes, like the photo ops mentioned above, the adults were crammed into tighter and tighter quarters. Lions and tigers were kept in small, urine soaked muddy cages with putrid buckets of drinking water. Many of her cats bore facial scars from fighting for their lives in these unnatural groupings of animals that are hard wired to be solitary.

The Twiss cats were dispersed to animal facilities, including Cougar Haven in Mississippi.  Fast forward to 2008 and Cougar Haven’s owner took the last of the funds in the bank, bought a topless bar and left a dozen lions, tigers and ligers behind to die.  By the time Big Cat Rescue heard about it, only three big cats were still alive and we rescued all of them.  Alex is one of those abandoned tigers.



Tribute to Alex Tiger

What was I going to do now?  The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources had told me they were going to seize Tony the tiger from the Tiger Truck Stop because the cat was held there illegally.  I had flown out to Baton Rouge, and driven up to Grosse Tete to assess what our rescue team would need in the way of vehicle, transport and capture tools.  It was 2009 and it had been illegal to keep a tiger in Iberville Parish since 1993, but the state had just passed a ban in 2008 and was now beginning to enforce it against those who had not willingly complied.  Michael Sandlin, who had family ties in government, was quickly able to thwart the rescue attempt by obtaining an injunction.  I didn’t know at the time that it would mean years of litigation against the owner of the truck stop, or that we would hire the first attorney to ever represent a tiger in court, (David Nance) but I did know that it meant I was done in Louisiana for the moment.

I had intended to ride back to Tampa with our rescue team, who was on standby, just waiting for my call.  Now I was in this backwater town without a ticket home.  As I was deciding what to do next, I got an email from Doll Stanley from In Defense of Animals.  She was begging for help for the last three surviving big cats at Cougar Ridge, in Mississippi.  Turns out the owner had left town with the last of the sanctuary’s funds to open a topless bar.  The power had been turned off and the cats only got water or food when she could make the long trip.  Of the 12 cats left behind to die, only three remained alive, Freckles the liger and 2 tigers named Cookie and Alex.

I know how slowly our courts work, so I figured it would be a while before Louisiana would be able to overturn the injunction on Tony the tiger, so I told Doll I’d drive over that day.  By the time I got there, it was getting dark.  I thought I must have the wrong address, because I was driving along a dirt ridge, that was in a densely populated neighborhood.  When I came to the address, it was obvious that the house had been left unattended for a long time.  There was a six foot, wooden fence around the property, which looked to be about a half acre.

I opened the gate, and thought instantly that maybe I shouldn’t have.  I had no idea what lay on the other side of the fence.  I only had the expectation that there would be some very hungry 500 pound carnivores somewhere inside.  At that instant there was a loud bang to my left.  I jumped out of my skin, and strained against the darkening sky to see what it was.  Cookie Tiger had leapt against the chain link wall of her cage and had her paws over the top of her fence.  It was clear that with just the slightest effort she could scale the fence, so I backed out quickly and latched the gate.  I called the rescue team at Big Cat Rescue and told them we needed to find a larger transport trailer than what we owned, three rolling wagons, and sedation equipment because this was going to be a difficult mission.

I called around and located a transport trailer, the semi to haul it and a crew of two who would join our crew of four.  I went into town, found something to eat, and slept fitfully, as I knew the next day would be perilous.  From the short cage walls, to the hungry big cats, to the fact that there was a long, 45 degree angle slope down to where some of the cages were.  The slope was pure mud and I had no idea how we would manage to roll the cats and heavy wagons up to the dirt road where the trailer and tractor would have to park.  I kept replaying the glance I got of the scene, before Cookie backed me out of the yard, to try and recall every detail.

As daylight broke and we all converged on the scene, Doll Stanley told us that Cookie Tiger wouldn’t come over the fence; although she admitted that the tiger had done so before when a school group had visited.  Not exactly comforting.

We had the tranquilization and shot guns prepped and ready as we entered the fenced arena to ascertain which cages were empty and which ones still contained live cats.  Cookie would not be ignored, and neither would Alex.  The former owner had encouraged the cats to leap against the fence, apparently to impress guests, so they were leaping and shaking the rickety walls, but after the initial shock wore off, I could tell the tigers were just playing.  They were so happy that help had come and it felt good to know that these cats would never suffer again.

