n then, considering many have been abused at former homes, “it takes a long time for them to actually trust us,” she said.
Smith talks to her cats like everyone else talks to their household pets. On a recent Thursday afternoon, it was Zena, an adult white tiger, that captured Smith’s attention. With only the metal of a cage separating the two of them, Zena roared out a warning.
“Are you going to be nice to me? I love you,” Smith said to the cat.
Before long, both Zena and her brother Zeus were lying, feet fully extended, on the concrete floor of their cages. That’s an indication the animal has submitted to its perceived master, Smith said.
The cats have at minimum space in a cage; some of the luckier ones have a grassy habitat area that allows them to roam freely. Park officials would like all caged cats to have access to such a space and are building several long, narrow habitats on some of the park’s 450-plus acres. The habitats are filled with exercise balls and obstacles for the cats to climb on or rest under.
Two new habitats have already opened this year, and another is scheduled to debut on April 28 as part of the facility’s 20th anniversary celebration. It’s a 20-day party that continues through May 5, when the refuge plans to have a day of free admission for Madison and Carroll county residents. Fireworks will also be launched on May 5.
Though the refuge remains dedicated to providing extra space for each of the animals, doing so is an elaborate and expensive proposition. So is keeping the cats fed.
A crew of interns carts wheelbarrows full of raw meat around to the cats once a day, usually in the early afternoon hours. In the summer, when the cats are kept lean, Turpentine Creek interns disburse about 1,000 pounds of meat a day. In the winter, when the cats are working to maintain body heat and their thicker winter coats, nearly 2,000 pounds of meat are consumed.
The majority of that meat comes from local suppliers’ waste stock, and
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