Thursday, March 22, 2012

Great Cat Adventures

If it caught you off guard that yesterday I posted a few pictures of yours truly with some wild kitties, you're not alone.  Sometimes when I looks at those pictures I get a little caught off guard too.

I think they're growing teeth!

In college I wasn't entirely sure what career path I wanted to take.  My sophomore year, I had it narrowed down to: zoo enrichment, wild animal training, or dog training/shelter work.  Since we had to complete an internship for school and I was already employed at the shelter, I started looking for something "cool."  But every zoo internship was expensive and, quite frankly, boring.  You couldn't touch the animals, talk to the animals, or take pictures of them.  You could really only pick up their poop.  Well, I picked up plenty of poop at work, and I didn't think elephant poop would be a huge upgrade.  So I kept looking.

She's still sleeping, right?

So I moved on to sanctuaries with educational components.  Generally, if a sanctuary has an educational show or department, there is some handling of the animals.  That was how I found Great Cat Adventures.  As a little college kid, I was hooked:  you travel with a few of the sanctuary's animals to fairs and shows, educating the public about endangered cats and raising money for the sanctuary.  Plus, you got to raise a tiger cub.  PLUS they paid you to do it!

Well, my friend and I applied and almost immediately heard back that they would love to have our help.  Traveling around in an RV all summer with people you don't know isn't always fun, so it's great to have a friend there for the adventure.

Doesn't that sound AWESOME?!?!?

Yes and no.  Hanging out with tigers, leopards, servals, and a mountain lion is awesome.  Going into the pen to play with some of the big cats during the educational show is incredible (and more than a little scary) and having a baby tiger to call your own is pretty darn cool.  But living with a crazy Texan, his wife, and 3 of their 6 kids that they don't take care of?  Not great.  Plus, about half the things we were allowed to do is not technically legal.

Rosie the baby serval

Not knowing much about sanctuaries going into the internship, we assumed that they followed the rules.  But the first day we helped move the big tigers with no training, learned that the tiger cubs we were raising were far younger than the public knew, and many of the "rescued" cats were actually purchased or bartered from illegal sources.  Anything to keep the show on the road and keep money coming was the motto around Great Car Adventures. 

During my travels I earned a scar from the mountain lion, who thought we were playing and used his teeth, I saw their youngest son nearly die when he toddled over the see the leopards, and watched them buy their daughter a wild cat on e-bay.  In the end, my friend and I left a few weeks early to head home.  The experience was incredible and I wouldn't trade it for a thing, but it got to a point that we needed to take a stand against the operation they called a sanctuary.  We filed reports about the care of the cats, but nothing has actually changed.  They still have their sanctuary, which has a new name and a new manager, and the appeal of petting a baby tiger means that money is still pouring in for Jay and his operation.  In the end, I decided to stick with dogs as a career path so that I could live wherever I wanted and be my own boss.

But I still miss little Tubbs and the rest of the fluffy gang.


  1. Holy smokes! What a wild ride that must've been. They are awfully cute... :)

  2. Wow, that's crazy. They are super super cute, but that's really disturbing that some of the animals were bought on Ebay! Yikes.

  3. How fascinating. Just for the experience of working with wild cats. My ultimate dream. More than disturbing that it was about the money and not the cats. Sorry nothing changed, so glad you reported it. Sounds like a bittersweet experience.

  4. Wow! What a wild adventure! Kudos to you and your friend for standing up and filing a report against them.

  5. what an interesting once in a lifetime adventure was that ! and little tubbs and co has my cute-o-meter off the charts! but seriously... you can get one of those off ebay? wth?

  6. Your story reminds me a little bit of "Water for Elephants" with all the illegal procurement of wild animals. Pretty sketchy. I hope the animals are okay... :( It is definitely cool that you got to spend so much time with wild cats....not a lot of people can say that!

  7. Talk about having some great "dinner party" stories about your sleeve!

  8. SUCH cool pictures!! Thanks for sharing - such an interesting post, too!

  9. Hi My name is erin and I worked with this organization too. I filed reports of mistreatment of the animals as well. I would really like to get in touch with you via e-mail. please give me a shout at

  10. I was wondering if tis org was ran by James Riggs

    1. Judging by what she is saying, I do believe it is him.

  11. When did you work with them? I did in the summer of 2007. The first sign something was wrong was when I pointed out that the cubs had patches in their fur that looked like ringworm and Jamie answered "we know". I don't know what I would have looked for but I never saw them apply anything to the cubs. We just provided hand-sanitizer to the public who touched them. If I had been older and wiser, I would never have left with them. It went about as you describe it from there. The cats were awesome, the owners were not, and I hope those kids are okay.

  12. OMFG I was so naive! I worked with them when I was 15 and 16 (2000 & 2001) and here I thought they were doing good and was proud to say I worked with them. Now I hear they were buying their daughter a cat on ebay?! Here they told me they were taking cats away from those who were trying to sell them on online auctions. I feel so stupid! The only thing I thought was weird was him always staying indoors while Jamie did all the work with the volunteers and other trainers. There was a lion that had patches of fur missing but I was told that it was due to him being abused by someone who owned him before they did. Now I wonder if I was told the truth. All I want to do is cry now. But then again they let a 15 year old handle cats and all that so I should have known that something was going on. I was reading court documents and I believe they are no longer able to own a big cat or participate in taking care of them even if they're not the owners. Here is the document I'm talking about:

    If you find anything else out please by all means let me know at just put REGARDING BIG CAT ADVENTURES in the subject line so I know it's you. Take care!

  13. I worked for them in 2008. Got picked up in Quincy, IL and left in Oklahoma. I had the best summer of my life, earned a couple scars as well. I left after Jay snapped on me and tried to force me to go into the trailer right after we had just finished feeding them to bolt some board down to the floor. I told him no and he tried to scare me into going anyway. I threatened to go to the police patrolling the state fair and tell them about what was going on. Then I left the next day.

    I too was proud of my job at the time, but after everything I experienced and seen it just makes me want to work for PETA as an undercover animal cruelty investigator.


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