Cookie had bounded into the first transport wagon.  We pushed, pulled and slid in the mud trying to get her to the top of the hill.  We would move up 10 feet, and slide backwards 5, but eventually got her to the top of the ridge and into the trailer.

Freckles Liger was not a happy cat and she wasn’t playing.  Her owner had shown up to help load the cats, and much to our horror had gone in the cage with the liger and shoved her into the transport, when she was cautiously checking it out.  Not ready to have a big cat kill someone on our watch, we asked him to not go in Alex’s cage.  Turns out he wouldn’t have any way, as Alex was much younger and friskier, and had been taught the bad habit of trying to jump anyone who came near.

Alex was also the smartest of the three, and he was not going into a small box.  He had just watched the last of his two yard mates be trapped and skidded up the muddy incline and out of view.  He knew things were bad where he was, but feared they would be worse beyond the fence.  Night was falling by the time we finally gave in and darted him.

When we travel to other states we have to make arrangements with vets who are licensed in those states because, our vets cannot practice medicine in a foreign state, and cannot bring in the sedation drugs that are controlled by the DEA.  Usually the facility we are dealing with has burned every vet in a six county radius so finding a vet who has any big cat experience, and who will come spend a day at a dangerous capture site, and who will order the right drugs, in the right strengths and quantities, is a very hard person to find.  We had found one, but he didn’t have enough drugs and had to go round up more.  It was stressful day, culminating in a long road trip back from Mississippi to Tampa, Florida.

I’ll never forget Cottondale Florida because that’s where the borrowed semi broke down.  Being stranded anywhere is a pain, but being stranded in no-where-ville, with two tigers and a liger, who are just sick of traveling, is the kind of thing that makes you rethink your vocation.  As the big cats voiced their frustration with sitting still, in the parking lot of the cheap motel, I had to keep telling those who passed by that there was nothing to see.  The last thing we needed was for this to become a three ring circus.

Naturally, the parts needed to repair the old truck were not to be found in Cottondale and we were told it would be days.  I began the search for a substitute rig to bring us the rest of the way home.  My mother really was right when she said, “You can fix anything, if you throw enough money at it.”  Half a day later we were enroute again, but it was dark when we rolled through the big iron gates at Big Cat Rescue.  We decided to leave the cats in the trailer until dawn rather than try to deal with them in the dark.  It was cool out, so we fed and watered them again before grabbing a few hours of sleep.

Last on, first off is how it goes in a big rig full of cats, so Alex was first.  His roar as we opened the door just about sent us scrambling.  He was full on TIGER and the only thing still cute about him was his face.  Alex’s stripes and big eyes were a mask of what looked to be perpetual surprise and delight.  You couldn’t help but smile when you looked at him, because he looked happy, even when he wasn’t.  The fog was thick that morning as we rolled him off the trailer and out to his new home.

By the next day Alex was over it and was happy with the endless supply of food and adoration.  He loved the pool and spent a lot of time in it.  He was 12 years old and a youngster compared to most of our cats.  Everyone loved him.  They loved his antics, his exuberance over enrichment, and how he delighted in operant conditioning.  The first thing we had to teach him was to NOT leap up at the fence at people, but channeled that into standing up for a treat on a stick.  For the next 7 years Alex would bask in the warmth of our love and we were blessed to have him.

Even after losing both Freckles and Cookie, guests still learned their story because Alex was a favorite on the tours.  His story, and theirs, was told and retold to the tens of thousands of visitors who met him over those seven years.  In 2015 Alex Tiger was 19 and was starting to chew as if his mouth hurt.  We had a dental specialist join our own vets to remove several rotting teeth in October.  Diagnostics showed his kidneys to be failing and a shadow of something around his heart.  Without a sonogram machine, we couldn’t aspirate the mass, without the fear of hitting his heart.  We decided to fix what we could and see how he did.

The same day we did the same thing for TJ Tiger.  Immediately after the dental surgery TJ was back to his happy, crazy self; chasing golf carts and hamming it up for anyone who would talk to him.  Alex was healing more slowly, but seemed to be coming around.  About a month after the surgery, Alex started declining rapidly and stopped eating for two days.  We had seen drainage from his chin, so we wanted to be sure that there wasn’t anything we could clean up or fix up that might get him back on the road to recovery.

