A Big Cat Volunteer’s Story


You may think that when you see our former circus tigers lounging peacefully at Big Cat Rescue, that we just had the connections or luck to be chosen as the retirement home for them. Maybe you have not even stopped to think on it. That’s ok. I’m Christy and I’ve been a volunteer for 3 ½ years and I’d like to tell you that it was neither luck, nor connections. It was much more. Let me share their story, which is also my story, and both have become a part of our collective history.

circus tigersAs a cat-lover, I came on my birthday 4 years ago for a much-anticipated tour. I had no idea how much it would get under my skin, and what my contribution to the sanctuary would be. Who would think I could make a difference? The day I went on the tour, was a pretty day in May and the founder happened to lead the tour. She mentioned that there are 300 big cats, many of which are hurting and exploited due to people being able to own them, that they are forced to turn away each year due to there not being enough room and funds. She mentioned that there were 9 circus tigers currently wasting away out in a field in very small containers ventilated on one side and line up in an “L” shape, and this is been the case for 3 years and called “retirement”. Yes, they were being cared for by a former elephant trainer and he disliked cats. They were given no mental stimulation with balls or toys and some were going psychotic.

I felt immense pain in hearing that. In fact, my birthday kind of faded into the background as I had this brutal realization of their suffering. In fact, over the next two weeks.thoughts of them suffering would bubble up inside of me and my husband would find me crying over it. I felt no peace over this inaction. They had performed all their lives for people and then been thrown away, so to speak. I told him, “I want to get the media the helicopters and expose this story” but he encouraged me to take a more positive initiative. So, we prayed that night for God to provide for his creatures and direct me in next steps. Well, I called up the founder, Carole, and told her my concern. I thought, “why would she care to speak to me?”. She doesn’t even know me. Surprisingly to me, she invited me to her office, maybe somehow wondering where it would lead. She had tried to rescue them before, but there had been no response, so naturally had to let it go, but had also never had peace about it. So, I said, “can we try again?”. She paused, knowing all her duties for 150 cats already on property and lack of funds and said “yes, . but we will write a letter and outline the $7,000 per cage per cat and lifetime vet care that we will need to take them on”. I hung my head and told her I felt that they will not do this, and she said we have to let them know the needs or we can’t do it. I knew that maybe the impossible would happen down deep. So, we drafted a letter and at my request, had a moment of prayer together over it and sent it. I felt better, but still their future was uncertain.

This is the unbelievable part. My tears turned to joy as within two weeks, we got a call saying that strangely enough, our letter came at a time when they were considering what to do with them.

circus tigersThe head behaviorist came within another week or so to check us out and within a month a contract was signed for all 9 tigers to come with all expenses that we mentioned paid, plus lifetime care. They all came within 2-6 months later. We built for them beautiful enclosures with ponds and grass. They had never stepped on natural surfaces before. You could see the wonder in their eyes. They had dens and shade and could watch people and ducks. It was a true miracle that one little letter could have been this catalyst. I still count it among the most merciful things I’ve seen God do in my life. So, from then on, I watched them come with pride, cleaned cages, put hay in den boxes for winter, fed them and just truly enjoyed their presence.

It’s the most fulfilling thing to have a hand in helping people and a hand in helping animals. I still see the tigers chuff (say hello) to each other as they see each other in other cages. I know some worked together in the circus and were friends. It’s bittersweet and in some ways, I think it’s no win as they surely want to perform now and they do usually pace at first as if to ask, “where is the applause?”. However, making them perform is harder on them due to traveling 40 weeks a year in small travel containers. So, now I’m fulfilled in knowing that we are giving them rest and good care.

circus tigers

However, it’s not been free of ups and downs and some tears along this happier path. I remember one elderly tiger as his health was severely fading, we struggled knowing if it was the end and made the decision to put him down the next day. Well, as nature would have it, he knew his own health and he slipped into his pool and rested his head on the side and passed in the night. We found him that way. That week, flowers bloomed by his pool that had never bloomed before. It was like a memorial for his life and that all was at peace. But, it’s not this type of storybook ending or journey for many tigers that are not fortunate enough to find a sanctuary like ours.

So, if I could let you know what I have learned, it would be that we should all help our fellow brothers and animals along the way, who are victims, but not stop there. Let’s not forget to make a stand and vote with our voices and our dollars on what we believe is humane entertainment and what is permissible, concerning owning exotic pets. My belief is that we must “turn off the leaky faucet” and not allow private ownership and abolishment of their habitat. These are keys in the cats’ suffering. If we can do this, it will be the day when all big cats will retain their rightful dignity, have their intended place in our world, and be able to fulfill their purpose. Isn’t that what all of us long for?

In the meantime, I continue to volunteer, but having a toddler does not allow for me to physically be on property as much during this time. However, I have been blessed to have found a niche in being the co-publisher of this e-mail newsletter with the founder, Carole. Yet another team project that together has no limits with your help. What progress and future miracles lie ahead for Big Cat Rescue? The possibilities are endless as far as I can see.

Christy Anderson

Volunteer and passionate AdvoCat

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