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One of the truly wonderful things about the business of writing is getting the chance to step into a different world and see it through the eyes of those who inhabit it. The Ridge was already written and nearing publication when I went along as an observer on a big-cat rescue, largely out of curiosity. It was an experience that left me wanting to step out of the observation role and lend some sort of help, because the animals are amazing to be near and the people affiliated with the center are compelling to work with. Over the course of a year I had the chance to participate in several rescues, offering the kind of involvement for which I am qualified: grunt labor, frequent mistakes, and a plethora of dumb questions.
Along the way, over several thousand miles and through several states, I gained hands-on experience with one of the most impressive animal-rescue operations in the country. I have just come back from helping with the rescue of a pair of lions from a refuge in the Kentucky mountains. Talk about full circle. I haven’t heard reports of any blue torches nearby. But I kept my eye out, I assure you.
The big-cat rescue depicted in The Ridge is a fictional recreation of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana. The center is currently home to cats of nine species, ranging from six-hundred-pound tigers to a six-pound Asian leopard cat. “Home” is the key word, because that is the main purpose for the center’s existence. Founder and director Joe Taft, who opened the center in 1991, wanted to provide a permanent home for big cats who had been abandoned or abused or were otherwise in need. At the time, he thought his mission would be a success if he could provide homes for 100 cats. He estimated there might be that many needy cats in the country.
He was wrong.
The current number of cats at the center is 227. In 2011, the rescue center took in 25 cats from six states. Reviewing my notes from the year, I estimated that for each cat that was taken in, at least five more requests could not be met due to limits of budget, time, and space. Taft guessed it was closer to ten, and I’m sure he’s right. It’s his phone that rings, and it rings often.
The center only takes in cats who are in need of a home. These situations are varied. Some cats have been confiscated by law enforcement; others come from refuges that have exceeded their capacity or their ability to deliver care; and some are personal pets, their owners overwhelmed by the reality of caring for a huge, hungry, potentially dangerous animal. Continue reading ›