Nov 16, 2015 we sedated him again, and check the drainage and his mouth.  All of that was healing nicely.  There were a few small teeth that we had to skip the first time, due to the time constraints for having him under anesthesia.  Those were removed, diagnostics were run again, he was given copious amounts of fluids and he was quickly returned to the transport to wake up.  Except that he didn’t…not fully anyway.

Thus began a 48 hour vigil of trying to get him to at least sit up or roll over.

Going back a little…On Oct. 19, 2015 Alex Tiger had three bad canines removed. Because of significant periodontal disease they had to be extracted instead of a root canal.  TJ Tiger had root canals done the same day.  Dr. Wade Gingerich and technicians, Jennifer Dupre-Welsh and Denise Rollings, of the Pet Dental Center joined our own vets, Dr. Liz Wynn and Dr. Justin Boorstein to do the surgeries back to back.  TJ recovered, and rebounded immediately and now has new spring in his step. Alex began to recover, but then seemed to relapse this past week. He stopped eating, so we knew we had to do something.

On Nov. 16, 2015 Dr. Wynn and Dr. Boorstein examined him again.  The sites where his teeth were removed was mostly healed. They were flushed out and sutured closed. The draining tract in his chin was also cleaned up and sutured mostly closed leaving a small hole for drainage.  His blood work was rechecked and his kidney values have increased significantly which could be the cause of him not being interested in food.  His meds were changed and we rolled him back out to his enclosure at about 10PM.

The next day Big Cat Rescuers spent all day trying to wake him up.  He was still in the transport because he couldn’t stand up yet.  He was virtually non responsive and we feared the worst.  At least we knew that we had done everything for him, that we possibly could have done for a 19 year old tiger.  If we had to euthanize him now, it would be with a clear conscience that there was nothing more we could do.  And then a miracle happened…

As I was walking out to check on him, one more time at the close of day, I thought to myself that at least his nearby companions had something to sing about.  In a duet, that I’ve never heard before, Amanda Tiger and Joseph Lion, who live near Alex, were roaring back and forth.  It was haunting and yet exhilarating to hear the power in their calls.  My heart was so heavy over Alex, but their song was comforting.  Amanda was in the cage closest to Alex and when I arrived she saw me and stopped her song.  I looked to Alex and saw him struggle to upright himself, for the first time since being sedated the day before.  It was as if he had been enjoying the melody and wanted to see why it had stopped.

Overjoyed I ran to him to help rock him into a sternal (upright) position.  I texted the photo of him sitting up to our vet team who were equally elated. They gave him more fluids, to help flush out his kidneys.

Alex Tiger Wakes Up_0255

Despite the encouragement we felt from Amanda calling Alex to sit up with his front legs, he wasn’t using his back legs at all and it was starting to rain, so we rolled him back to the Windsong Cat Hospital where we could bring him in under the canopy.  The next morning he ate about 20% of a meal, had some water, but then began failing.  We thought that maybe rolling him back out to his enclosure would encourage him to stand, but it didn’t.

We used a ratcheting strap, passed under his waist, and pulled him up so that his back feet could be positioned under him, but the toes just knuckled backwards.  He had no strength to stand, even with us supporting all of his weight.  Despite all that we were doing to move his legs and paws into position, he seemed pretty much unresponsive.  We drove him back to the hospital and asked Dr. Justin Boorstein to come see Alex.  By then the lab work we had sent out had returned and it showed Alex’s kidneys to be in the final stage of failure.

Jamie and I agonized over the decision for hours before Dr. Justin arrived.  We had been so happy about his progress and just couldn’t believe he could be taking such a turn for the worse.  As we discussed it with the vets, it appears that the fluids we gave him, made him feel better temporarily, but there was no way Alex was going to let us give him sub q fluids every day and even if he did, we were only prolonging the inevitable.  Nothing we could do was going to make him better and none of us wanted to see him suffer.

We made the hard decision to help him pass over to the other side.  It seemed like he was stranded between two worlds for a couple of days now, and he seemed ready…even if we were not.  We did a necropsy afterwards, which showed the kidneys to be in very bad shape.  The mass by the heart was the size of a tangerine and was removed and sent off for testing.  There was a blackish red pus in the huge arteries that supplied the mass that will be tested as well.  In retrospect we know we did the right thing, but it’s always a hard decision to make.

