TAMPA — Reise, an 18-year-old cougar, had likely never placed her paws on soil before tentatively entering her new home Sunday night at Big Cat Rescue.
The cougar was transported from South Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Homestead after the owner of the facility was diagnosed with cancer and had to find homes for dozens of animals. The animals were kept in concrete pens. Workers who transported the cougar estimated her enclosure there to be about 20 by 40 feet.
"It's quite likely the first time she's ever walked on the earth," said Carole Baskin, founder and chief executive officer of Big Cat Rescue, as she watched the cougar adjust to her new enclosure, full of grass, trees and structures to climb on.
Big Cat Rescue near Tampa is an accredited sanctuary dedicated to rescuing and providing a permanent home for abused and abandoned exotic cats. The rescue has 106 cats, including tigers, lions, panthers and leopards. The operation is largely volunteer-driven, including the veterinarian who assessed Reise early Sunday and helped transfer her to Hillsborough County.
Veterinarian Justin Boorstein and a group of four others spent a couple hours in Homestead trying to get Reise to enter a cage on her own but had to resort to sedating her. Sedating large cats is risk — the drugs affect each cat differently.
"A lot of times, the drugs will kill them," Baskin said. "Sedating and transporting them is very dangerous."
Boorstein said Reise seems generally healthy after volunteers evaluated her teeth and claws and assessed her for injuries.
Reise was originally from Texas, where she was de-clawed as a cub. But whoever did it botched the job, and her nails continue to try to grow back and cause pain. Boorstein said she will be sedated again to trim back her claws, administer vaccines and give her a microchip.
Each year the Big Cat Rescue acquires about five or six cats, depending on space. In recent years, it has had to turn away about 15 to 30 cats each year.
"We're happy to give Reise a good home," Baskin said. "She seems to be healthy and adapting nicely."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.