Like you, we were devastated as we heard the shots ring out that killed dozens of animals in Ohio last year. These were animals that, through no fault of their own, were fleeing from cages that had imprisoned them for life. Those few moments were their only taste of freedom. We so desperately wanted to help.
Ohio has been one of the easiest states to own dangerous exotic animals. Now, in order to prevent this tragedy from happening again, authorities are finally trying to change that. Only weeks ago, The Wildcat Sanctuary was contacted for advice on how to shape new regulations there. Since the Sanctuary played an integral role in getting tougher exotic animal laws passed in Minnesota in 2004, we have become a resource for other states as they pursue stricter guidelines. Our goal is to prevent future tragedies, without displacing animals that are currently well cared for.
But, there have been other calls, too. We received a tearful call from a woman from an Ohio USDA licensed facility asking us to help her and her cats. She is a USDA licensed owner who was committed to providing a home for her cats but realizes what the future will mean for her and the animals she has in small cages in her backyard. Though she’d like to provide more for these animals, she’s struggled financially to keep up and is fearful she can’t meet the regulations the new legislation will require. She researched different sanctuaries and contacted The Wildcat Sanctuary because she felt we could offer what her animals deserved – a home for life, where they wouldn’t be uprooted again and where they would have the open space she couldn’t provide for them.
Sadly, the story of her animals and what they’ve been through is as heart wrenching as many of those who died that day in Zanesville, Ohio. And, like most others, hers is not their first home.
The Wildcat Sanctuary’s staff will be headed to Ohio this month to bring Nikita a tiger and Tasha cougar home to TWS. They deserve a place they can finally call home and the space to be wild at heart.
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Before arriving at her current home, Nikita was a white tiger cub bred and sold at a very young age, taken far too early from her mother. She was expected to earn her keep by playing with people and posing for pictures – all for money. When most outgrow this stage, they’re used to breed and bring other helpless cubs into the world to suffer the same fate – and bring in more money for their owner.
Who was Nikita’s owner? He was Sam Mazzola, an Ohio breeder, exhibitor, and ex-convict. Mazzola’s history of abusing animals was notorious and well documented. He had been in prison for cocaine and steroid trafficking, was arrested for illegal gun possession and sentenced to court-ordered anger management. He claimed to have been arrested hundreds of times.
And yet, in Ohio, it was perfectly legal for him to own some of the most dangerous exotics. Besides Nikita and other tigers, he owned bears, lions, wolves and coyotes and would proudly show off the 2000 stitches from injuries inflicted by his wild animals. Nikita grew up in a small, cement slab cage with a few other tigers and was forced to fight for her food. She became dominant and dangerous.
Mazzola’s animals were big business for him. His bears were forced to bring in money, $1000 a fight, by wrestling people in bars, clubs and fairs. He claimed that over 22,000 people had wrestled his bears since he started the business over 25 years ago. He bragged about being a tiger/bear wrestler himself.
But that part of his business ended in 2010, when Iroquois, one of Mazzola’s bears, mauled and killed a caretaker who suffered 600 wounds during the attack. The victim’s family demanded Iroquois be put down and threatened to charge Mazzola with reckless homicide. He then filed bankruptcy.
But there were other ways Mazzola found to make money with exotics. He would travel around with them, putting on exhibits that would bring in over $20,000 per event. Investigators claimed his employees used a bat on a tiger at one of his exhibits. Could Nikita have suffered blows like this? Sadly, we’ll never know the horrors she endured while with him.
Last year, life changed for Nikita. Mazzola died and his death was no less controversial. He was found wearing a mask, chained and handcuffed to a waterbed, asphyxiated by a foreign object in his throat. Authorities finally stepped in, divided up his animals, and sent them to other facilities.
That’s how Nikita ended up at her second home. Though she had a caretaker who claimed to care for her at Mazzola’s compound, he never visited her. At 7 years old, she now lives alone in half of a 20×30 backyard cage, but still looks over her shoulder, fearful of what might happen to her. She’s never had privacy before and adjustment has been hard for her.
Tasha, the cougar’s, first home was sad, too. At a young age, she was used for breeding. She lived in a garage for 9 years but one day escaped through a hole in the roof. Her owner didn’t report her escape, fearful Tasha would be killed. But Tasha did finally return, scared and hungry.
Now, Tasha is at her second home living in a 10×20 cage. Declawed by her first owner, it has left her tender footed and she also has vision problems. Her current owner says she trembles, shakes, and drools at the sound of machinery near her cage. But with all she has gone through in her 11 years in captivity, she still craves attention from her human caregivers.
The cats are 800 miles away, which means 28 hours of driving to get them to the Sanctuary. I’m sure you’ve all heard the latest news about gas prices climbing to record highs. This will be the first of many expenses we’ll face. We have several weeks to work on arrangements for them. We’re busily preparing habitats that will finally let them enjoy the wide open spaces and freedom they’ve always longed for – and deserved.
With your help, we can give them the future they deserve. They will go from living in a 300 square-foot cage to an expansive 8,000 square-foot free roaming habitat, filled with perches, caves, and water features.
So far this year, our donations are drastically down. Even the smallest donation will help provide the medical care they need, the quality food and fun toys that will make life special. For the first time in their lives, your sponsorship or support will allow them to choose a path to walk and a place to lie down. They will live the life they deserve – wild at heart, feeling love and compassion.
We will provide more details on the cats and situation in the near future. Please check back for more details and photos as we bring these cats in need back to The Wildcat Sanctuary.