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ARCADIA — Cassie the tiger’s home addition had made her the coolest cat on the block — literally.
One of many big cats at the Lions, Tigers and Bears sanctuary in northern DeSoto County, Cassie was the first to get her new swimming pool Tuesday.
The ceremony was simple, yet elegant. A pulled rope opened a hatch and 500 pounds of orange-striped killing machine bounded, gracefully as a ballerina, into the wood and chain-link enclosure — now replete with a cement pond.
Cassie was timid at first. There was a lot of sniffing.
Sanctuary founder Lynn Wittmeier and pool builder Dennis Saliny tried to gently coax Cassie into the pool, but to no avail.
The tiger was acting a lot like a stubborn house cat who knows its owner wants it to do something, but would rather have fun being spiteful.
So no one was surprised when, the moment all backs were turned, a big splash sent water everywhere and Charlie, the resident goose, went into a honking frenzy.
Cassie looked very pleased with herself.
According to Wittmeier, the reason for the new addition is simple — tigers love water.
The tigers have had big aluminum troughs to play in since the facility relocated to DeSoto County in January 2006, but the pool upgrade will allow the water to stay cleaner and cooler for the big cats.
“We had to move so quickly, we had to just make things adequate for everyone to begin with,” Wittmeier said. “Now we are revamping some of the cages.”
All the tigers are going to get their own pools. The sanctuary’s lone bear will get one too.
The sanctuary was forced out of its Charlotte County home to make room for commercial development. Wittmeier and her husband, Dennis Wittmeier, chose to move their operation to a 40-acre homestead in northern DeSoto County, near the new livestock market and the Hardee County line.
Moving all the animals took about five months. Now the facility is putting the finishing touches on its new home.
“We love DeSoto County,” Wittmeier said. “It’s so relaxed here and we love the hometown atmosphere.”
Chicago native Dennis Saliny came down for two weeks and supervised the building of the tigers’ pools.
Saliny said his wife got him into animal activism and, now that he is retired, he enjoys spending his free time helping animals.
The Lions, Tigers and Bears sanctuary is open to everyone. Anyone can visit between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Thursday through Monday. Groups are welcome to schedule a tour as well.
Everyone who comes out to the sanctuary gets an educated tour.
Wittmeier said the reason animal shelters like this one exist, and the reason more are needed, is because of the commercial exotic animal breeding industry. According to her, most of the animals at the sanctuary came either from breeders who could not find a market for the exotic animals or people who could not handle an exotic animal as a pet.
According to her, trying to tame any sort of wild animal is a perilous full-time enterprise — cougars, tigers and the like are not designed to be house pets.
“There is such a big need for education; it is the only thing that is going to stop this cycle,” Wittmeier said. “The animals each have their own characteristics and need. If you are going to take care of them, you have to go with the flow of each one — and most people are not willing to do that.”
The sanctuary is privately funded by public donations. Anyone who wishes to donate or schedule a tour can call 863-494-0054.
All of the donations are tax deductible.
Donations of pressure-treated wood, chain-link fence, roofing tin, bird seed, dog food and grains are also welcomed.
You can e-mail Jon F. Sica at email@example.com.
By JON F. SICA
DeSoto News Editor