Now Alex is with Cookie, and Freckles, and all of the others like him who were bred to be used as profitable cubs, and then relegated into back yard cages.  We will make sure that his story never dies and will work diligently to stop the abuse.  Please honor Alex by contacting your member of congress and ask them to champion the Big Cat Public Safety Act.  That’s HR 3546 in the House and the Senate version will be introduced soon.

Big Cat Bailout

Alex the tiger sleeps through his moveOur federal government allows the private sector to trade in big cats, but when times get tough and the owners can’t feed the cats, who eat 15 lb of meat a day, it isn’t the government bailing them out. When you hear the term, “too big to fail” they aren’t talking about 500 lb cats and too many of them, but maybe they should be. All over America there are back yard cages, full of starving lions, tigers and leopards.

How did they get there?

Little to no oversight allows just about anyone to breed and discard big cats. They are only profitable as cubs when they are used for photo ops, petting sessions and stupid pet tricks. Places that advertise you can have your picture made with a lion or tiger will help you feel good about something you know is wrong by telling you that you are helping save the tigers by doing so.

Where do the big cats go?

Once they are a few months old they are too hard to handle and are discarded to unwitting pet owners, shot in canned hunts, cut up for their parts or relegated to tiny back yard, or “off exhibit” cages. Because of the lack of oversight and no requirement to report the death or disposal of these endangered species, they quietly disappear.

A few lucky ones end up at Big Cat Rescue. In December 2008 when the airwaves were all a-chatter about the government bailouts, Big Cat Rescue was bailing out a failed sanctuary formerly known as Cougar Haven. Driving away from the abandoned house, with its row upon row of now empty cages, ended a chapter in the 12 year history of David Mallory’s dream to be a big cat rescuer. Once lauded as a hero and now disgraced as a quitter, Mallory’s story is repeated frequently across the nation. It happens so often; that it barely makes the news any more and that alone is noteworthy.

In 1996 a big cat collector by the name of Catherine Gordon Twiss, who was convicted on 73 counts of cruelty, ended up with her 86 lions, tigers and bears selling at bankruptcy auction. Twiss had changed names and had fled from Indiana, to Arkansas, to Texas and finally to Mississippi. In each case Twiss would partner with some local who wanted a zoo or collection, but she would soon be thrown out for the wretched conditions in which she kept the animals. For example, an adult cougar was confined to a feces filled oil drum with barely enough room to turn around. (USDA standards only require the cage be big enough for the animal to stand up and turn around) As cubs continued to be born for fundraising purposes, like the photo ops mentioned above, the adults were crammed into tighter and tighter quarters. Lions and tigers were kept in small, urine soaked muddy cages with putrid buckets of drinking water. Many of her cats bore facial scars from fighting for their lives in these unnatural groupings of animals that are hard wired to be solitary. In Defense of Animals tried to help rescue some of the cats and, with the help of Mallory and a generous benefactor named Dr. Jim Cook, set up Cougar Haven in the backyard of a house at 39 Dobbs Road in Gore Springs, MS.

Scott meets Alex the tiger who can nearly reach the top of his cageAt its peak Cougar Haven was home to 38 big cats but there was never much local support for the sanctuary. It was seen as an eccentric’s private collection as a tunnel was built through the house so that guests could sit in the living room and watch cougars pace through. The open topped chain link cages were less than 8 feet high and as you can see in the photo, the cats could nearly reach the top. The owner reported that there had been escapes and people had been chased by loose tigers. Mallory was in the lumber business and things were good during the housing boom, but when that came to a screeching halt in 2007 conditions for the cats began to worsen. When the benefactor Dr. Cook died, his wife Rhonda cut off all income to the rescue and things really got bad.

The food was cut to just the cheapest chicken cuts and just often enough to keep them alive. The vet could no longer be employed. Cats began to die. By 2008 there were only 14 cats left and they were dying fast. One cougar bled for 12 days with no medical attention before suffering a cruel death. Mallory bought a topless bar 70 miles away and moved to be near it, leaving the remaining dozen big cats unsupervised most of the time. With no locks on the perimeter fence, neighborhood children could walk right in and stick their arms into the cages of lions and tigers. He quit paying Rita Montgomery, the cats’ caretaker, in May but she loved the cats too much to just walk away and leave them to die. Sometimes Mallory would send food, but when he didn’t, Montgomery did her best to scavenge what she could for the cats.

