Friday, January 30, 2009

...only to live like royalty...

Every cat at the rescue center is special. They are treated with care, even far beyond that of many domestic house pets. Whatever they need it is there immediately, whether medication or surgery and even basics such as food or straw.

Many of our cats take medication daily, primarily for everyday health like vitamins, but many of them have aged to the point where medication is now just as important as an everyday meal. Prince was one of those cats.

Rescued from a circus in Peru, Indiana, Prince was one of nine tigers brought to the Rescue Center with memories of homes as small as a large dog kennel and abilities stretching further than roaring. Several of these cats came able to stand atop a telephone pole, all four paws. Others able to stand on their back two legs and walk in a circle. Cool to think about, but very sad when you realize the conditions of where these talents had come from. Could you imagine never being able to run?, to stretch out?, barely even walk? When you live in a circus cage and are only exercised for money and a cheering crowd, not only are the people at risk of an animal becoming aggressive from being caged, but also the cat in danger for their own life if they do turn on the crowd or their trainers. The circus is a dangerous life and defiantly not one fit for tigers: under nourished and poorly cared for.

Prince and Princess lived together on the West side of the center. Spending most of their days wallowing in a water tub, climbing a three tier tower, and lying in a box. No worries, screaming crowds, or small cages.

Cats have weird ways of passing on, many times disappearing to die alone or even hopping to a favorite place they haven't been able to reach for years. Unfortunately, last March Princess climbed the tower she hadn't conquered in years. Seeing that she was 18 years old, it was odd she pulled a stunt like this. As she reached the top, she had a stroke and passed away. Since her death Prince has never been the same.
They say that love separation is many times the hardest on animals and the stress of being alone will depress them to the point where they eventually pass as well. Prince was a prime example. He no longer went into the box which he once loved. He paced by day and from what we could tell never, NEVER, stopped walking. In all 20 years of life, Prince constantly walked.

In the past months Prince's health has steadily declined, his back legs unable to support his weight. We placed him on strong doses of Prednisone, an immunosuppresant that affects the immune system, many times used for kidney disease, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases...essentially a steroid. Just as with a pet at home, in the later years of their life you take into special consideration their pain, even the quality of life. The Pred, kept Prince walking (something he never stopped) and on his feet. The stagger he once had had ceased, his back legs supporting him again. When you take medications so often, they start to lose their kick and as with humans, Prince also had to take larger doses to keep him comfortable. His walk became a limp, the limp a stagger, and the stagger soon became a swagger to the point where walking a straight line was hard to do with out him dropping to the ground at least once.

Unlike Tish, Prince had no trouble eating and since he was taking a steroid, eating was something he loved to do most. He also continued regular excretion function.

Friday, Prince's health was falling fast, so was his back end. The spirit and life in his eyes had gone and his expressions were gray. He wasn't interested in his medication anymore and even struggled to visit us at the fence, something he once enjoyed doing. That afternoon we found Prince in Princess's side of the box, something he hadn't done in over a year. Motionless. Fred had already come to put him down, however, we feel Prince had the same idea. We poked his back side with a stick, hoping to rouse him from the box. Motionless. We saw him breathing, but no jump or reaction. We did tranquilize him just for precautions, no flinch, no movement, he just stayed still. He was ready.

It is always hard to put an animal down, but I believe it is harder to watch them suffer. At the end of their life you have to consider their comfort and the quality of life they are living, even if it does mean you have to assist them to the light.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

...a day to play in the snow...

Lets just say that all cats are not the same when it comes to the enjoyment, the thrill, the excitement about a good January snow. The tigers LOVE the snow. It seems they just cannot get enough of it, running spasticallyaround and chasing each other, only to plow into the fluffy snow covered ground.
a fuzzy boy in the snow.
jackie the tiger!tiny Uluru in the snow! I was so excited a few weeks back when we got an overnight 4 inches...WOW was I shocked this past week with the sight I saw Wednesday morning. The weather had said all week that we were supposed to be getting a snow storm and that it was to be rather large. Tuesday it snowed around 4 inches, continuing with another inch of ice mid-afternoon and even into the evening when I went to bed. When I awoke the next morning I was shocked by the 12.9 inches that coated the ground, pathway, road, still blurring the air and sky outside the window. It was total silence outside, you would have thought Indiana had NEVER seen snow.
after a long days work in a foot of snow!
Back to the cats! Like I previously stated, the tigers love the snow. I would have to say that they are the only ones in the whole center. The lions trailed minimal paths that were followed throughout the day and even a week later are still the only prints in the cage. If they meet head-to-head one will back up until a spot is hit for them to pass on the path. Even the cougars that live in the snow don't come out! I plowed a path for Autumn, a cougar, so she would come out of her box! Leopards are the same when it comes to the snow, I think we may have entered every enclosure just to plow a path through the beast beneath!

video
above is another video of the Nine at feeding time, just to give a little action look at the snow!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

...a grumbly, rumbly, roaring stomach...

