Getting the chance to interact with big cats the same way we do with domestic kitties is something that most people dream of. We think of animals like lions, tigers, and jaguars as creatures that live in far off jungles that lead largely mysterious lives. Certainly, we’d never expect someone to own and keep one of these massive animals the same way they would a dog or cat. Well, at least that’s what one would think.

Exotic pet ownership has become a bit of an epidemic in the U.S., and animals that have no business being privately owned and cared for are surprisingly common. While there are laws that restrict exotic animal ownership, in some places all it takes is a driver’s license and proof of residence to obtain a permit to own a wild animal. Thanks to these wildly lax regulations, there are currently more tigers living in U.S. backyards than there are in the wild. Crazy, we know.

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So when we learned about the plight of Shadow, a black leopard who is currently in the custody of Newport News Peninsula SPCA, we knew we needed to act.

Shadow came into the care of the Peninsula SPCA in 1999 when he was just three weeks old. Rather than working to find an accredited sanctuary that would take in the rescued leopard, the SPCA kept Shadow and he has lived in a small concrete cell ever since.

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The SPCA may be keeping Shadow “safe,” but the conditions he is living in can hardly be described as optimal. In a petition on Change.org, Laura Hill explains that the shelter made the big cat “a permanent resident of their makeshift petting zoo (tickets $1), in a concrete and chainlink cage, near the outdoor dog kennels.” To make things worse, she continues, “He is advertised as a highlight in their summer camp program ($140 per week) for children to touch and feed.”

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This is certainly no way for a full grown big cat to live. Not only is it incredibly dangerous to allow children in such close proximity to a leopard, but these animals require much more space and stimulation to truly thrive.

The good news is there is a petition to have Shadow released to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, an accredited facility that specializes in the rescue and rehabilitation of large wild animals. Pat Craig, the founder of the sanctuary, has agreed to take Shadow and made an offer to the Peninsula SPCA to take in Shadow and give him the proper care and environment he needs. Unfortunately, two months after this offer, the SPCA has yet to agree to release Shadow.

You can add your voice to the petition to free Shadow and help give this aging big cat the real life he deserves. No animal deserves to suffer for the sake of our paltry entertainment. A better life is possible for Shadow, let’s make sure he gets it!

Click here to sign the petition.

In-text image source: Peninsula SPCA

Lead image source: Peninsula SPCA