Mickey Cougar’s story is so long and heartbreaking that it will be hard to tell in just a few minutes. (Watch his rescue video to find out the whole story.)
Animal House, in Moulton, AL, was a backyard zoo that operated with a USDA license up until 2006 when it was revoked. At the time Alabama had no laws to regulate the private possession of wild animals, so once USDA washed their hands of the mess, there was virtually no government oversight of the facility. Former volunteers say the owner had no other source of income than her social security check and that she had contracted with the county to become their dog pound.
In 2013 conditions there were reported to be so grim that the county revoked her contract and rescue groups went in to save the dogs and cats housed at Animal House. One of the rescuers video taped a leopard who had been injured by a Doberman, two years prior, and sent the photos and video to Big Cat Rescue asking for help.
We were told that the owner had been feeding the dogs and cats there to her wild animals and that the Doberman had fought back. Her family said the dog had just been in an adjacent cage and the leopard reached through. Regardless of whether it was malice or neglect, the leopard’s leg had bones sticking out and festering tissue exposed. Big Cat Rescue tried, unsuccessfully, for months, to get USDA, the USFWS, the State of Alabama and the local Sheriff to either confiscate the leopard or get her medical attention. When they failed to help the cat we appealed to the media, who said there wasn’t a story if they couldn’t get permission to go film the cat themselves, which the owner was NOT going to allow.
The leopard died and had probably suffered unimaginable agony for two years or more until her wounds killed her.
We never gave up and 2014 began negotiations with the owner, her family members and the state department of natural resources to rescue the cats who still were being kept there. When we saw the condition Mickey Cougar was in, we didn’t know if he would make it at all.
Both of his back knees suffered from torn ligaments so that when he walked the bones on top would just roll and slip off the bottom bones. It was painful to even look at him. Despite the fact that he was grossly underweight and had almost no muscle mass we had to make the difficult decision to sedate him to evaluate the damage and then again to try and repair it.
Dr. Hay, an orthopedic specialist, did the surgery, using something like a synthetic ligament mesh, to mend back his first leg. Dr. Wynn used a new technique of spinning the patient’s own blood and harvesting platelet rich plasma, to quicken healing, which was injected into the other knee. We had to reduce the size of Mickey’s cage, so he takes it easy while he is healing. We will probably have to go back and do surgery on the injected knee once the first one has healed.
Meanwhile Mickey seems to have a strong will to live and we are going to give him every chance possible at a happy life.
Update Feb 22, 2016
Mickey Update Oct. 15, 2014
I can’t even look at Mickey without tearing up because he is at once, both so pitiful and yet so determined to overcome. We knew it would cost a lot to try and fix him.
For the past week or so, Mickey has been getting rehab treatments, to encourage him to use the leg and build up some muscle. It is Mickey’s nature to have two speeds: Laying around and full out running for the dinner plate. The twice a day rehab work gives him food treat rewards for walking slowing and deliberately.
We can see a pronounced improvement in the leg that was repaired, as he can keep the knee in place much better, but because of his lack of strength, from nearly starving to death in Alabama, and having no muscle, he trips over his back feet.
We film some of these sessions so the vet can see his progress and have shared some of them online, but it hurts to watch.
Dr. Hay visited the sanctuary recently, to see the rehab session himself. He said at Mickey’s current pace he thinks the surgically repaired knee should be strong enough that he can operate on the other side in 3 to 6 months.
Every day it is touch and go with Mickey because he needs to let the repair heal fully, and thus distribute his weight to the repaired leg and the one that still slides all over the place. Too much reliance on the repaired leg and it could damage the work done and never heal right and too much reliance on the broken knee, and his muscles on the other side will continue to atrophy.
Everything has its side effects, so even the pain meds have to be very carefully monitored, as too much can make him nauseous or cause him to sleep all the time and too little can make him not want to move at all.
Whenever there are cats in need of rescue, we always offer to take the oldest, sickest or most impaired because our sanctuary is unique in its ability to provide the best veterinary and supportive care. We have 2 vets that have been with us for about a decade each. They visit twice a week and provide all of the house calls for free.