Food. Probably one of the dirtiest parts of working at the EFRC. Yes, you can scoop poo, pick up maggot filled bones, even the occasional spray, but feeding is where most of the dirty work comes in.

Blood, guts, bones, and internal fluids can get messy, no less a bit smelly. I have learned not to take my clothes home with me. They stink, they are always wet with blood, rain, or snow, and frankly they are just too disgusting to deal with unless you plan an immediate laundry date.

So, butchering. Do you ever wonder how its done? What we use? How we section the animals into meals reasonable for every cat in the center? If so and if your stomach can handle it, go on and read ahead!

For the most part we feed out cow, horse,deer, or goat, but some cats eat only chicken which is processed, much the way we see it when we buy raw chicken from the store. The others, we butcher in our new building. Cows and horses, normally, come already deceased. Every once and a while they come alive and Bill, who drives to get most of our deceased livestock, will put them down humanely.

However, when we get them we move them into the barn and pull a metal rope around the back hoof of the animal. Typically the head comes off first since it allows the animal to drain most of its blood once gone. After the head, we cut off the back leg that is strung in the wire rope. The tension of the animals weight hanging allows a very clean and fast cut detaching the leg from the animal. We then take excess meat off the leg, cutting it down to a size that we can carry and use the chunks. Next is a front leg. We cut it the same as the back, except we leave the shoulder blade attached as well. We take the second front leg next and lastly pull the animal up by the last back leg. We do not take the leg off, instead we cut the chest cavity open and allow the guts (intestines, liver, heart, lungs, etc) to drop into the bucket of the Bobcat. We then take the guts to the compost where they decompose with the help of high temperatures and plenty of bacteria. Since the leg is still attached, we use this time to cut the ribs from the spine, the spine from the brisket, the brisket from the pelvic portion of the animal, and the pelvic from the last remaining leg. Once again, the tension of the animal upside down, allows fast and easy cuts. Butchering can take anywhere from 20-60 minutes for one animal.


The meat, whether on bone or in chunk, is taken into the cooler (approx 30x30 ft) where it waits to be fed out to the cats. We feed out approximately 3,000 pounds of meat a day an equivalent of 2-4 large animals. The meat in the cooler could be fed out immediately or up to a week later.

Front legs will typically be fed to one large cat (lion/tiger), back legs to two cat along with a chunk, and heads/pelvic/brisket to large groups with chunks for each additional cat. Ribs will be fed at random. Smaller cats eat chicken, small legs (calf/goat), or small chunks.
Some cats are fed only chicken. Unlike cow or horse which is red, chicken is white meat and has found to slow the rate of renal failure in cats. We have many old cats and a few with diagnosed renal failure, they eat only chicken. Others have allergies to red meat and can only eat white.

All in all, the process of feeding, even the butchering is well worth the smell, the dirt, the blood, and the grime. The cats need to eat. At the end of the day, looking back at what you have done, accomplished, and achieved, no snow, rain, cold, or heat could beat the gratification of happy cats.
Pictures: Top- Joe butchering
Bottom- meat in the cooler

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

...and now your local on the 8's...

beep beep beep, my alarm rings waking me from the deep depths of my dreams. Can I add what a treacherous sound that is to hear in the morning? I've actually changed to an alarm song, but anyways that doesn't matter.

I hit snooze, just as I do every other morning, and continue this snooze routine for another 20 minutes. I get up, make my oatmeal, and turn on channel 38.

OOOOO, seriously I am excited for the voice, I know its coming....YES!
'And now your local on the 8's'
For all you who do not know, the weather channel plays local weather on every 8 of the hour...say, 2:08pm, 2:18pm, 28, 38, so on. This has become a part of my morning I regret missing. See when you work outside 8-10 hours a day, weather is what you know, very important, highlights of conversation, your life....just something you DO NOT miss!
Most of what they say sounds like Charlie Browns mom on the Peanuts. 'Wwaat waat wat wat' I just gaze at the screen and mostly watch numbers that flash up and the radar slowly moving across Southern Indiana. Well this morning, lets say I almost choked.
'Waat waattt -11 degrees, high of 2, wind chill -20 waat waattt' I thought they were joking, perhaps a crude joke someone played to wake me out of my 7 hour slumber coma. Well it was no joke, the first step I took towards my car told me just that when my nostrils froze to my inner nose.
At work we do like cold weather. As I have said before, the cold bring cattle stampeding to the door, not alive of course, but hey!! we need the food! Today we only worked half the day, making sure to cover our whole body except a sliver of your eye to see what you are doing. We went inside every half hour to avoid frost bite and made sure we kept moving swiftly, briskly. Adding to this chill, we had 4 inches of snow! It was the most snow we have had all winter. Being the Mid-Westerner I am, I loved the snow. Just like the tigers I was excited for the white fluff, something I've missed all winter. The cats, minus the tigers, stay in their boxes and seldom came out to purr, ohm, or say hello. We didn't clean or pull bones like usual in any of the cages, the temperatures being too dangerous, even if you are used to cold weather.