Rita called Doll Stanley who put out a desperate plea to Vernon Weir of the American Sanctuary Association in search of someone who could rescue these remaining cats. (The Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries had ignored the call for help.) ASA member Tammy Quist, contacted Lynn Cuny of the Association of Sanctuaries (now called the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) and Lynn rescued the two lions in October of 2008. By the time Big Cat Rescue heard about the situation all but three of the remaining cats had died. Nine had passed away in just the past year. The last cats to remain were Freckles a 15 year old liger, Cookie a 14 year old tigress and Alex a 12 year old tiger. Freckles had a hole in her jaw that had gone untreated for a long time. It is not known if this is an abscess or cancer. All of her canine teeth were broken off from chewing at the chain link of her enclosure. Now, at Big Cat Rescue, she is finally getting the vet care she had been denied. They may not have much time left, but their last days will be their best days ever.



The Rescue

Big Cat Rescuers drove all night, through a fog as thick as pea soup, and arrived at Cougar Haven the morning of Dec. 18th. Scott Lope, Cathy Neumann, Chris Poole and Carole Baskin met up with Don & Rita Montgomery to assess the layout and prepare for the move. The cats’ vet, Dr. Abernathy, donated his services to issue the health certificates and to bring the tranquilization drugs in case the cats could not be coaxed into the transport cages. The transport team, Mike and Jamie, drove the Humane Train owned by Animal Sanctuary of the United States and arrived around 4 PM. Doll Stanley and Eric Phelps from In Defense of Animals came to see the cats off to their new home. Doll provided these photos and commiserated that, “People think that when they call a rescue group we can somehow just wave a magic wand and fix the problem.”

Door jams and Alex the tiger escapes the transportWith only an hour to work before dark the team quickly secured the transport to the first gate and tried to coax Alex in with a piece of meat. He was hungry and within minutes had leaped into the cage to grab the meat, but when he spun to leave he leaped up and hit his head on the top of the wagon. Between hitting his head and the noise of trying to shut the transport door, which had jammed, Alex freaked out and ran from the cage. We would try again later, but you only get one chance to trap a cat. They learn quick and starving or not, they don’t want to be confined to a small area.

We moved the transport over to the front door housing Freckles the liger. The flimsy dog kennel styled door on her cage was barely containing her as mudslides had washed away a hole at the bottom large enough for her to stick her head under to try and bite the feet of anyone walking by. She had just watched Alex and was wary of the situation, but in true cat style seemed to believe she too could grab the meat and get out of there. To paraphrase Ginger Rogers, Freckles implied “If Alex can do it, I can do it backwards and in heels.” Unseen to Big Cat Rescuers, David Mallory entered Freckles cage from the rear and as she was considering her big move, he nudged her forward and we shut the door. We know that entering a cage with a big cat is just an accident waiting to happen. People get away with it for years and then one day they get killed. We were horrified by Mallory’s reckless action but this was his yard and his rules.

We turned our attention in the waning light to secure Cookie the tigress. The transport had been rolled almost into place when Mallory opened the door of her cage and body blocked the charging tigress. I nearly dropped the camera as Mallory was now the only thing between an adult tiger and all of us. He moved aside and then pushed Cookie the last few inches into the transport. You can believe that door was shut quickly as it was now the only thing separating Cookie from the 12 human course dinner that she could have had. We stood there in stunned silence, shocked at the stupidity and thankful that the cat had not chosen to take advantage of it. By the time her transport was rolled up the hill to stand in line next to Freckles it was nearly dark and we still had to load Alex.

Freckles the liger is loadedSeveral fruitless attempts were made to coax Alex into the wagon. We knew that there was very little chance of succeeding, but we had to try. Cats often respond very badly to sedation. It can kill them and it builds up in their system, taxing their kidneys, and is a big contributor to why zoo cats often only live half as long as our cats do. Most of our medical care can be done using operant conditioning, where the cat will let us draw blood or give shots while getting treats. This takes a lot more time and patience, but pays off in longer, healthier lives.

Another distressing factor was that the cages were deep with mud and pools of bone chillingly cold water. If Alex dropped in the water he could drown before we could get to him. There was a section of the cage in the back that was drier than the rest, so Alex was solicited into this area and then sedated. The challenge to this smaller area was that we could not get the transport anywhere near the door and if the door was opened and Alex wasn’t completely asleep he would be in immediate contact with all of us. Unlike the shows you watch on TV it takes about 20 minutes for a big cat to pass out and they frequently come to rather unexpectedly. In this half dazed state they are even more dangerous because they lash out even when it is their nature to be easy going.