We have specialists in orthopedics, eyes, cancer and teeth who dramatically discount their work because they love the big cats. We have 14 paid staff, who do administrative work and manage our 80-100 volunteers who put in the collective hours of 40 more paid staff. By spending the time and money to train expert volunteers, our donors’ money can go directly to the cats.
The reason we can provide such excellent care is because people like you care. It is your donations that keep the food coming every night, the medications on time, the emergency care and the ability to take in other cats like Mickey, who wouldn’t have a chance anywhere else.
Mickey Cougar Update March 6, 2015
Mickey Cougar was rescued in 2014. He was in such bad shape that we weren’t sure if we should try to fix everything that was wrong with him, or put him out of his misery. This video does not seem to have ever been posted, as it was 40 minutes long and 6GB in size. It’s been cut down to 12 minutes and shows the horrible decisions we often have to make.
Check out our main YouTube channel at BigCatTV.com and our website at BigCatRescue.org
and it certainly is appropriate for a cougar who was born into the pet trade in 1995 in Texas, was shipped to New York and then traveled to a rescue center in South Florida before taking the last road trip, at the age of 18, to her forever home at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa.
This folder of images will be updated as they come in from the Big Cat Rescue team.
From a former volunteer:
Hello! Here is some basic information about Reise the cougar and the information I have gathered from my time at SFWRC.
Reise (pronounced rise-uh) is a Texan cougar who had been at South Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for 15 years. She is believed to be around 18-19 years of age. She was confiscated in New York from a drug dealer where she was kept in a small apartment having been fed domestic cat food and extremely undernourished with worms. Her illegal owner was only fined $500, which goes to show how under enforced big cat regulations can be.
She was brought to SFWRC where she began a long recovery after suffering years of abuse. Unfortunately, she was badly de-clawed as a cub by her original breeder. Reise had surgery to fix a lame front paw. The nail was growing back into the paw and trying to invade bone. Dr. Mormane, a veterinarian, generously donated his time to fix Reise’s foot for free.
Several toes had the same issue, but one of them was very bad. As Dr. Mornane began stitching, they discovered that there’s no padding left on Reise’s toe on her front right paw. That meant any more trimming and she’ll bone on bone.
Dr. Mormane ruled that from now on, her nails will have to be filed. Dr. Mornane had generously agreed to fly in every 3-4 months to take care of this himself. Reise’s paw has healed tremendously from what it once was. After the surgery (which, had Dr. Mormane not paid for himself, would have cost the sanctuary over $300), Reise’s demeanor immediately changed as she became more playful and active.
One of the most vocal cats at the sanctuary, Reise is capable of making a plethora of different noises to signal her different moods. One of my favorites is her signature “greeting” squeak that she repeatedly shows off throughout the day. She is very friendly and I discovered a few months ago that she likes frozen ice balls to swat around. I’d wanted to try bloodcicles with her, but I had no idea where to get blood, haha.
Reise is generally a very even tempered cat. For whatever reason, she prefers men over women. She also loves to roll around on her back when she’s in a playful mood, which is most of the time. You’ll notice she has very cute black dots on her nose and a very stocky, cougar-like frame. At SFWRC, she spent a lot of time up on her perch lounging around. She is very bright and attentive to her surroundings. If a bird flies too close to her enclosure, she’s sure to stalk it. To my knowledge, she’s never consumed a live animal.
I began volunteering at SFWRC almost exactly a year ago. Seeing as I lived about an hour north, I came down to help around once or twice a month. I enjoyed helping to clean the enclosures- hosing down poop and such (always from the outside, SFWRC was protected contact with touching allowed through the cage and only behind the animal’s face), feed the animals, change their water, get to know their individual personalities, and create enrichment ideas. Each animal reacted differently to different EEDs.
Watching them be curious and explore new “inventions” was probably my favorite aspect of helping out the cats. Exotic pet education was also a HUGE principle of the sanctuary. In May, two dedicated volunteers helped me organize a tour of SFWRC with fifteen kids from our school. We gave them a tour of the animals and educated them about the animal’s histories, what it takes to take care of a big cat (basically facts that would deter them from ever considering it), and most importantly, the exotic pet trade.