Later in the week we would have work to catch up on, once the cold spree moved through. Lets just say, the 30 degrees it was on Friday...we cleaned. Do your math...if you have 6 tigers in an enclosure, each going to the bathroom 1-2 times a day, and we couldn't clean for 5 days....well that is around 30-40 large (very large) piles of poo and that is just one cage. With 191 cats....today is going to be a long day.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

...squish...

Can you imagine an intestinal back-up so compacted that undergoing surgery would potentially pull out over 10 pounds of straw, fur, and food waste? Well, believe me it happens. Perhaps not to humans, but to a cat...why not?!

Tish had lived at the Rescue Center since 2000, when she came from an extreme situation in Pennsylvania of abuse, malnutrition, and unbearable conditions living among feces and rotting meat. She and her cage mate, Goldie, fit in well at the center with similar stories to many of the cats housed here.

Unfortunately Goldie passed a few years back, before my time at the Rescue Center, but Tish was still there when I arrived. Basking in the sun on the top level of her climbing tower, eyes closed and a small bit of her tongue sticking out the front of her mouth, she looked down at passer-byers as if she were a statue of noble grace and beauty. Of course she was all of that. She would often lie along the fence side waiting for keepers to come by, rub her side while she most appreciatively 'ohmed' with thanks. ('Ohming' is a friendly lion noise...sounds like...ooohhhmmm...)

This past summer, Tish was no longer excreting waste. Keepers would scour the grounds in hunt of even the smallest fecal sample hidden within the long summer grasses. However, it was never found and her appetite soon ceased as well. She was taken in for ultrasound and found that she had a massive back-up in her intestines.

During surgery, over 10 pounds of feces, straw, and fur were pulled from within her. It was also, most obvious, that she was suffering from pancreatic cancer....in humans a very fatal type of cancer leaving only but weeks to live. The pancreas controls enzyme function in the small intestine, helping to breakdown proteins, fats, and carbs. With little to no function, Tish was unable to breakdown her meals, thus severely clogging her up.

However, Tish came out of surgery in remarkable shape. Returning to normal conditions: eating, drinking, and excreting waste. She ran around her enclosure, played on her tower, and waited for the keeper scratches through the fence. We still hunted for her feces, but normally one (very large) pile was found daily...no worries. She soon found the nickname 'Squish' from being so compacted with squish material.

In late December we had a harder time finding her feces...when we did they once again had straw and lots of fur in it. We started finding random piles of vomit as well and worried Tish may have fallen back into her summer ways....compacted because of pancreatic function. She would take her food, but the next day we would pull it out of her house untouched. We knew with her age (approx. 15) she would not be able to undergo another surgery nor would it be fair to keep her alive knowing her pancreas was slowly shutting down.

She ended up not interested in food and quit drinking water. She stayed in her box most of the day, seldomly coming out. She would 'ohm' when we called her name, just to let us know she was there, but the rubs not as important as they once were. Vomiting was a daily routine.

Unfortunately, this past Wednesday we had to put Tish down. Although sad, her life lived at the rescue was nothing short of fabulous, relaxing, and loving. A necropsy (autopsy for animals) will be performed to see the cause of death, although we expect nothing less than failure of her pancreas and another back-up just like the one this summer. She will be cremated, her ashes returning to the center just as every cat before her. Like it says on the website, the Rescue Center provides permanent homes for big cats.

...a young squish on her tower...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

...a big cat new year...

And so the new year has 'roared' in with the cats! I suppose they all stayed up until midnight anticipating the ball drop in New York City and, of course...of course, went wild when 2009 had finally arrived!



Thus far, the new year looks to be a good one. The cooler is extremely full, seeing that we received over 30 large animals in the past week...the big cats will be eating well again!


We have had a food shortage, which I have been told is weird for this time of year, considering the wide spread pneumonia pandemic should literally be sending livestock to the center in herds. The weather has been very warm, then dropping and rain, followed by sun. Just bazaar. However, the animals have stampeded to our door the past week, filling the cooler and the bellies of the 191 big cats at the center.


*all 'roaring in the new year' pictures provided by EFRC website