Western Indiana residents urge rules for Joe Taft’s Cats

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Western Indiana residents urge rules for exotic cat center


Associated Press

CENTER POINT, Ind. – Western Indiana residents upset by a cougar’s escape from an exotic animal shelter want Clay County officials to tighten the shelter’s regulations.


Neighbors of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, which houses about 190 tigers, lions and cougars, have collected more than 50 signatures on a petition asking the county’s commissioners to impose regulations.


Center Point residents P.J. Nicoson led the petition drive and fears more animals could escape. The cougar that escaped in January from the shelter about 20 miles east of Terre Haute remains on the loose.


"A wind storm could go through there and lay those fences down, and we’re all going to be hunting," Nicoson said. "It’s a matter of preservation. I think they’re pretty, but everything’s got a place. Their natural instinct is going to be to get out and roam around and eat meat."


Clay County Commissioner Paul Sinders said commissioners are considering developing an ordinance, though no decision have been made.


The not-for-profit rescue center was founded by Joe Taft, its chief operator, and houses 190 animals. He said the animal are locked down when severe weather hits the area.


Taft said the center has had only one escape in its 16-year history. On Jan. 5, a wild, 7-year-old cougar named Donner escaped from a cage with 14-foot sides. He said there have been no new sightings of Donner in spite of ongoing trapping and search efforts.


"Losing Donner has been like a major personal tragedy, and it’s the largest failure of my life," Taft said. "While this animal was not a pet, she was a wild animal. She was our responsibility. We take these responsibilities very seriously."


The center already is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which makes regular, unannounced visits to inspect the site.


The shelter provides abused and neglected animals with a large, stable environment, veterinary care and a professional, trained staff, Taft said. He founded the center in 1991 after he rescued two neglected tigers. It had 21,000 visitors in 2006.


Rescue center employees remove dead animals from area farms to feed the center’s animals.


Center Point Town Board president Roy Smith said the feline center is not a nuisance.


"I have two small children, and I’ve no problem with him being down there," Smith said.


Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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