Since the day Tasha, the cougar, first set foot on the open land of The Wildcat Sanctuary, she never looked back. When Tasha arrived at her new forever home, it was the very first time she had been given the chance to roam freely through any expansive habitat — save the time she escaped from a garage and took a stroll down an Ohio highway. After spending 11 years in small enclosures and cages, you would think Tasha might struggle with wide-open spaces, but it is clear that with a little love and attention, she has been able to become the wild cat she was always meant to be.
Tasha’s story begins the same way many exotic animal’s stories begin – taken in by owners who were not prepared to handle the responsibility of owning a large and potentially dangerous animal. Tasha’s original owners kept her in a small garage “petting zoo” in Daneville, Ohio, where she lived and was used for breeding at a young age.
She was declawed by her original owner, an operation that has since left her tender-footed. She also suffers from vision problems conducive with a blunt force trauma to the head, though little is known about how she sustained the injury. Tasha lived in that dark, dirty garage from the time she was six-weeks-old until she was nine, when she finally was able to escape through a hole in the garage roof.
Some time after she had climbed her way to freedom, Tasha was apprehended by local authorities and relocated to a USDA-certified wildlife facility in Ashland, Ohio. Again, the chance of freedom seemed to fall away from Tasha’s sights and she went to live in a 10×20 cage alongside eight other exotic cats.
While the owner of this facility believed she had the cat’s best interest in mind, after the raid of another exotic facility in Zanesville, Ohio that resulted in the slaughter of over 50 wild animals by police officers, Tasha’s second owner feared she would not be able to meet revised regulations.
Wanting to provide a happy, permanent home for Tasha and her other cats, Tasha’s second owner contacted The Wildcat Sanctuary in tears hoping they would have space.With the help of an emergency grant from the IFAW, Tasha along with Nikita, a white tigress, were transported to their new forever home at The Wildcat Sanctuary.
When Tasha arrived at The Wildcat Sanctuary, her former owner warned sanctuary employees that she was afraid of any sort of machinery and would tremble and shake at the sound of a lawn mower.
Julie Hanan, advocate volunteer at The Wildcat Sanctuary, explained to OGP that they were at first concerned about how Tasha would adjust to having free-roaming space on the sanctuary after 12 years of captivity. Some cats can take years to acclimate to their new freedom, but not Tasha.
Hanan tells OGP, “We can tell Tasha never lost faith that life would one day be good…She lives in the moment, savoring every scent, every sight, and every new experience, appreciating everything with such gusto.”
Tasha spends her days as if there are not enough hours to fill with adventures whether she is playing with toys, a snowman, or just enjoying her new habitat. After living on the sanctuary for two years, Tasha has lost her fear of machinery and now loves to “stalk” the UTV that delivers her dinner.
As Hanan says, “Whenever we look at Tasha, we can’t help but think of that old saying, ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!'”
Despite a lifetime of pain and captivity, Tasha has put her old life behind her and embraced the love and freedom she now enjoys.
The transformation in Tasha proves how powerful the confident, happy nature of wild animals can be when they are allowed to be free. While Tasha never got the opportunity to live in her true wild habitat, her life on the sanctuary is one that many other wild cats never get to experience.
Hannan tells OGP that she hopes Tasha’s story will inspire, “those who truly love animals to keep the wild in their heart, not their home. Tasha is one of thousands that have suffered as part of the captive wildlife crisis we face in our country. We hope her story motivates people to think more about captive wildlife.”
Be it wild animals we put in captivity for entertainment or exotic animals we keep as pets, it is imperative that we treat wild animals with the ample respect they deserve and leave them in the wild.
As Hanan says, “There are plenty of domestic cats with ‘wild’ personalities at shelters all over the country longing for a home.”
Tasha is a truly special cat who is finally able to enjoy the happy life she deserved every moment she was kept in captivity. We can all learn an important lesson from Tasha: never take your own freedom for granted and work as you can to ensure that every other living thing can enjoy that same freedom as well.
A special thanks to Julie Hanan for all her help on this piece. To learn more about The Wildcat Sanctuary, check out their Facebook page and website. To make a donation to help the sanctuary rescue more cats like Tasha, click here.
All image source: The Wildcat Sanctuary