A small animal sanctuary in Albion, Indiana is a refuge for animals that have been abandoned or given up by their owners. Now those experiences are being taught as lessons so people don't make the same mistakes.
Big cats are some of the most storied and awe-inspiring creatures in the animal kingdom. What initially looks cute and cuddly, is in reality, a very wild, unpredictable, and dangerous animal.
“They can squish a basketball with just their forearms, they're very very athletic and strong,” says the Executive Director of Black Pine Animal Park Lori Gagen.
These are just some of the cats who call the Black Pine Animal Park home, a sanctuary for abused or neglected exotic animals people once thought of as pets, until reality sets in.
“We don't buy, sell, breed, trade, we don't seek out animals. We are not looking to have the world's greatest variety of animals on exhibit, that sort of thing,” explains Gagen.
Created 20 years ago, by an Indiana couple, Black Pine spans 18 acres. Each animal has an indoor and outdoor enclosure that allows them to be what they're supposed to be as much as possible, even considering the situations they came from.
It's a place of second chances and education; a place almost strictly run by volunteers with the help of private donors.
“A lot of them are students from school age on up who are interested in animal welfare and learning how to take care of them,” says Gagen. “A lot of people want to become zoo keepers or veterinarians and this program provides them an opportunity to learn from the ground up, and how to take care of such a variety of species.”
Currently there are no federal laws that prohibit owning exotics such as tigers or African Lions, though some are pending.
It's the ease of obtaining a cub that far too often leads the cats to a place like this down the road.
“These are animals people have kept in their basements and backyards and most of these animals have no genetic viability to help save an endanger species,” says Gagen.
It is a more than $2 billion industry. For tigers alone, there are more tigers in the state of Texas, whether they be pets or as a roadside show, than there are in the wild in India.
“A lot of them have a hoarders mentality so that classic can't have enough and love, love, love, these animals so much when in fact the animals are suffering,” explains Gagen.
Few have suffered more than a black bear named Betsy, abused and attacked so badly her leg was broken and she now blind. Her owner was only keeping her for sport.
“Would chain her up to a post and release dogs on her,” says Gragen. “People would pay to bring their hunting dogs in so they could learn how to bay a bear, so she fended off dogs routinely for a long time.”
Legally, those here at Black Pine can not go in and take out an animal that is being abused or is simple not wanted, it has to be surrendered by the owner, and like in Betsy's case, the damage is often already done.
“We are the recipient of those phone calls every single week from more and more that need homes, so it is heart-breaking and difficult,” says Gagen. “There's so few places for these animals to go.”