I always knew the enclosures could do much better, IE larger and more naturalistic with environmental enrichment devices. Dirk did, everybody did.
The message of the sanctuary was that big cats don’t belong in captivity, but if they have to be (due to irresponsible exotic pet owners), we would like to give them a safe home, free from abuse. Dirk’s goal was to relocate to somewhere more spacious, like northern Florida, and expand the cats’ enclosures.
Generally, the sanctuary flew under the public radar because it never advertised things like “Come play with the kitties!” because that was totally against the idea of the sanctuary. Because the sanctuary wasn’t a publicity stunt, it also meant it was constantly under financial siege. SFWRC relied solely on volunteers. All the credit goes to those volunteers who were there full time and always took care of the cats, they kept the sanctuary running for as long as it did.
From the time I volunteered there to the time it was closed, SFWRC housed one Siberian tiger, one African lion, one Java macaque, one Rhesus macaque, one serval/caracal mix, one Bengal tiger, two FL panthers, two cougars, and two leopards (although I believe that one of the leopards, Spotty, had to have some jaguar in him, due to his stocky appearance, wide face, and larger, darker rosettes with multiple dots in side them).
All of these cats/monkeys were older animals. Alex, the African lion, passed away in February from old age (he was nearly thirty, an incredible feat for a captive lion!). He was confiscated from an unfit owner in Berea, KY where he was saved from being euthanized. Benny, the Java macaque, also passed away from old age (at around 30 years).
Sinbad, the Siberian tiger, tragically passed away in March from a rattlesnake bite. Sinbad came from a private owner who could not take care of him. He was only six when he passed.
Nicky, a leopard, came from an alligator wrestling tourist attraction where she was carted around to children’s parties in a tiny crate on Hwy 41.
Spotty, the other leopard (or possible jaguar mix?) was confiscated from a Palm Beach dealer who used him as a “guard dog” for a construction site. He was constantly teased and poked with brooms, causing him to be extremely aggressive to this day. He is believed to be around 20 years of age.
As you already know, Jojo came from an illegal breeder who purposefully crossbred two distinct species before arriving at SFWRC, creating a medical mess.
Khrishna, the Bengal tiger, is around 6 years old. He was confiscated at 1.5 years of age from Parrot Jungle Island where he was leased to a movie production company.
Nola, a sweet cougar with feline distemper and cerebellar hypoplasia, was confiscated from a woman walking her on a leash at Miami Beach. When officers asked her for her license, she pulled out her driver’s license…
Anyway, I’m sorry this message has been so long, there is just so much to say for all these animals. As sad as it is to say goodbye to them, I am extremely excited, optimistic, and happy for all of them as they will enjoy the type of habitats and natural stimulation they deserve. I can’t wait for the day when I can visit BCR and the other facilities to see how the cats are doing.
Water bowl in Reise cougar’s cage at SFWRC the day of the rescue
DOB 1/1/97 – 2/3/16
Rescue of Narla the Cougar:
This is a letter from someone who knew the Loppi’s. This person below, wanted us to know that Rob was well intended and I post it here as an example of how even the best intentions usually end up bad for the exotic animal.
According to a number of emails I got after the fact, Rob’s wife was looking to euthanize the cat, but Rob’s friends, family and the media were on her case and she couldn’t do it without looking like a monster when we were standing by, ready to take her. It is only because of supporters, like you, that we can help cats like Narla in their greatest moment of need.
Narla has been pretty much blind since she arrived, but Dr. Miller came out to check on her eyes again today.
Dr. Liz Wynn has many friends in the veterinary community and calls in specialists when it is warranted.
Previous exams have shown Narla Cougar to have eye ulcerations that have been treated with eye drops.
This exam reveals that the back side of her eyes are degenerating and Dr. Miller suspects it was from her first 14 years of insufficient nutrition before coming to Big Cat Rescue.
Dr. Tammy Miller says Narla is one of her favorite patients.
When big cats are pulled from their mothers to be hand reared as pets, like Narla had been, they never get a sufficient diet on kitten or puppy milk replacer. This causes a life time of debilitation.
