Serenity Springs Owner Foreclosed and Heart Attack
By Deborah Frazier, Rocky Mountain News
June 26, 2006
Nick and Karen Sculac, owners of Big Cats of Serenity Springs, have another sad animal sanctuary story.
But they’re counting on a happy ending.
Big Cats of Serenity Springs, located in Calhan about 65 miles southeast of Denver, is home to 105 lions, tigers, leopards and other large felines.
The Sculacs started the refuge 14 years ago, taking in cats from failed sanctuaries and from private owners – including fighter Mike Tyson – who had lost interest in their toothsome exotic pets.
"They don’t come with dowries, not even Tyson’s," said Karen Sculac. "Other refuges don’t take cats without dollars, but I can’t put a price on their heads."
That was fine until last year, when Nick Sculac had a massive heart attack and mothballed his contracting business that kept fresh meat in the large cats’ bellies.
This year, the bank foreclosed on the Sculac’s 8,000-square-foot home. The couple moved into a small house on the sanctuary’s already-paid-for 15 acres.
"We’re not going to a homeless shelter, and neither are the cats," Karen Sculac said.
Nick Sculac, 54, known in southeastern Colorado as "The Tiger Man" for his cheery pickups of fresh livestock carcasses for his brood, has six stents in his arteries and a slew of medicines.
He’s hoping for a full recovery by next year and has paid all his medical bills with cash. But he grieves that he’s got to stay away from his furry wards.
"If they bite me, I’ll bleed to death because of the blood thinners," said Sculac, who once romped with lions and tigers that embraced him with paws the size of baseball gloves.
Each week, the cats devour 1,683 pounds of meat, and the Sculacs’ savings account is as dented as the metal barrels the lions toss around their enclosures.
A vendor who trades in meat that’s past the deadline for human consumption and Red Bird Farms in Denver help, but sometimes those supplies run short.
Karen Sculac said she then buys chicken quarters by the case at the local discount store.
The Sculacs said their refuge, one of only two licensed big cat sanctuaries in the state, isn’t closing.
But if Big Cats of Serenity Springs did close, state officials wouldn’t be surprised.
"It’s tragic, but it’s a tough world and sometimes the animals are better off being euthanized," said Rick Enstrom, a Colorado Wildlife Commissioner.
In 2003, the commission banned new nonprofit exotic animal refuges to prevent Colorado from becoming the dumping ground as other states banned refuges.
But that didn’t stop the Sculacs or Pat Craig’s Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center near Greeley from taking in more animals every year.
The Conservation Center, which houses 152 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other wildlife, ran $150,000 short last year.
Craig launched a media campaign for donations.
It worked, as it had before, said Enstrom. He said the Sculacs haven’t resorted to emotional pleas to raise money – but they could.
"When something does happen to the Sculacs or Craig, we will have an emotional and financial train wreck," said Enstrom. "The refuge owners can’t do it all their lives. And, they run out of money."
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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