hear big catsAlex

Male Tiger

DOB 1/1/96 – 11/19/15

Arrived 12/19/08

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

Our 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.

At 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.”

With 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.

The 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.

See 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

Tributes to Alex Tiger

Regina Rinaldi Dec 4, 2015
I had the honor of a lunch date with Alex the day he left us. Well, I ate my lunch and watched him and he watched me. I reminded Alex of all the fun we had, and how that happy face could make you smile no matter what mood you were in. I talked about his love of Betsey Johnson tube and cinnamon bags. We listened to music Bruno Mars you liked alot. As much as it hurts me you’re gone, you’re free. Finally free. Everybody loves Alex, especially me. Oh, by the way, the Bruno Mars song he like so much? MARRY YOU.

Marie Schoubert Nov 28, 2015
RIP gorgeous Alex, my best friend especially during summer camp. We would play for the kids and they all loved him so much! I know you are p!aging with Freckles and Cookie now… I miss you so much… And will always love you and remember you ?

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