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January 1, 2011
1 person found this review helpful

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January 1, 2011
1 person found this review helpful

Divine Sanctuary

In my life, it hasn't been easy to open myself up to love and be loved. The blessing of love has sneakily come in the back door for me, through animals and nature. They both paved the way for my opening wider to my human family.

This August, I gifted myself the
overnight experience at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana. I had been to the facility a couple years before with my family and had the most heart-warming experience ever. I fell in love over and over again with these beautiful big cats and the EFRC! I was delighted when they told me about a North Carolina local rescue center with an equally big heart... my other love, The Conservators' Center.

I wanted to stay overnight at the EFRC's apartment, to see more of the animals who weren't on the regular tour, but it was limited to adults and I had two children. The desire was born though and I knew that I would be back to experience it.

The drive up from North Carolina seemed short. Every passing second felt like it was bringing me closer to a dream! Music was my companion and gorgeous scenery, like the Cherokee National forest, the Kentucky river, the mountains, mountains, mountains...

I arrived close to four in the afternoon, plenty of time before the gates closed and staff went home. My adventure begins!

Day 1 - (August 4, 2010)

I fell asleep outside the overnight apartment, with Mirage (bob cat), another lighter coloured bob cat called Swizzle (I think), Pauli Ann (mountain lion), Zoey and Kaya (tigers), Brumby (leopard) and Lanky (Canadian Lynx).

210 cats… 121 tigers and 34 lions…

When I first arrived, I remember Joe asking me, if I wanted to unpack or if I wanted to go see some big cats. No brainer for me. Big cats, of course! I had driven up almost 10 hours from North Carolina, my gift to myself, to be in my kind of heaven!

I do not like being hot, so it has to be something special for me to want to stay outside in prolonged heat. The EFRC is definitely something special! The heat somehow just felt okay.

Remembrances… sun going down, mouths open… everyone panting with the extreme heat today. Doves cooing in the background and grasshoppers or cicadas making a buzzing sound. Synchronised roaring that brings a smile to my face and heart.

Late afternoon rounds… a couple of the tigers tracking the male assistant. As he’d turn his back, they would move closer, then stop when he turned towards them. Childhood games of statues and Mother May I, come to mind!

One of the big cats licking a positively smelly horse’s head. My guide called them “the garbage disposal!”

The sounds… choruses of roars… deep groans, grunts, chuffs, waahs, huhhs, uhhs and mwuhs!

I wondered if I would hear the sounds in the night. Joe Taft, the owner of the EFRC, suggested leaving the windows open a crack so that I would.

Day 2 - (August 5, 2010)

Instead of waking to bird song, I hear a double thud of Pauli Ann, a mountain lion, jumping down from her perch.

I look out, and everyone is pacing. Brumby and Zoey join her in their morning programme of back and forth pacing.

Brumby settles on the top perch to gaze across to where the bobcats live. What’s he thinking about, I wonder.

Brumby and Pauli Ann’s pacing looks like a synchronized dance. There is a grace of movement as they go back and forth, broken by a steady gaze outwards at the smaller neighbouring bobcats.

My daughter likes to pace and circle when she talks. I think it feeds her imagination and creativity in some way.

I am hypnotized by their movement. I have a sense, that somewhere on the rest of the 100 acre property, other bodies are pacing, staring… awake.

I talked to Joe yesterday about the difference with the animals here versus ones at a zoo. They seem so real and alive to me… full colour instead of gray or black and white. He affirms that you are up close and really get to feel their personalities..

Yesterday, Joe called to the cats outside the apartment, offering them a piece of meat. I remember Brumby and his room-mate, Pauli Ann, coming instantly to the fence. Brumby, who Joe has had from a baby, let out a little cat wail that touched my heart. I felt the bond of love between them. One of the care-takers said that she felt that leopards pick out one or two people who they cared about. Joe and Jean were it for Brumby, otherwise he was “mean.”

We should all have someone to love and someone to love us back. Two-leggeds, four-leggeds… one, none…

Why am I here again, visiting this place?

Pauli Ann and Brumby are laying back, heads and paws off the sides of their perches, while Zoey continues to make her morning rounds.

I love life in all of its forms. Animals especially, have an easy way to speak to my heart. They are wide open, showing us who they are, commanding my attention, love and respect.

I watch the two girls, Zoey and Pauli Ann, lovingly grooming themselves and my heart feels full.

Brumby’s tongue pokes out as he scratches his back. My father used to do that… stick his tongue out a bit… when he was in deep concentration mode.

Zoey is now up on her perch pacing. Bigger, heavier than her neighbours, she is equally beautiful. Her movements more lumbering than graceful.

I have to get ready for the day and I find that I don’t want to leave my spot. I don’t want to miss anything!

A piece of the “Why am I here?’ comes to me… This is a living, breathing example of how to treat our family and our home. Our family extends far beyond just the human element. It includes these creatures who walk the earth, inhabit our skies and swim our ocean… They are deserving and worthy… as are we.

Stewards of the earth… our responsibilities lie here… to ourselves and to each other. Each other doesn’t just include human beings. We do the best possible to make this heaven on earth for all.

