Meet Big Cat Rescue's newest residents, Freddy and Sassyfrass. They were rescued from Illinois in November 2010, listen to their story and watch the rescue!
Rescue of Freddy and Sassy Cougars
If only they could speak to us in a language that we understand. Then we might know the horrors they have survived and be more inclined to protect others from enduring their fate.
I'll share with you what I do know and hope that will inspire you to help these cougars and to do all you can to end the trade in exotic cats.
Back in the 90s, farmers Al and Kathy Abell, decided to start a breeding facility called Cougar Bluff Enterprises. They set up cages in their back yard in Elizabethtown, IL and filled them with a couple of cougars (Freddy & Sassy) a lion cub named Simba, some wolves and wolf hybrids. It was their plan to breed and sell and be surrounded by the kinds of wild animals they loved. The more they saw of what breeders and dealers were doing to animals, like the former owner who had beaten Sassy with a shovel, the more they realized that there was just no good reason to be breeding and selling exotics, so they never bred the big cats.
Having raised Simba the lion from a cub, they may have been complacent about the dangers of such interactions. Simba wasn't even full grown before killing Al Abel. On that tragic day, Feb. 12, 2004 Kathy Abel came home to find the lion on the front porch of their home, her dog dead in the yard and no sign of her husband.
Sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene as dark was closing in and the lion was on the edge of the 277,000 ac Shawnee National Forest. Kathy could not locate darts for her dart gun and the deputies were ordered to shoot Simba the lion rather than risk him killing someone in the park. It wasn't until after Simba, body riddled by bullets, lay dying that Kathy discovered her husband dead on the floor of Simba's cage. It had only taken one bite to the leg to cause him to bleed to death.
Fast forward six years and on Nov. 8, 2010 Chris Poole, of Big Cat Rescue came across a Facebook post saying that Kathy Abell had killed herself and left two cougars and an array of other domestic pets and farm animals with no one for miles around to care for them. We responded right away that we would come get the two cougars, Freddy and Sassy. It took a long 9 days to get the health certificate and import permit and to wait for Kathy's family to bury her before we would be allowed to arrive on the scene. Meanwhile, Robin Parks, Field Volunteer for the Mountain Lion Foundation had coordinated with Kathy's sister Kimberly Rapp and a local rehabber, Bev Shofstall to insure that the cats were being fed and cared for.
Big Cat Rescuers; President, Jamie Veronica Murdock, Operations Manager, Gale Ingham and Chris Poole hit the road on Nov. 17th driving straight through the night to Cave In Rock, IL which was the nearest lodge to the cougars. While en-route, Bev the rehabber emailed asking us to hurry as she wasn't sure Freddy, the 14 year old and very frail cougar, could make it another day. Rescuers made the trip in record time but arrived well after dark. They coordinated with Kimberly Rapp to pick up the cats at first light on the morning of the 18th.
This is where YOU come in.
These cats have witnessed things that no one should ever have to see. It is only through your help that we can make sure their last years are the best years of their lives. Your voice in letters to your lawmakers asking for a ban on the private possession of big cats, at CatLaws.com is what will stop the future breeding, trading and discarding of big cats that led to this sad situation. Your donations are what make it possible for us to commit to an emergency rescue like this.
Time Line of a Mountain Lion Rescue
On Nov. 8, 2010 Big Cat Rescue videographer, Chris Poole came across this post on Facebook:
Mr. Robin Parks
Special Agent, NCIS (Ret)
Field Volunteer, Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF)
San Diego, California
This is a long shot, but....Late last night I received word that an acquaintance of mine (Kathy Abell) in southern Illinois apparently killed herself sometime last Thursday (11/4/2010). In addition to a number of pets and farm animals, she left behind two elderly cougars.I have known these cats for nearly 10 years. This is the weekend and I've been unable to contact any key player out there, but I did notify the USDA inspector from Indiana who occasionally monitors the cats. A family member told me that someone from the Illinois Dept of Natural Resources is trying to care for the cats, but I've not yet confirmed this. The sheriff's office that responded to the scene has been less than helpful as the matter of the care and disposition of the cats is not their concern. I'll be working the phones hot & heavy tomorrow morning.The USDA inspector has already suggested the cats may have to be put down, and I fully realize there just may not be any other solution. Both cats are fragile and stress easily, and one is terrified of men as he was beaten with a shovel by a man when he was a cub. I'm hoping that I will be given at least a few days to place these cats before someone makes a decision to shoot them.Do any of you know any accredited facility in Illinois or elsewhere in the Midwest that might be able to assume custody???Do any of you know any person in that area who might be able to lend some personal expertise as to the feeding and care of the animals. I'm sure the DNR person, will do her best, but won't have a clue. Any other ideas??For whatever good it will do, I may be headed out there in the next few days to see if I can help, even if it's only to ensure the cats are put down humanely. I may know more about the cats than any one else.