More from Narla’s Rescue:
Dear Big Cat Rescue:
I am very happy that you are giving Narla a new home. Since her owner, Rob Loppi’s, death last May, I can’t tell you how many people worried and wondered what would become of Narla. My reason for writing to you is not just to thank you for taking care of Narla, but because I wanted to give you some background information. I feel it is important for you to know how Narla came to Rhode Island in the first place. Since the story of Narla’s rescue broke, I have read and heard many negative comments about Rob Loppi having this animal in the first place. There have been many comments in the newspapers that are just not accurate. Since Rob is no longer with us, and can’t defend himself, I would like the real story known. He didn’t just wake up one morning and decide on a whim that it would be great to have a cougar. I was there, and would like the true story to be told.
Rob got Narla when she was a baby, not 5 months old as was inaccurately reported. She was no bigger than a puppy, still had her baby fuzz and spots and was still being bottle fed. She was obtained by a person that Rob knew casually. This friend purchased her from a breeder in Virginia, thinking that it would be cool to have a mountain lion as a pet. When he got her home, his fiancé, correctly, would not allow him to keep her, so he brought her to Rob. People were always bringing unwanted animals to Rob…cats, dogs, goats, pigs…whatever.
Initially, Rob did not want to take her, but he was afraid that if he refused she would end up in a bad situation. Rob took her in and set about trying to find her a home. Since she was an illegal exotic at that point, this was not an easy task. He contacted the Dept. of Environmental Management in RI anonymously and was informed that they would confiscate the cat and most likely she would be destroyed – unbelievable, but true. They said that it was not their policy to find homes for dangerous animals, just to protect the environment and maintain public safety. He then contacted Roger Williams Zoo and asked them to take her – they refused because a). they do not take animals from private parties, only other zoos, and b). she came from a breeder and was bottle fed. They said that other cats would not take to her and would possibly harm or kill her. After many more such calls…you get the picture. No one would help. You should also keep in mind that this time period was before the internet was a household item, so trying to get information was much more difficult.
Feeling like he had no other options, he contacted the breeder in Virginia and asked to bring her back. He drove her to Virginia and was appalled at the conditions. Virginia’s laws on exotics are (or, at that time, were) very lenient and this guy would obviously sell to anyone as long as the price was right. He just couldn’t leave her there. He knew that she would be re-sold and probably end up in a traveling carnival or roadside “zoo” with her teeth filed down, being whipped into submission, living in deplorable conditions and spending most of her life in a crate. He knew that he could do better by her, so he made the decision that he would have to keep her to make sure that she was cared for and safe. Unfortunately, this would mean having her declawed for safety. This wasn’t something he wanted to do, but he did it in an effort to try to maintain her.
He then set about getting Narla legal. Since he already knew DEM’s position, he went to the Federal level. USDA told him what he needed to do in order to get a license to keep an exotic (again, at that time, their rules were much less stringent). He built the double cage (making it bigger and stronger than the required size and pipe diameter) with natural materials and different levels and perches for climbing, set up an account with a chicken farm so he could feed her properly, contacted a veterinarian who had the qualifications to provide medical care for Narla and set about learning everything he needed to know about the care and husbandry of mountain lions. USDA inspected and found him to be a suitable owner and he was granted a license. Once he had the USDA license in hand, DEM could not confiscate and destroy her, so he was then able to begin application for a RI license. He hired an attorney and, after getting through all the paperwork and red tape, he received the license. RI DEM inspected regularly, including random and surprise visits, always finding Narla in good care and condition.