Shaking in the cold, the flash lights were the only illumination. We couldn’t see our own hands in front of our faces. Scenes flashed through my head of headlines that read, “Dozen Die in Big Cat Killing Spree” or “Tiger Flees Rescue and Attacks Kids at Bus Stop.” I kept trying to picture all three living their new life at Big Cat Rescue, but the scary headlines kept whizzing through as well. Then, as now, I am angry that there is even an opportunity for such awful consequences. If our government would take responsibility, as the U.K. has done, and ban the private possession of big cats, we wouldn’t be risking our lives and others while bailing out failed facilities.

Once we were certain that Alex was sleeping we loaded him onto a human stretcher and carried him around the back and side of the enclosures to the front yard where we slid him into the transport wagon. When we first arrived we thought that rolling the transports up the slimy slope to the road where the Humane Train was parked would be the hard part. After what we had just gone through that was the easy part.

The cages were all rolled up into the modified car carrier and plywood was placed between them for privacy. Before hitting the road we had to wait for Alex to wake up enough to know that he wasn’t going to die from the drugs. The vet forgot to bring the reversal agent and it was 2 hours before he was able to return to his clinic and back. We cannot legally transport these drugs across state lines so we are dependant upon local vets to help. The reversal worked and Alex was awake enough to travel by 9PM. Not only was he awake, but he was mad. Really mad. The madder he got, the more he scared Cookie and Freckles with the sound of his roars of displeasure. It was so sad to see big cats experiencing fear. These animals are at the top of the food chain and should never have to experience a single day of human induced fear.

Seeing us off, Rita said, “I will miss them, but I am so happy they will finally go someplace where they will get the care they need!” A truck pulled up along side us as we were closing the doors and said that he would miss their morning roars but that his wife, who had spent days in the hospital after being bitten by one of the cats, probably wasn’t going to miss them. We report on big cat attacks that make the news, but there is no way to know how many such maulings go unreported in the press.

Transport truck breaks down at 4 AMThe crew decided to forego sleep and drive straight through the night back to Big Cat Rescue. Mike and Jamie drove the Humane Train carrying the cats and Big Cat Rescuers followed in two cars. We made good time until we pulled off for gas in Cottendale, FL (near Marianna) where the Humane Train broke down. Prepared for the worse, Jamie and Mike hired a wrecker, at four in the morning, to tow the trailer to a motel where the generators kept the cats comfortable. They had the truck towed to the nearest Ford dealer. Knowing that the dealer wouldn’t even be open until much later in the morning we opted to get a little shuteye so we could hit the road as soon as the truck was repaired.

Coaxing the mechanics off their butts turned out to be harder than coaxing the three big cats into boxes. It was their last day of work before Christmas. By noon we gave up and began looking for a truck that could pull a 40 foot goose neck trailer. In a town that only has 881 residents, there aren’t a lot of options. We were pulling away from our last chance, a gas station that had a couple of unventilated box trucks to rent, when we were chased down by the owner with an afterthought. Turned out the proprietor had just remembered the name of a man in nearby Marianna who hauled horses that might be able to help. We had called horse haulers from Tampa to Gainesville and one of our Green level Keepers, Susan Mitchell was already enroute from Tampa, but that would add seven hours to the cats’ time on the road, so we looked up Greg Scott and plead for help.

Much to our amazement Mr. Scott was on the scene within an hour and we quickly hooked up the trailer and were back on the road. By the time we reached Tampa it was dark again. It just wasn’t worth the risk to life and limb to try and unload the cats in the dark given that our entire crew had been awake for two days straight with only the cat nap in Cottendale. We all got some sleep so that we would be fresh for the move from trailer to Cat-a-tats at the first light of dawn. Scott slept on a picnic bench in the parking lot so that he could listen for any trouble in the trailer. I guess after being kept in a box in the middle of a wild pride of lions, in Lion Feeding Frenzy on Discovery channel, Scott is sensitive to what it is like to feel trapped and surrounded by unknown wild animals.

The unloading went about the same as the loading, but without the crazy aspect of someone risking everyone’s lives by coming into contact with a big cat. Dr. Wynn, our vet, and Jarrod took off from work to come out early and help us unload. Freckles, the liger, was first off and couldn’t wait to step out into her big new enclosure. She settled down behind a log to watch her friends as they were wheeled in.