I didn’t expect to be greeted when I went outside, but I was! My mind went to my own pets back home and how eager they are to see me and of course, to get their dose of loving attention and food.

Zoey gave her chuffle and a tiger cry, that even though I don’t know what it is called, it melts my heart. She actually broke into a loping, playful run alongside the fence, as if she wanted to go for a morning walk! Gosh, doesn’t that remind me of my dogs, my children, myself even... all wanting just a little love and connection.

Kaya greeted me with a chuffle and a cry too, and I was surprised. He raised his tail as if to spray and I jumped back immediately. He did not. The tigers rubbed against the fence, looking like they would love someone to stroke them. I could feel the natural impulse in me to respond, but I did not. These are not my pets.

In between Zoey and Kaya, lives Lanky who was quite scarce yesterday. Today, here he was, sitting still, gazing upwards at the skies. I watched him, closing my eyes for a moment. My heart jumped with fright when I heard a sound behind me! Thank goodness, nobody was loose and ready to jump on this easy prey!

Pauli Ann gave me a little cry and came down from her perch. Brumby raised his regal head and looked. I was happy not to get a snarl.

Came back out after reluctantly giving time to getting dressed… got an “oomph” kind of sound from Kaya and a cry from Brumby. Intutition tells me that he is wanting a visit from Joe or Jean. As he made his way back to his side of the enclosure, Pauli Ann lay in wait and pounced! Cute how he jumped.

Ideally, these animals would be living their lives in the wilds… in their natural habitats. But, that is not to be for some. Circumstances have altered what could have been and have led to their being here. This is a loving alternative and a blessing to live out your days being treated with compassion, love and respect. The words “grace” and “dignity” come to mind.

Feeding… Zoe grabbing her meat and tossing it playfully around. One tiger took a whole horse leg into the water tank, so he could enjoy his bath and hold on to his meal at the same time! Constant in and out with the food, that struck me as funny. Bob and Tom tigers getting really loud when it was feeding time.

Beautiful names matching their owners… Rollo, Elsa, Kayla, Princess, Killian and Bella, JR and Uluru, Samoa, Charm and Copper, Jagger, Majai, Tacumseh, Clancy and Babbs, Paco and Dangerous, Hunter, Romulus, Tinker and Samantha, Gabby, Lea, Missouri, Montana and Sierra, Natasha, Katerina, Dulce, Mauzi, Bombay, Mustafa, Goldie, Navi, Jabbers, Kiki, Tika, Rappie and Cubbie, Koko, Sinbad, Bro and Hannah, Jasmin, Sassy, Zeus and Thor, Tony and Rob, Niko, Oklahoma, Mickey, Bonnie, Jake Jr., Kachina, Samara, Clementine, Lincoln, Killer and Kennedy, Bob and Tom, Anna, Oti and Tony III, Kisa and Max, Lakota, Layla, Simba, Swizzle, Lanky, Samo, Bear, Ra, California Leopards, The Munchkins, Herman’s group, Southern Belles...

Experiences… Zeus and Thor… two male lions who came to the EFRC with Zoey tiger. Probably about 12 to 14 years old, there was a definite display of love and affection with these guys. Poor coordination and muscle tone due to their earlier cramped confinement. A little unsteady with movement but still able to frolic and roll around and enjoy their outdoor haven. Zeus, described as “not all there,” was back kicking like my best dog! To my delight, one of them followed Jen, as she invited them to go skipping alongside the fence! This big cat was literally bouncing along, playing with another free spirit! I am feeling thankful for interventions that change the course of unhappy lives.

Watching the dead animals (horses, cows, chicken, rabbit) being cut up for the big cats, was quite an experience in itself. I found myself feeling really glad and being in gratitude that there was food for our residents. I was happy that there were workers who were perfectly willing and able to perform the tasks to make this happen. A feeling and appreciation for the circle of life.

Beautiful Jagger peering out of his corner space. Watching as one of the wondering wild cats ventured into Jagger’s enclosure. Why on earth would the little cat go into the tiger’s home?! One of the staff members mentioned that the cat had had her kittens in the back. 100 acres and she picks the back of a tiger’s house to have kittens and they were still alive?! My contemplating all of this led to my talking to a staff member about parenting.

Some big cats put their energy into nurturing their young, while others focus on protecting their own and creating new offspring. Lions, even if starving, won’t eat their own. They may kill the offspring of another lion, but still not eat it.

A big group of tigers getting hosed off and loving it, as their area was being cleaned out. They kept moving in circles and winding in and out of each other… muddy and happy. All the while, beautiful sounds! While the tigers were in this smaller, "holding" area, David was out alone, aerating their huge pond. You couldn't see him because of all of the grasses and I remember thinking about trust, responsibility and the need to have a good memory! Before letting that clan out, everybody's whereabouts need to be known.

Back at the main entrance, sitting and waiting to make the rounds to the main tour area… Impromptu visitors arriving and I am happy, as this means money coming in and people being given the opportunity to know God's wild ones...

Feeling love and overwhelming gratitude. Thankful for people who will devote their time and energy to care for a species.