Nov. 8: I called Robin Parks and told him we could provide permanent care for the cougars and could come pick them up.
Robin said Bev Shofstall was going out to check on the cats and that she should be the main contact person for those coming in. Bev is a private citizen, not a DNR employee, who operates the Free Again Wildlife Rehab center in Carterville, Illinois. Shofstall has a cougar at her facility and has the basic skills and knowledge to keep the lid on this matter until some better solution can be reached.
Robin described the cats as:
1. Freddy, male, maybe 160 lbs, about 14 yrs old, declawed, the usual joint and arthritis stuff but not bad for his age, easily stressed by noise and strangers, easily managed by the threat of spraying him with a garden hose at one end while offering chicken at the other. He is probably already very stressed by what has happened.
2. Sassy, male, maybe 12, maybe 120 lbs, afraid of men as a result of a son-of-a-bitch beating him with a shovel handle when he was a cub, not bad with women, no real physical probs that I know of.
Nov. 9: Robin reported, "Freddy, the older cat, is not eating so well and is obviously grieved about Kathie not being there. He tends to lose weight kinda quickly when he does this, but usually bounces back ok." He went on to say, "Kathie's will passed nearly everything to a son, Neil Evans, by a earlier relationship, and that son (in Indiana or MI @ obit) has passed authority to Kimberly Rapp (sister) to handle all matters regarding property and animals and whatever. I once helped transfer Freddie from one enclosure to another. He didn't want to cooperate, but gave in when the garden hose came out. It was done without any tranq'ing. Sassy might be a bit more problematic, but my feeling is no darting will be needed with him either. Can't recall if I mentioned it earlier but...Freddie is declawed, but I think Sassy is still packin'. Both have plenty of teeth."
The address for the site in Hardin County where the animals are is listed as Rt 2, Elizabethtown, Illinois, near Cave-in-Rock. The site is very close to a tourist area known as "The Garden of the Gods" in Karbers Ridge, Illinois, and is also a mile from a very small camp ground area called "Camp Cadiz".
Nov. 9: Just so you know what we are up against when we try to rescue a big cat. The exploiters would rather the cats die or go to some backyard jail cell than see us make case after case for why the private possession of these cats should be banned. Robin said 6 people he didn't know called him with comments that characterized us as "the anti-Christ", "pagan sacrifices", "gold digging slut", and said "her facilities are pig sties", better the cats be dead than with her, she's only a "hoarder", she's only trying to advance her own personal agenda at the expense of the others trying to help, and worse. He also said he knew BS when he smelled it.
Nov. 10: Robin reports: "Bev Shofstall did visit the cats yesterday. Things are as good as can be expected, but Freddy is not eating, and it's taking a toll. He appears a bit weaker and all the stress has probably made worse whatever joint/bone/age problems he has. I have seen him go thru this before, so we shouldn't write him off just yet, but for SURE he'll need some TLC and handling with kid gloves. Bev brought some very fresh venison for him, but he showed no interest. She will visit the cats again tomorrow (Thursday, the day of the memorial service). Sassy, on the other hand, appears to be doing ok, still has a good appetite, and his usual cranky disposition. He just may not be a problem to transfer at all."
Nov. 1: Kathy G. Abell, age 56, died at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, 2010, at her residence and was cremated and memorialized today.
