This is where you’ll find answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive:

Is The Wildcat Sanctuary open to the public?

The Wildcat Sanctuary is not open to public visitation. Asking people to support a big cat sanctuary that is not open to the public is difficult, but the work we do requires this for many reasons. 

Most important is our strong-rooted belief that big cats should not be used for commercial, entertainment or amusement purposes. We are a sanctuary for animals; a place of refuge where injured, abused or displaced wildcats are provided a lifetime of care. 

Our residents come to know and eventually accept the staff and volunteers that care for them but trust comes with time and can be very stressful to them. But you can volunteer to help the animals on and off-site.  Learn more about our volunteer program.

Do former owners get to visit their cats?

The answers is no. With over 100 previously owned wild cats, we receive requests from previous owners to visit the cats, as well as friends and other family members. Most of the requests come years after the owner has relinquished the cat. 

The cat being surrendered needs to go through their own transition, just as a dog or cat being adopted from a shelter.  They need to learn to trust their new caregivers and be comfortable with their new surroundings.  Our focus is always on helping the cat adjust to their new life and making every day special.

Besides what is best for the animal, we also have a duty to our donors and volunteers.  They give generously of their time and money to ensure we can continue to rescue and provide the best possible sanctuary to displaced cats.  In contrary, very few previous owners have ever helped financially support their cat’s care.

The sanctuary is not open for public visits and needs to stay true to that mission.  The less time we spend giving tours, the more time we can spend caring and building for the animals.  And that’s what we all want.

We understand surrendering an animal is emotional.  And we have much respect for owners who seek out credible sanctuaries for placement. Rest assured, we love the cats we care for, the caretakers ensure they have enriched and happy lives and our staff veterinarian makes sure they receive the best medical care.  This is all possible because of our generous volunteers and donors.

Is The Wildcat Sanctuary licensed or accredited?

Yes. The Wildcat Sanctuary is accredited by the American Sanctuary Association and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.  We are also licensed by the USDA (41-C-0257) and members of the American Zookeepers Association. We are a 4-star rated non-profit by Charity Navigator.

Can The Wildcat Sanctuary shut down a substandard facility or exhibitor?

No.  The Wildcat Sanctuary is a rescue facility and does not have any governing authority to shut down a facility or seize any animals.  TWS’ priority has always been helping displaced animals in need and does not have the time, resources or authority to get involved in shutting these facilities down.  

The organizations with authority that you can Google for local contact information in your area include:

–          Local Animal control (usually the Sheriff)

–          Your local state’s Dept. of Natural Resources or Dept. of Fish & Wildlife or Dept. of Fish & Game

–          Your local state’s Board of Animal Health

–          United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – contact information below

–          U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFW)  

Our organization gets involved only after an owner chooses to surrender their animal or governing authorities have seized animals for various reasons.  We offer our services to provide lifelong care to displaced animals in need at our own cost.  

There have only been 2 instances in our 11 year history where a governing authority partially reimbursed us for our services.  That is why your support is always needed.

If you see an animal in need, we encourage you to lodge your concerns with the USDA using the following contact information.  If you have photos, please be sure to include them in your complaint:


Riverdale, MD Office

4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: (301) 851-3751
Fax: (301) 734-4978

Fort Collins, CO Office

2150 Centre Ave.
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: (970) 494-7478
Fax: (970) 494-7461

Raleigh, NC Office

920 Main Campus Drive Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606-5210
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: (919) 855-7100

Center for Animal Welfare (CAW) Office

Mailing Address:
USDA–APHIS Center for Animal Welfare
2312 East Bannister Road, RM 1180
Kansas City, MO 64131-3011
Physical Address:
USDA–APHIS Center for Animal Welfare
6501 Beacon Drive
Kansas City, MO 64133
Phone: (816)737-4200

We focus on prevention through education and legislation to prevent the need for wild animal sanctuaries in the first place.  Providing facts to the public and letting each individual decide on their own to support keeping the wild in their heart, not their home, is our ultimate goal.  

Therefore, we do not name or attack individual breeders, dealers or facilities. Instead, we talk about the issue of wild animals in captivity as a whole.  He said/she said ‘cat fights’ take time, money and resources away from the animals that need us the most.  The Wildcat Sanctuary does post news articles and other materials published by sources outside of our organization that help bring awareness to the Captive Wildlife Crisis.

If you have complaints about how an animal is being treated or conditions they are living in, we encourage you to file a formal complaint with one or more of the governing bodies above.  You can help be their voice in many other ways, too. Please visit our site for other effective ways to speak for the animals, with easy contact information included.

I’m a photographer, can I come take photos of the cats?

The Wildcat Sanctuary receives many requests from professional and non-professional photographers to come on-site to photograph the big cats.

Though we understand your offer is to help, many of our animals come from tragic and stressful backgrounds. Therefore, we have a resident photographer who has been trained by staff in approaching the habitats properly to ensure the photographer and animal’s safety. Over time, the animals have built up a sense of security and are non-threatened by our photographer’s presence.

Beyond protocol logistics, we require potential photographers build a relationship with The Wildcat Sanctuary first so they understand our mission, vision, values and the reason the Sanctuary is a safe haven for animals, not a zoo for people.

The first step is to become a volunteer at TWS.   A potential photographer must achieve minimum Cougar Classification (minimum volunteer time of 84 hours every six months or 14 hrs per month every six months) and includes a formal Staff review without guarantee of gaining approval for photography.

