by Madeline A. Windsor (writer/photographer)
Catty Shack Wild Life Sanctuary, a non-profit refuge for tigers, lions, leopards and more, are in great need of expansion. According to Billy Bellis, a 33-year-old Catty Shack volunteer and tour guide, the possibility for expansion is currently “in the air.”
“If these were wild tigers they’d be getting their own territory,” Bellis said. “They would be dominating 3-400 square miles of land. They need a ton of land.”
Catty Shack specializes in giving homes to big cats born in captivity. They are never bred, and they live in the sanctuary for the rest of their lives. They are never released into the wild, and so the sanctuary becomes their home. The amount of work put into taking care of these animals are, much like their size, tremendous.
“There’s a lot of prep work that goes on just to feed these cats,” Bellis said. “We prep about 525 pounds of meat in [the kitchen] today. That means thawing it out with a million flies buzzing around you, cutting it up, portioning it out, putting it in bowls, putting vitamins and minerals on it and supplements we give to the cats.” The sanctuary preps food six days a week.
Some of these cats need particular medical treatment, such as Terry – a 14-year-old tiger living at Catty Shack with hip dysplasia. Currently Terry is receiving stem-cell treatment, and is showing improvement.
Donations and volunteers are what keeps the Catty Shack running. All money from the tours, and thrift shop, and donations goes 100% to the animals. But space is limited for these animals. Recently, the sanctuary had to put Spider-man and Spike – two large male tigers in their prime – into separate cages. They had become more solitary, according to Bellis, which is typical for most male tigers growing up, and despite living together in the same habitat in the past, they had to be separated for their own well being.
“Every time we do that, it spreads us a little thinner,” Said Bellis. “Because instead of one habitat, now we’re taking up two habitats, and with 10 acres here we’re very limited.”
Exercise and enrichment are important for these animals. Ideally, a habitat for a big cat needs 15 by 20 feet of land, including furnishing such as a cat house, and a personal pool. This roughly costs around $25-30,000.
Curt LoGiudice, executive director and curator of Catty Shack, is particularly passionate about not only the animals’ need for space, but the need for more education. LoGiudice is an active member of the state exotic animal community and works closely with the USDA and state officials when accepting new animals from previous owners. His passion for these cats show at the night feeding, where the tigers will rub their heads against the cages and growl softly in his presence. The well being, and happiness of these animals are at utmost importance to Catty Shack.
“We need more homes for these cats,” LoGiudice said. “And better use of education.”
According to WWF ( World Wildlife Federation ), only about 3,200 tigers exist in the wild today and 5,000 in captivity in the USA. It’s important that these rescued tigers get a comfortable home, and Catty Shack is doing their best to provide for them.