Nov. 12, 2010 Robin let me know that Ann Marie Houser took over from Elizabeth Taylor as the USDA agent involved. He said Bev had returned to visit the cats the day before and that "I talked with Bev Shofstall a few minutes ago. She was at the site yesterday, and Freddy seems to be doing a bit better. He's eaten some venison and other goodies and appears a bit more alive. He has issues, but it's likely he's mostly been reacting to the loss of his Kathie and all the strangers being around. Sassy, the other cat, seems to be doing fine."
I told Kimberly Rapp I would need her to fax me a health certificate for the cats so I could apply for a FL import permit.
Nov. 13: A vet came out to inspect the cats for transport and Kimberly faxed it to me. I filled out the FWC permit application, attached the health certificate and faxed to the Florida Wildlife Commission. Our "friend" at the FWC, Capt. John West has retired, so I was worried about how long the permit would take as they claim to be running two weeks behind on them.
Nov. 15: I called the FWC to see if they got my fax over the weekend and they had, but complained that Precious was on vacation and that Capt. Linda Harrison was overloaded with permit applications. I explained the dire situation again, as I had in the application, and asked that they give Freddy and Sassy priority. I then contacted Capt. Harrison and asked her to sort through the pile to find our application.
I asked Kimberly Rapp if she wanted us to pay for Great Dane carriers locally that she could put in the cages for the cats to get used to, but she said there was no way to get them through the gates.
Nov. 16: The FWC issued our import permit. I let Kimberly Rapp and Robin Parks know that we were awaiting Kimberly's directive on when we should arrive. We sat on pins and needle all day waiting for a response. Finally around 9pm Kimberly called and asked if we could be there the day after. She and Bev had gone to the cats and because the weather had been in the 20s and 30s. All the cats had for shelter was a dog-loo on a hard floor so she had wanted to put a rug in for Freddy, but he wouldn't have it, so she removed it. They had been working in the freezing rain and she had contacted us as soon as she got in.
I called Jamie and let her know that Kimberly was taking Thursday off to be there and wanted our crew to be there before noon. That meant our crew would have to leave first thing Wed. the morning of the 17th. Jamie contacted Chris and Gale and let them know to pack their bags and bring their lunch.
Nov. 17: By 7am the Big Cat Rescuers were on their way to Cave In Rock, IL. They took turns driving and sleeping and by 6pm they were in Nashville and getting sandwiches to eat on the road. One tire didn't look too good, but everything else was going fine and they hoped to be at the lodge by midnight.
Bev emailed me during the day asking when we would be coming. It seems that neither Kimberly, nor Robin told her we were already on the way. She said that she thought Freddy was much closer to death than previously thought. She was worried that he wouldn't make it another night.
During the course of the day I learned that Kathy Abell was not the first person to die at this facility. Robin confided, "I first met Kathie and her husband Al sometime in the late 90's when her place (a very small place, barely even a mom & pop operation) was called Cougar Bluff Enterprises. They had a wolf or two, some hybrids or two, a cougar or two, and (a bit later I think) one huge Barbary lion (just huge, every bit as big as a Siberian). I liked the cats, know how things were in Hardin County, and offered to work at their place doing anything they needed anytime I was back there (my parents live about 30 miles from there and I came back 2x/year). In all the years I knew them, no one before or since, has ever offered to volunteer for them.
Now...no doubt about it, at the time I first met them, their plan was to breed the wolves (not so much the cats, as I recall) and sell them. They pretty much saw this as a business.
However, also about the time I met them, they started going through a change of philosophy. Over a couple of years, they quickly learned how many neglected animals there are out there in that world, how badly they often get treated, and how so much of this terrible situation was fueled by the breeders. So....they dropped their plans and converted to the "non breeder" point of view. They never bred any animal.
Almost without exception, the cats they got were "throw away's" or badly neglected animals that came from breeders or other mom & pop places. Sassy was one of those, and had been badly abused by it's owner. The Barbary was also one of these. It's a long story, but some butthead somewhere got hold of the lion with he was very young, kept it in the garage for about 3 weeks until the cat got big enough to eat people, and then they basically told Al & Kathie they would kill the lion if they didn't take it from them. So, they did....and got just waaaay over their heads.