Rob NEVER tried to domesticate Narla. He was very well aware that she was a wild animal. While he did have an amazing connection with her, she was always treated as a mountain lion, not as a house cat, which has been implied in the media. Narla has been characterized as “gentle and affectionate” and she was…with Rob. This, as you know, is the case with big cats…they bond to one person and can be jealous and aggressive with others. Visitors and friends were not allowed to just hang out in the living room with her. She didn’t just wander freely around the house or yard. Even Rob’s closest friends were not allowed direct contact. This wasn’t Siegfried and Roy. She is a predator and certainly capable of attacking and killing. He knew that, and safety was always the first priority, not just our safety, but Narla’s too. People can be foolish and cruel, which is why Rob didn’t want the general public to know about her. That was another reason for the double cage, not just to keep Narla in, but to keep people out. There was only one other person, Rob’s friend Mike, who was allowed to care for Narla and did so during Rob’s illness. Mike was trained in Narla’s care and feeding and did a great job. Rob was so grateful to Mike. With all he was going through, many rounds of chemotherapy treatments, numerous infections and finally a bone marrow transplant, at least he knew Narla was in good hands.
Rob didn’t use Narla as a gimmick or sideshow attraction. Sure, people knew about her and would be curious to see her, but he never profited from her. He allowed “ordinary” people to come to see her in her cage, but never allowed media attention. He wouldn’t give interviews, allow media photos or any exploitation of her in any way. He didn’t want to glorify having a big cat in his yard. He didn’t want people to think that it is ok to try to keep a mountain lion as a pet. Rob knew that keeping her was not an ideal situation, but at that time, he felt he was doing what was best for her. When he made the decision to keep Narla, he took on a huge financial burden…food, supplements, veterinary care, etc. and he could have very easily used this beautiful animal as a way to make money, but that was never his way. He just wanted to give her the best life he could and keep her safe.
So, now you know Narla’s story. I felt that it was important for you to know that, while she may have been raised in someone’s backyard, she wasn’t just a passing fancy, she wasn’t a “pet“ in the conventional sense of the word. She was a lifelong responsibility taken on by a guy who made a hard decision based on limited options. Had she not been born to a breeder in Virginia who sells these animals to anyone with enough money to buy them, without any thought or concern for where they will live or how they will be treated, she would not have been in Rhode Island. If Rob hadn’t “rescued” her first, Big Cat Rescue may have found Narla in a horrible situation, if she had survived at all.
Thank you again for all that you do for these animals and, especially for Narla. She is always loved and surely missed.
Orion is the goofy one in the group, he is always up to something and puts a smile on our faces with his silly antics. The three cubs can be hard to tell apart at times, but if you look in their eyes, you will be able to pick out his mischievous gaze and know right away which one is Orion. Orion loves dinner time and can change abruptly from cute goofball to serious cougar with an appetite. Orion also loves to climb the trees in his enclosures and is constantly testing the limits of the tinier branches.
A mother mountain lion had been shot by a hunter leaving her three newborn kittens orphans. A rehabber had been given temporary custody of three cougar cubs by Idaho’s Fish and Game Department and three weeks to find them a home in a zoo or to euthanize them. The idea of these magnificent creatures ending up in a zoo where they would be bred for generation after generation of imprisoned animals was more than she could bear.
She visited our web site and was asking herself if death might be more humane than life in a cage but before she made such a decision she contacted Big Cat Rescue. After more than twenty years in her business of rescuing, rehabbing and releasing native wildlife she was no stranger to tough choices, but this one was particularly hard. Because Idaho does not allow big cats to be rehabbed and released they could never go free. If the choice was made for them to live in an accredited facility then how would their sacrifice (life in a cage) be used to stop their kind from enduring persecution by man?
In the end it was decided that the cubs would come to Big Cat Rescue because we can make their story known. Our supporters are active in trying to change the laws that allow animal suffering. These three little orphans are symbolic of why we write letters, donate our time and do all that we do. Visit the page called Cat Laws to help.
Mac was brought here by his owner to be boarded because of zoning laws changing in his owner’s home town, but that was many years ago. He now has a permanent home at Big Cat Rescue and enjoys a 1200 square foot lush Cat.a.tat with a large cave den.
Mac has a particular penchant for small children, as do most big cats. Big cats see children as potential prey and having a big cat as a pet is a recipe for disaster.
When a group comes by on a guided tour, Mac always picks out the smallest child (or person) in the group and you would think there was no one else on the tour if you judged from Mac’s perspective.
Exotic cats are opportunistic hunters and the weak and the small are the easiest targets.