Texas facility started with abandoned cougar

By AARON CHIMBEL / WFAA.com MOBILE JOURNALIST
11:00 AM CST on Saturday, March 3, 2007

For most of her life Vicky Keahey was a dog person.

Keahey showed and groomed dogs for more than 25 years, but things began to change in 1992.

Keahey was a veterinary associate at the time. The clinic where she worked treated a cougar named “Tahoe,” but the owners of the 18-month-old cougar never returned. Keahey ended up adopting “Tahoe” and cared for the cougar at her home in Collin County.

She thought that would be the extent of her animal rescues. But two years later, another cougar needed a home, and she took him in, too. In 1998, another addition. This time, it was a Bengal tiger. Keahey never expected to have 34 exotic cats, one day, and her own, non-profit sanctuary, In-Sync Exotics.

“It just kept growing and growing,” Keahey said.

Now her life is consumed by the cats. The sanctuary has filled the land around her home near Wylie, and she is at the facility nearly all day, every day. She has one paid employee and relies on a team of about 30 weekly volunteers. The last time she says she had a day off was in January, for her wedding anniversary.

“Some of them have had a really bad start,” Keahey explained. She said she dedicates her life to her cause to give the cats a better life.

Keahey says there are always too many big cats in need of care. Part of the blame falls on confusing state laws which say it is illegal to own exotic cats, but it is legal to breed, buy and sell them.

Then there’s poor judgment.

“Some people think it’s cool to have a tiger in their backyard,” she said. “[But] if they get to be 400 pounds and they play with you, you’re dead.”

Keahey said she has a list of 75 cats, right now, that need a refuge like the one she provides. She would like to expand to six acres adjacent to her property, but the owner of that land is not selling, yet. Her sanctuary is at capacity with 16 tigers, two lions, seven cougars, three leopards, two African servals, two Siberian lynxes and two bobcats.

Volunteers build all of the cages to keep costs down. They try to make the area as comfortable as they can, with room for cougars to climb and a pool for the tigers.

“They’ll be here for the rest of their lives, so we have to make it as good as we can make it,” she said.

In-Sync Exotics is open to visitors from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends ($10 for adults and $7 for children). Large groups can visit during the week by appointment.

E-mail achimbel@wfaa.com

http://www.wfaa.com/sharedcontent/dws/wfaa/ latestnews/stories/wfaa070303_kd_mojocats.13188d99.html

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