It was that lion, somewhere around 2003 (it was 2004) that ended up killing Al. It's a long story and there's some fine points that are still not known, but Al apparently went into the cage ALONE to do some cleaning, and apparently didn't secure the outer perimeter lock. The cat maybe knocked thru a inner perimeter lock, bit Al just one on the leg, then strolled out of the compound. Again, long story, but Al bled out before anybody got there several hours later. Hardin County cops came and killed the lion, who by that time was waiting at the porch for Kathie to get home. Sad.
So....that's kinda the story here. This thing did indeed start out as a "breeding" story, but they did totally convert their thinking many years before the sad recent events. In some respects, it's a redemption story."
These were the two news articles that ran about the death of Al Abell in 2004
Man killed by pet African lion
Associated Press 02/13/2004
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ill. (AP) -- A Hardin County man who kept exotic animals was apparently attacked and killed Thursday by a pet African lion, authorities said.
Al Abell was apparently changing the bedding of the lion's pen when he was attacked, Sheriff Carl Cox told The Paducah Sun.
According to Cox, Abell's wife returned to the couple's home near Elizabethtown in southeastern Illinois shortly before 6 p.m., saw the lion out of its pen and called the sheriff's office. Deputies killed the lion and then discovered Abell lying nearby, according to the newspaper.
Abell was taken to Hardin County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:37 p.m., Coroner Roger Little said. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday, he said.
Cox said he visited the property about three years ago with state officials to make sure the Abells had the proper permits for the tigers, wolves and other exotic animals the couple kept on the property. He said he believed the lion that attacked Abell was a cub at the time of that visit.
Jeffrey Bonner, the president of the St. Louis Zoo, said Abell's death illustrates just how dangerous wild animals can be.
"Even after centuries of breeding, you still can't eradicate behavior that's natural for them," he said. "Lions hunt for their meat and kill it; it's what they do. To think that an owner of any big cat, even after several years, can really domesticate them is, of course, naive."
Error with lion led to farmer's death
By James Janega, Tribune staff reporter.
The two had raised Simba since he was a cub, and Al Abell must have felt comfortable around the almost full-grown male lion, Kathie Abell said.
Among the things the government oversees with animal exhibitors is how powerful animals like lions and other big cats are enclosed.
Big cats are expected to have two pens: A larger one with shelter in which to live and a smaller "shift pen" into which the animal can be moved while the larger enclosure is cleaned. The gate between the two must have a lock, and anyone who works around the animals must be trained in how to safely move the animals from one pen to the other. Typically, experts say, the maneuver is done by at least two people.
But on Feb. 12, 2004, Al Abell was alone when he moved the lion from its enclosure and into the shifting pen, and "did not lock [the] shift pen while cleaning shelter and surrounding area," the animal care inspection report noted later.
"He never cleaned any large-field enclosure by himself till this tragic event occurred," the report said.
Police reports, as well as interviews with Kathie Abell and southern Illinois law enforcement officials shortly after Al Abell died revealed the tense twilight standoff that day between nervous police officers and an agitated lion on the edge of Shawnee National Forest's 277,000 acres.
It took a half-hour for police officers to fly up the gravel road to the farm after Kathie Abell's call.
In that time, a frantic Kathie Abell had found a tranquilizer gun, but not the darts.
When Hardin County sheriff's deputies arrived, she knew her dog had been killed, but couldn't find her husband.
The Abells' menagerie of wildcats, lorded over by a limping 8-year-old cougar named Freddy, paced and cowered in their pens. The wolves and several huskies cried from cages at the tree line below.
Standing in the Abells' fenced yard with his back to Freddy's cage, Hardin County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Reed aimed an AK-47 at Simba.
Deputy Chad Vinyard and Cave In Rock Police Officers Mike and Terry Dutton ran up behind him, Vinyard on a radio to the county's chief deputy, Bill Stark, asking for ideas.
Stark was speeding in a car with Sheriff Carl Cox, who said he and Stark peered into the failing February light at the dense forest rushing past their car and made a decision.
"We didn't want the animal loose," Cox said.
Stark told them that if they had a clear shot, to take it. "Just make it a kill shot," he told them over the radio.
