Sanctuary owner says animals may have to be euthanized

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August 20, 2006

KEENESBURG, CO – Pat Craig said he is facing a terrible choice: raise enough money to feed the lions, tigers and other large predators at his sanctuary while he finds them new homes or euthanize the 155 animals.

“Of course, that is going to be the very, very last thing we ever do,” Craig said last week during a tour of the sanctuary 30 miles northeast of Denver. “But in December, I was sure that within two weeks, I’d be doing that.

“You either let them starve to death or you go out there and do the right thing,” he said.

This isn’t the first time that Craig has appealed to the public for help with his Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center. This time, said Craig, who ended last year with a $250,000 deficit, donations won’t keep him open.

“We didn’t just lose a little. We lost well over half of our income,” Craig said, blaming the lack of donations on the national and global disasters.

He has 75 tigers, 12 lions, nine leopards and 30 bears, plus wolves and smaller cats.

Others involved in rescuing animals that are victims of illegal trade in exotic criticized Craig’s statements, saying they amount to blackmail.

“He knows, like us, that sanctuaries are filled to capacity and he’s got a lot of cats and where are they going to go?” said Vernon Weir, director of the American Sanctuary Association. “Once you start killing these animals, it becomes an acceptable method for disposing of these animals and we don’t want this to ever become acceptable.”

Nick Sculac, the owner of Big Cats of Serenity Springs, a sanctuary near Calhan in El Paso County, said the threat of euthanization is a fund-raising ploy by Craig.

“He won’t do it. It’s the only way that he knows how to raise money,” Sculac said.

Sculac has his own challenges at his sanctuary following the death of his wife, Karen Sculac, earlier this month. Volunteers have said they want to help keep the 128 cats there.

Prairie Winds, a sanctuary with 45 big cats in Kiowa, southeast of Denver, is closing. Owner Mike Jurich is finding homes for his lions and tigers one or two at a time. He said he doesn’t have the resources or energy to raise the $50,000 he would need to stay afloat.

“I feel like I’m parting with my family. I feel like I’m parting with my children,” he Jurich. “It breaks my heart to think about it, but it’s better for them.”

Colorado has banned big cats as pets since 1985 and has some of the toughest regulations, adopted in 2003, for sanctuaries. The state banned new nonprofit facilities, and none have opened since then.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife licenses seven wildlife sanctuaries.

Nationwide, 20 states have banned keeping them as pets, and the federal government is implementing the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which prohibits interstate or Internet trade of big cats.

The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates from 10,000 to 15,000 big cats are in private hands, from cages in basements to roadside zoos. Most that wind up in sanctuaries came from squalid and inhumane conditions.

Sanctuaries are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which only controls how animals are euthanized but doesn’t prohibit it.

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