Mo. animal facility has rough year

Friends unite to aid animal refuge

By T.J. GREANEY of the Tribune’s staff
Published Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Walking into the home of Deb and Dale Tolentino is like wandering onto a movie set. At least 40 cats crowd the small living space, splayed on top of cupboards, crouching inside the kitchen sink, flexing their claws on the ground. The air is heavy with fur and odors, and a visitor can’t help but feel eyes on him from every direction. In one cage, a macaw parrot whistles, and in the next a giant iguana lounges. In a corner, a tortoise has retreated inside its shell, and in another cage a python flicks its tongue. And that’s just inside the house.

Outdoors, the predators roam. The Tolentinos care for more than 200 animals, including two lions, four cougars, three bobcats, four wolves and a hulking Bengal tiger named “Tony.” Nearly all of them were rescued from owners who couldn’t care for them or did not want to, and some animals have even been sent here by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Caring for the animals, the Tolentinos said, has been their life’s work, and they make no excuses for the way they live.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” said Deb Tolentino, a registered veterinary technician. “Somebody’s got to step up to the plate. We don’t live as nice as most people, but we live better because we’ve got a lot of love around us.”

It has been a rough year for the pair who operate D-D Farm Animal Sanctuary and Rescue on North Creasy Springs Road.

In June, a tree limb fell on their kitchen, punching a hole in the roof and allowing rainwater to pour in. In October, an electrical fire damaged their barn and cut off electricity to four giant freezers used to store meat for the carnivores. The fire also cut off the electricity that heats water troughs in the animal pens. Then, in November, a second electrical fire damaged the kitchen. As a result, the couple is behind the eight ball when it comes to caring for their animals: Feeding the big and small cats alone costs $200 to $300 every two weeks.

So to help the Tolentino’s continue their work, neighbors and friends plan to pitch in and donate their time and elbow grease to rehabilitate the place. A group led by Wes Dantzler, a neighbor, plans to begin work Saturday to install new drywall, insulation, an electrical conduit, sink and a countertop in the kitchen as well as repairing the electrical wiring in the barn. They expect the work to last through about five weekends, and Dantzler considers it a way of saying “thank you” to the Tolentinos, who he believes do invaluable work.

“We can’t let somebody like that, that’s worked so hard to take care of animals that have been mistreated by so many people, sit out there and put up with that through the winter,” Dantzler said.

Friends of the Tolentinos at Joe Machens Automotive and the Columbia Post Office, where Dale works as a custodian, have also made contributions totaling about $1,700 toward the rehab project.

Veterinarian Debbie Leach has known the Tolentinos for 10 years – Deb Tolentino works part time at her animal hospital, My Zoo – and said she visits the house nearly every month to check on animals. She vouched for it as clean and responsible and said the couple deserves the help.

“It’s a really good operation,” she said. “Both of them work full time, and how they have the energy at their age,” to stay up nights “feeding baby squirrels, baby raccoons, baby possums, feeding everything, I have no idea”

On a tour of the farm, Deb Tolentino said the couple has sacrificed to take care of the animals, but they plan to keep doing it as long as they are able. She walked comfortably inside a cage and scooped a lanky African savannah cat known as a serval into her arms. Then she directed a reporter’s attention to “Kenya,” a blind Canadian lynx with eerie opaque eyes. “She’s absolutely stunning,” Tolentino said.

She said she doesn’t fear for her safety walking inside the big cat cages. She knows their moods and knows how to play it safe.

“You always have close calls,” she said in response to a question of whether she has ever been attacked. “It’s just how close you make them.”

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Reach T.J. Greaney at (573) 815-1719 or tjgreaney@columbiatribune.com.

http://www.columbiatribune.com/2008/Dec/20081224News008.asp

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at https://bigcatrescue.org

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