SAN DIEGO -- After reading about two tigers that were on the verge of being abandoned following a Texas couple's divorce in 2002, Loraine Wiser was moved to help a California shelter that rescues abused and neglected lions and other big cats.
Wiser, who serves as chief financial officer of CUSO Financial Services LP, has been a volunteer with Lions, Tigers and Bears (www.lionstigersandbears.org) for the past few years. The rescue facility provides a safe haven for abused and unwanted exotic cats. It is estimated that about 10,000 exotic cats are living in captivity in the United States, amassing a $17 billion a year industry, according to the charity organization.
"It's something I feel so passionate about," Wiser said of the time she devotes to helping care for the cats.
Turns out that the Texas female tiger was pregnant with two cubs, and the 93-acre facility needed more room to accommodate the brood. Starting in 2004, Wiser had built a rapport with some of the babies at the compound. She was trained to feed the very hungry and rapidly growing cubs. Right now, there are four tigers, three lions, two bobcats and one leopard that call the facility home. California wildlife officials recently brought in a "very wild" mountain lion. There's a medical and surgery room onsite to treat the animals.
Wiser has donated many Saturdays to feedings, cleaning bathrooms, watering sod and picking up donated items. She encouraged her colleague Amy Beattie, chief operating officer of CFS, to help out. Beattie, Wiser and both their spouses have since become advocates of caring for the cats. CFS purchased a table at the organization's last fundraiser and has bought a brick for the tiger trail currently being paved.
According to the organization, it costs $60,000 annually to provide food and veterinary care for the animals and another $34,000 for insurance. A recent fundraiser brought in $50,000 toward its $90,000 goal for a new tiger enclosure. The facility is licensed to house up to 30 cats.
As with most states, it is illegal to own large cats in California, Wiser said. Texas and Louisiana are the exceptions. What often happens is people buy cubs enamored by their cuteness and playful nature. As they grow older, many are abandoned, often left to die.
"These animals don't qualify for zoos because they're not pure bred or they're not from Africa," Beattie said. "They're brought in off the street. Certain states don't have laws in place so there are many sanctuaries like this one across the country."