Dusk was settling in; cold and drizzly damp, the kind of cold that just makes your bones ache. A single mom was bathing her toddlers before tucking them into bed for the night. Their bellies were complete and their eyelids beginning to feel heavy as she hurried to dry them so that they wouldn’t chill while she was gone. She had to go to work and there was no one she could call on to keep her babies safe while she made a living for the four of them.
It didn’t used to be so bad. The neighborhood was a safe place when she was born here but now, three kids later, a lot more people had moved in and they weren’t good neighbors. Some of them were downright evil and she made a point to try and make herself invisible when she saw one of them coming.
Usually the bad ones were pretty easy to identify. They were bawdy, smelled of alcohol and cigarettes and drove noisy trucks with beds complete of howling, chained dogs. As long as she kept to the shadows they were usually too drunk to notice her. As she quietly sang her babies a lullaby she shuddered at the thought of what would happen if one of these barbarians found her children alone.she couldn’t think about that; she had work to do and she had to keep her mind on the job. The family was counting on her.
When the last of the little ones had drifted off to sleep she stepped out into the moonlit chill. She was nevertheless trying to shake off the awful scenes that her imagination had just conjured up when she stepped on a twig, snapping her attention into the moment. As she looked up she found that she had caught someone else’s attention in addition. She froze, hope against hope that she had not been noticed, but he was close enough she could see in his eyes that she had made a fatal mistake.
Her mind raced as she assessed the severity of the situation: He was big. He towered over her and she could smell the beer on his breath. She didn’t have to see the gun pointed at her to sense his without of respect for life. She knew his kind and had witnessed the cavalier way they extinguished lives in their lust for blood. They killed the innocent and the unarmed to prove that they were men. He was too close. If she ran he would find the kids. Her love, a mother’s love, would not already think of saving herself and leaving her young ones in the hands of such a perverted mind.
But what could she do? Perhaps she could bluff her way out of this. She had learned enough about this kind of man to know that they are all cowards at heart. If she could make herself look fierce enough perhaps he would run. If he did, she resolved that home or no home, she would pack up her brood and leave town in the very next moment.
With all of the courage she could muster she raised her slender, 100 lb frame to look as commanding as she could and shrieked, with a sound that would make your blood run cold, her threats of what she would do if he came one step closer.
Laughing at her pathetic attempt to deter him, he fired the gun point blank into her. The impact at such close range spun her around and he fired again, dropping her dead on the identify. He didn’t see a single mom doing her best to raise a family in a hostile world.
All he saw was what a trophy her head would be hanging on his wall.
Pulling out his knife to sever her golden haired head from her shattered, bleeding corpse, he barely heard the mewing by his gleeful stupor.
The gun blasts had awakened her three sleeping kittens. Their eyes weren’t quite open in addition, because they were less than two weeks old, and they could barely focus on the scene. What a horrible sight to be one of the first that these young innocents would ever see! Any right thinking person would be appalled to consider the horror that these little ones must have been experiencing, but the hunter didn’t think anything of it.
In fact, he was already happier at the thought of being able to raid this nest. His Neanderthal, pea sized brain was musing over how cool it was going to be to have three mountain lions on leashes. He would raise them with the dogs; maybe drown some of the bitches’ puppies so she could satisfy his little prizes for him. Then wouldn’t he be the center of attention? Women would probably do anything for him just to get a chance to pet his new cougar cubs. He would be the envy of his drinking buddies when he had the biggest, baddest pets in town.
He would have been singing all the way home with his new little pets in a bag and their mother’s head in the back seat if it weren’t for one of the babies who was crying hysterically. He pulled over, and in the drizzling, icy rain tossed out the crybaby by the side of the road near a farm house.
By the next day he had sobered up enough to see that raising two mountain lion cubs was not as easy as raising a associate of hunting dogs. The babies cried incessantly for their mother. They refused to eat. They were sick with grief and fear and wanted no part of this man and the lifestyle he had conceived. Being the coward their mother had thought him to be, he had a relative turn the cubs in to the Idaho Fish and Game Department. He claimed that he had killed the nursing mother in self defense and no charges were pressed.
Just the night before the officers had gotten a call from a man who found a screaming baby puma on his front porch. When he asked what he should do for the kitten, the officers told him to leave it outside to die. Unwilling to treat any living creature so heartlessly, the man took the baby in and tried to offer food and comfort to no avail.