Unloading the liger and tigers at Big Cat RescueCookie was next and she chuffed nervously the entire wagon ride from the parking lot to “tiger row.” She immediately took to her new surroundings and has been right at home from the first minute off the truck. Her neighbor, India the circus tiger, chuffed her welcome to Cookie. Of the group Cookie was the first to start eating, the first to start hanging out with keepers as they cleaned and has proven to have a wonderful disposition.

Alex was still mad and was determined to rip his way out of the transport wagon if we dared come near him. That wasn’t a possibility but he could break off teeth in the process and we decided the only way to keep him from inflicting severe injury to himself would be to sedate him for the move. It would give our vet, Dr. Liz Wynn, a chance to see if he had done any harm to himself during the move. We wheeled the transport and sleeping tiger up to the gate but had to lift him into his new home. He surprised us all by raising his head during the move but we tossed a blanket over his head and he quickly fell back into slumber. We took the opportunity to give him IV fluids and a physical exam before reversing the sedation. He woke up quickly and sauntered over to his new den.

Alex and Freckles spent their first few days evaluating their new home from the safety of their big rock caves. Their dens are larger than a lot of cages that lions and tigers live their entire lives in elsewhere. From this dark, cool spot they can watch both ends of their enclosures. By the third day Alex was hanging half in and half out of the den to watch everything around him. He would chuff as keepers came up to talk to him, but wasn’t quite ready to expose his entire body. Alex and Freckles would only come out at dinner and after dark at first, but each day gave them a little more assurance. The tour routes have been roped off so that they are only dealing with a few keepers in the area. We won’t expose them to tours until they are happy being around people.

Cookie would have been ready to meet her adoring fans that day, but since she is living right next to Alex and Freckles, she will have to wait. All three are adjusting to their new and improved diets and have had the experience of getting whole prey for possibly the first time in their lives. The whole rats and rabbits are fed dead, but the new “wrappers” are as much fun as the new food is nutritious and tasty. Thursday mornings are always the hardest days to clean as the prey fur is plucked and scattered all over 40 acres here. Many of us are card carrying “bunny huggers” too so it is hard to witness the aftermath of whole prey night, but the benefit to the cats is worth the damage to our psyches.

Alex the tiger examined by vetRescuing Freckles, Alex and Cookie gives us and our supporters the instant gratification of knowing that we saved lives. It gives our lives meaning to know that we spend our time and resources so that cats like these can experience compassion for once in their lives. It makes our hearts well up with pride, but it is just a small drop in the bucket. In 2008 we had to turn away 85 big cats and there are so few decent sanctuaries out there who can take big cats that we know most of them ended up dying or in horrible, overcrowded conditions where they will be allowed to “accidentally” breed more and more cubs. Pseudo sanctuaries almost always have cubs to use as photo props or pay to play schemes, and yet they ask you to believe that they were the result of “accidental” matings year after year after year.

The people who make money from cubs and full grown big cats want to dump them when they are no longer useful and just keep breeding and abusing. We do not accept animals from places that are just continuing to breed, sell, trade and exploit big cats. Many places do, because they rely on the new rescues to keep donations coming in. If the breeders and dealers were shut down, there would be no big cats to rescue and thus no reason for them to exist. Very few sanctuaries are trying to end the problem at its source and will say that they don’t like to get involved in politics or that they cannot because they are a non profit but that just isn’t true. Laws to end the trade in big cats are the most effective means to end the suffering.

With just food, medicine and cage maintenance costing $5000/year per big cat, if these cats live to age 20 the total cost will be $95,000! Your support is critical to each of our cats, but it also goes a long way in helping us solve the problem of so many discarded big cats. Even people who cannot afford to donate much in the way of money can still be a huge part of the solution by educating others. By telling others about the plight of captive big cats, writing your lawmakers, and sending letters to the editor when you read about big cats in the news you are saving thousands of big cats from being born into lives of confinement and deprivation. Our goal is a world where all big cats live free and with your help we can do it.

Rita says Goodbye to Cookie the tigressSee the liger and tiger rescue slide show


Sources: Animal Underworld by Alan Green

Doll Stanley at In Defense of Animals

David Mallory

Rita & Don Montgomery