I have been asked the question – what has changed since you first decided to get a big cat and now? A lot! It has gone from a want and desire, to a commitment, passion and honor of providing a home and environment to something that I really shouldn’t be allowed to possess. I have been fascinated my whole life with big cats. From the time my dad took us on vacations to San Antonio and visited the zoo. As a young child, I would sit in front of the lions or tigers and watch every pacing movement, falling in love and dreaming of being able to actually care for one. Of course, at that moment, it was purely fantasy and never did I think in a million years I would actually have the privilege of sharing my life with these magnificent animals. Moving to Terrell, Texas in 1992 gave me the opportunities that I had only dreamed of before as far as big cats. I remember hearing about an older couple who had a plumbing business not far from where we bought our land. They had a small roadside zoo behind their business and there were days you might stop in and see a young lion cub running around in the store. I was in awe, and found myself stopping by frequently and even took family members up there when they would visit. Shortly after our move to Terrell, I met a lady named Vicki that became my mentor and friend who shared her life with lions and cougars. Her place was called Harmony Hills, and at the time, I thought it was harmony and heaven all rolled into one. She quickly saw how much I loved her cats and was eager and happy to help me with the process of acquiring my own. Fortunately, my husband, Gary, went along with the idea and even began the process of designing a pen for what would be our first cougar. The Texas Parks & Wildlife regulated the acquisition of big cats at the time, so Vicki schooled me on their rules and expectations before making application to own one. Sadly, Vicki passed away a few years back, but I will never forget everything she taught me and will always cherish the path my life took because of her efforts. Back during the early days, you could go to the Classified section in the Dallas Morning News and find a lion or cougar for sale, which now horrifies me at the thought. I wanted to start big, but Gary talked me into starting with a cougar thinking it might be a little easier to handle initially. I finally agreed and we found a breeder in Oklahoma that had cougar cubs for sale. We didn’t have a pen ready at the time, but knew for the first few months, the baby would live in the house with us. It scares me now to think about how inexperienced we were and how much we had to learn about the care and feeding of such a precious life. Vicki made the drive to Oklahoma with us and shared in our excitement of bringing home our first big cat cub, a cougar we named Dewey. I wouldn’t trade these wonderful memories for the world that each new life has brought with it. Unfortunately, along with every moment of joy comes moments of devastation and sadness. Feeding a baby cougar with a bottle became a challenge for us and we never realized how quickly they can aspirate on the milk as it’s going down. We ended up losing that precious boy and our world turned upside down as quickly as everything had been right in it. By then, that baby had touched my life in ways that I can never explain other than to say he ripped my heart and soul out, and from that moment, I found that I would never be the same without a big cat in my life. That has never changed after 23 years. We quickly acquired another cougar cub that we named Cayman after the most memorable scuba diving trip we took. We realized that our scuba diving days were pretty much over after getting into the big cat world and ended up selling all our gear and knowing that vacations were to be a thing of the past. It was a choice I still don’t regret even as much as I loved to travel. It paled in comparison with my new life with a big cat. So, Gary and I have made huge sacrifices and dedicated our lives to providing a safe haven for all these big cats who have changed our lives forever in such a good way. The journey has not been easy, but it has been more rewarding than any other path I might have chosen. I must say it has been an honor and privilege to share my life with them and I love and cherish every one of them. Nothing worth doing is easy in this world, but for every tear shed, and sacrifice made, there have been smiles and joy tenfold. My life couldn’t be better, I wouldn’t change a thing and I am blessed beyond belief.
June 29, 2016