The police officers turned to Abell. Fifteen years of raising big cats came to a single tearful nod. Vinyard counted to three.
At the first volley, Simba jumped 10 feet, two wounds in his head. Slinking toward a shed, the lion was hit again by Dutton and Reed. Officers came to within a few paces as the lion finally collapsed, and two more shots rang out. Simba stopped breathing.
Vinyard's voice crackled over the radio.
"The lion's down," he said.
That was when Kathie Abell found her husband, noted Reed and Dutton. "We heard Kathie Abell screaming approximately 50 yards away," Dutton wrote.
Paramedics tried CPR, then evacuated Al Abell by air without ever hearing a sound from his lungs. His skin was cold, dry and pale. The coroner determined he had died in minutes, his life pouring out the bite wound in his left thigh.
Kathie Abell gave the lion's carcass to zoology students at Southern Illinois University, where the heaping, frozen body was thawed and dissected two months later.
Nov. 17: 8:45pm Big Cat Rescuers arrive at the Cave In Rock Lodge. It is a tiny, yet historic lodge nestled in the Shawnee National Park. Cave In Rock Park is named for the 55-foot-wide cave that was carved out of the limestone rock by water thousands of years ago. Following the Revolutionary War, this immense recess came to serve as the ideal lair for outlaws, bandits and river pirates who preyed on the people traveling along the Ohio River.One of the most ambitious of these ruthless malefactors was Samuel Mason. Once an officer in George Washington's Revolutionary Army, in 1797 he converted the cavern into a tavern which he called the Cave-In-Rock. From this apparently innocent and inviting position, Mason would dispatch his cohorts upriver to befriend unwary and bewildered travelers with offers of help and guidance. As they neared the cave, these henchmen would disable their boats or force them toward the yawning hollow, where the hapless pilgrims would be robbed, or worse. Few victims lived to tell their story.
By the early 1800s, following the demise of the Mason Gang, the cave sheltered the even more notorious Harpe Brothers, a pair of killers fleeing execution in Kentucky. They continued their personal reign of thievery and murder in Illinois, using the cave as hideout and headquarters until they too were killed.
It's interesting to note that the cave served as a backdrop for a scene in the movie "How The West Was Won." The scene was a near-accurate portrayal of how, in the 18th and 19th centuries, ruthless bandits used the cave to lure unsuspecting travelers to an untimely end.
Although other desperadoes continued to take advantage of the secrecy and seclusion afforded by Cave-In-Rock, by the mid-1830s the quickening westward expansion of civilization and the steady growth in the local population and commerce had destroyed or driven out the "river rats" and the cave began to serve as temporary shelter for other pioneers on their way west.
Nov. 19: 3:52 am the Big Cat Rescue team and Freddy and Sassy the cougars arrived at Big Cat Rescue, but it was too dark to safely let them out, so everyone slept for a couple of hours and waited for dawn.
6:30 am The staff, volunteer committe and board were invited to see the release, but it had been sent out so late that only Chelsea, Howard and I came to watch Jamie, Gale, Chris & Chelsea release Freddy and Sassy into their new, spacious, lakeside homes. Video will be coming soon; once Chris has some time to sleep, get married, renew his driver's license and piece together the footage and interviews. Meanwhile, a picture (or two) is worth a thousand words.
6:30 pm Jamie hand fed Freddy and Sassy from a stick tonight to get a good look at their teeth and to begin a bonding process with them. Our main diet is a prepared ground diet of muscle meat, organs, bones and vitamins but it will be a gradual process to move these cats to the healthier fare. She gave them a few balls on the end of the stick and they weren't crazy about it. They each ate a chicken leg quarter, a plate of necks, and several chunks of beef. Jamie said they would have eaten more, but she didn't want to overload their systems, so she left some more of the ground diet, so that they wouldn't go to bed hungry. The ground diet comes in three fat content levels, so we may try them on the higher content to get them liking it and then scale back once they are in good condition again. Both cats have been very calm and acting like they have known us forever, so all is well tonight at Big Cat Rescue.
Big Cat Rescue is an educational sanctuary and a home for more than 100 big cats 12802 Easy St. Tampa, FL 33625 813.920.4130 Info@bigcatrescue.org