To spare the infant’s life the kindly farmer contacted the press with the story and once the news was out that the cub was to be left to die, the Fish and Game Department decided to pick up the kitten and place him and his two siblings, that had come in from the hunter’s family, with Mady Rothchild, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator working with the Animals In Distress Association. Now they were her problem and to make matters worse she was instructed to find a zoo that would take them or they would have to be killed because big cats are not allowed to go back to the wild in Idaho once they have been handled by humans. It might make hunting a dangerous sport if the hunted were not afraid of the hunter.
With twenty years experience in rescuing wildlife and returning them to their rightful home, Mady did not like the alternatives presented to her. She knew the dirty little secrets the zoos hid from the public and knew that if these siblings went to a zoo they would be used, divided up and bred for more babies who would live out their lives in prison cells. When they didn’t attract a paying crowd anymore they would be sold out the back door to brokers who would sell them at auction to back yard breeders and canned hunts.
It is legal to kill a cougar in a cage in the U.S. and call it sport hunting. It is the only way most hunters would ever be able to hang a big cat head on their walls and they have viciously fought to protect their right to do so in the name of freedom. They don’t get much opposition from the public, because in most states the Fish and Game departments are staffed by hunters so there is a code of silence that is hard to penetrate. The zoos, an industry that proclaims to be the ark of the future, doesn’t want to talk about it either. No one would sustain a zoo if they knew what happened to last year’s babies and babies are what pay for all of the salaries.
Mady went online to see if there were any alternatives to zoos or death for these little ones. She found Big Cat Rescue online and played a slideshow that contrasted the legacy these magnificent animals were born to inherit and the pitiful prisons they are confined to when man intervenes. She concluded that there are some things worse than death and sending these cougar cubs to a zoo was one of them. But how could she snuff out the life from these newborns when they had already endured so much? She called and emailed the sanctuary with her story.
Scott Lope is the operations manager for Big Cat Rescue and knows that providing for the 150 big cats at the sanctuary is the dominant task. He knows that hundreds of big cats are turned away every year because there just isn’t enough room and not enough resources to commit to a lifetime of care. He knows that the only way to stop the flood of unwanted exotic cats is to change the laws so that the breeding and dealing stops. He knows that every cat who is turned away was a victim and deserving of shelter and he knows that the fate that awaits them outside our gates will be tragic, so he approaches the Founder, Carole Baskin and President, Jamie Veronica and asks them to consider the situation.
It would appear that agreeing to take them would be an easy choice; they’re cute, they’re small and no one wants to be the one to say, “Go ahead and kill them.” But it is never that simple. How do you choose these over any other? When your main goal is to stop the flood of cats in the front gate how do you divert time and resources to building them an surrounding fit for three adult mountain lions? When the plan is to stop the breeding and selling of big cats so that twenty years from now there is no need for a place like Big Cat Rescue, how do you commit to provide lifetime care to cats who could live as long as Scratch, our 28 year old cougar?
And what about the quality of life for the kittens? While life at Big Cat Rescue would far go beyond the quality of life in any zoo, it is nevertheless life in a cage for animals who have been selectively bred, by survival of the fittest, for life in the wild. They would be paying the ultimate price for this choice and Mady and Carole wrestled with this aspect because both of them wanted what would be best for the individual cats and best for the species, when these are usually mutually exclusive propositions.
During the emailed conversations between Mady and Carole their lives were continuing down the same paths as usual. Mady was pulling pets and wildlife from steel jawed traps and treating their mangled bodies. Carole was dealing with a hurricane demolished collection of 38 cats in Miami , and an owner who had ended up with a collapsed lung from trying to do all the clean up alone. His cats hadn’t eaten in a week, all the food was gone, no one knew if he was going to survive, or if there was strength to run a freezers or wells, or if the cats had broken free when the trees all crashed down on their cages. .Life as usual for those left to clean up the messes caused by the irresponsible.
The cubs’ fate was decided for them and while that isn’t the way it should have been, it was a decision that had to be made for them due to the actions of others. Mady and Carole believed that if these adorable, blue eyed orphans could cause enough people to stop for a minute and THINK then perhaps the kittens would have chosen this path to save their cousins from a similar destiny. Their story would be told and their mother’s death would not have been in vain.