Thankful that creatures get to experience a second chance and the gift of a peaceful haven.

Mmmwaah, mwah, mwah… Sounds more like a cow than a tiger! Happy, contented sounds.

Finding the 4 ½ inch whisker from Hunter tiger in my journal just now. Remembering how he had chuffed at me and then feeling like a kid when Jen discovered the whisker in his enclosure and presented it to me! Treasure!

Loving the “wave” of noise. Loving that somebody is nicknamed “Smiley boy,” that Jabber lion is grumpy and a 19 year old ocelot is here to retire. Just like everyone else, these big cats have distinct personalities… Gabby II lies on her back and plays patta cake with her paws! How precious is that really?!

The next time that I ever have to cut up a chicken, or have to clean out my cat’s litter box, I will remember that someone else has to cut up a cow and clear out decaying bones and matter.

Feeling amused when Sam lion was stubborn and wouldn’t come when David kept tirelessly calling. Loving the affectionate comment that male lions can be “dumb” sometimes. Amused again when Rebecca told one of the cats, “Anna, you gotta pay attention!” Feels like me with my children!

Max, the biggest tiger, living with Kisa lioness. She has neurological damage and walks a bit unsteadily. Sweet girl who was swatting at Max’s legs for attention and then bit his hind quarters. He jumped and then roared his displeasure at her. She was just playing big guy!

Last day - (August 6th)

Outside the apartment, everyone is definitely frisky this morning. The light coloured bobcat, Swizzle, is jumping and racing around from perch to perch, down to the ground and back up again. Later, a dead skink was discovered as the source of her antics.

Zoey reminds me of my pet dog and cats, playing with her two boomer balls, tail out… tail up in the air… batting them around, jumping in the air, crouching down over the ball and then galloping off!

Brumby and Pauli Ann… double pacing on two levels. Kaya, way down at the other end, also pacing.

Everyone in their morning spot. Dozing, resting… settling into a good feeling.

Food’s coming!

Precious Lanky gazing upwards and making his way through the brush, blind like India tiger, but knowing his space…

My morning guides are here!

Zoey being incredibly frisky... bounding and jumping up, and it felt like she wanted David to come in and play! Come play and then food!

I leave my journal in my car this morning and just follow and feel with my heart… In feel with the animals, the staff, the whole experience... crying as I feel with my senses, each individual creature and then, collectively as a bigger family...

One moment in the building, when I saw Joe and he asked how my morning was… Tears in my eyes, as I said that I didn’t want to leave. Moments later, standing in the big field, seeing all of the enclosures and registering the soul of this place… More tears and the reluctance to leave.

Driving home later that morning, listening to music... memories re-surfacing...

Somebody To Love by Queen

Audra, Rebecca, Jen, Hollie, David, Ziggie, Ann, Jan, Joe, Jean, volunteers and staff whose names are unknown to me, but whose hearts and actions are not...

Julia, Mindy, John David, Doug, Carolyn, Janine...

Talking to Rebecca about rescues and remembering her response that it is not easy to remain professional when you go on a rescue trip. Sometimes, we are called to have a fierce heart... to feel anger that you could blow them all away and sleep well that night... But, you blow no one away in reality, using that energy to do what you do every day, because your presence is needed right here, right here...

When you open your heart and you really feel another being, another creature... you can't abuse them. How could you? How can you experience love and life fully and go forward to commit harm? To do harm, there has to be ignorance and closed off spaces internally...

(from my blog on wordpress: "For The Love Of The Wild" - http://loveofthewild.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/divine-sanctuary/)

Photos

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

Personal tours. Overnight apartment stay combined with following keepers around all day... yeah!

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Move it closer to my home! There is a beauty as a visitor to the EFRC, to just being able to show up for a tour. On the other hand, it might be easier on the staff to have scheduled times for tours.

More feedback...

Will you volunteer or donate to this organization?

Definitely

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Life-changing

How did you learn about this organization?

I came across the book "Saving The Big Cats" which led me to an online search for the EFRC.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

August 11, 2009

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August 11, 2009

My husband and I went last month. Nothing compares to hearing a lion's roar up close for the first time. Absolutely amazing place. We will be back in October for our first overnight.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

the thrilling memories will be with me for a lifetime.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

not change a thing -- it's incredible.

More feedback...

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

Their friendliness and their dedication to these animals. The fact that they have given these "disposable" cats a second chance in life.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

Friendly, clean, knowledgeable.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

Build an even larger facility and take in more Cats.

Ways to make it better...

I had known that they wouldn't have to adopt any more of these animals because people would quit seeking ownership of an animal that was never meant to be a pet.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

The lack of laws concerning ownership of exotic animals.

One thing I'd also say is that...

the work Joe and his staff does is incredible. Entertaining for guests but miraculous for the animals. Kindness from humans and the right to live their lives out in peace.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

One time

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

August 6, 2009
1 person found this review helpful

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August 6, 2009
1 person found this review helpful

I've been a volunteer since 2001. EFRC is the most ethical rescue center anywhere. Excellent vet care and environment for the animals. Almost 200 felids.

More feedback...

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

save more animals, build larger cages, provide better facilities for vistors.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

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