Another way you can help the cats of The Wildcat Sanctuary is to donate a framed photograph of your work for one of our silent or live auctions. Please contact [email protected] to donate a piece.

What is the definition of a sanctuary?

What does it really mean to be called a sanctuary?

A sanctuary as defined by MN law:

“Wildlife sanctuary” means a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that:

(1) operates a place of refuge where abused, neglected, unwanted, impounded, abandoned,

orphaned, or displaced wildlife are provided care for their lifetime;

(2) does not conduct any commercial activity with respect to any animal of which the

organization is an own (including off-site exhibiting); and

(3) does not buy, sell, trade, auction, lease, loan, or breed any animal of which the

organization is an owner, except as an integral part of the species survival plan of the American

A sanctuary as defined by federal law:

• Must be a non-profit entity that is tax exempt under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code

• Cannot engage in commercial trade in big cat species, including their offspring, parts, and products made from them

• Cannot breed big cats

• Cannot allow direct contact between big cats and the public at their facilities

• Must keep records of transactions involving covered cats

• Must allow the Service to inspect their facilities, records, and animals at reasonable hours

Is breeding conservation?

Many times exhibitors or pseudo sanctuaries will try to convince you that by breeding their animals, they’re contributing to conservation. This is NOT true. 

Professionals and scientists around the world have found ways to reintroduce individuals of an endangered species back to their original habitat in order to restore a genetically sound population. The key words here are professionals and scientists. 

Private owners, pseudo sanctuaries and exhibitors are not professionals and they are not scientists. They breed to make money, not to help save the species from going extinct. The animals that are bred for conservation have specific genetics that scientists believe will help the species survive. The animals that are bred by exhibitors and private owners do not meet these standards and therefore do not qualify for conservation breeding efforts. 

The truth is breeding animals in captivity, even if it is for conservation, does not necessarily mean that animal will be released into its natural environment. There are many considerations scientists must consider before a species can be re-populated. 

For instance, there needs to be a suitable amount of habitat left. In the case of many sub-species of tigers, there is little to no viable habitat left to reintroduce the species. In this case, even if 100 tigers are bred, none of them will see the outside of a cage wall. 

Breeding is a business, a very lucrative business for some and is in NO way helping conserve that species. True sanctuaries aim to end the cycle of breeding and dealing.

Is exhibiting education?

Another very tricky way exhibitors and pseudo sanctuaries try to defend themselves is by saying they are educating the public. The public does not need to see a full grown tiger walked on a leash to be educated. The only thing they are educating people about is that wild animals can be tamed, and that’s a dangerous lie to tell. 

Exhibitors are only out to make money. They use wild animals to entice the public and make them think they’re doing a good deed by educating people. The truth is these animals spend countless hours in tiny, filthy cages being hauled around the country. The only time they’re allowed to walk around is when they’re chained to their ‘owner’ or forced to do tricks. 

We can learn more about an animal by reading about it in a book or online, instead of seeing it jump through hoops or walk on its hind legs.

Why can’t your cats be released back into the wild?

If you own a big cat (we strongly disagree with ownership of wild animals) and can no longer care for it, can you release it to the wild?  NO. It is unlawful, in most states. 

Animals that have been bred for private ownership were taken from their mothers too young to learn the survival skills they need in the wild.  They do not know how to hunt properly. They still retain their natural instincts to hunt, however they never learned from their parent how to execute a kill. 

It is dangerous to the animal and to the public when animals that have been dependent on humans are released. The animal will either starve, because it does not know what to do, or it will wander into someone else’s yard or home looking for a meal. People and pets might be injured, through no fault of this wild animal unprepared for the wild.  

It is unlawful in many states to release a captive born wild cat. If sighted, the Dept. of Natural Resources or police will likely be called in to either euthanize the animal or try to place it at a rescue facility. 

If you cannot care for your wildcat anymore, it’s best to try to find another home for it at a sanctuary than to ever consider releasing it.  That is, in all honesty, a death sentence in most cases.  Read why we can’t set them free HERE.

So you want to start your own sanctuary?

Aslan smallAt least weekly, I receive an email from someone asking me how to start a sanctuary. Some are good-hearted animal lovers. Many really only want to have exotic animals themselves, but think “framing” it as a sanctuary legitimizes their personal desire. 

But they really don’t understand running a sanctuary is all-consuming. You often sacrifice family, friends, and give up any semblance of life. You’re the one making the agonizing decisions of who you can save, who you can’t, and when you have to let an animal go.

I think people are shocked to find out how difficult starting a sanctuary actually is. And as the years progress, the Founder is the one person who has little contact with the animals. It is the Founder/Executive Director who has to develop business plans, fundraise, know human resource and labor laws, zoning laws, insurance and permits, as well as accounting and legal.

In addition, being the Founder does not mean job security. The Founder/Executive Director is an employee and can be hired or fired by the Board of Directors. Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries puts it, “You should never invest more of yourself or your personal wealth in the nonprofit than you would be comfortable walking away from someday, as your gift.”

During the past 15 years, I have acted as Executive Director, animal care director, keeper, construction manager, fundraiser, financial manager, and overnight caretaker of the facility. Often all at the same time. Anybody who has started a business understands the commitment and sacrifice it takes. Starting a sanctuary is no different, except there are 100+ animals whose lives depend on us.

When I started the sanctuary, for the first several years, I worked both a full-time job and also ran the sanctuary. I Tiger_wild_spacereceived no salary from the sanctuary and invested tens of thousands of dollars of my own money to build habitats and care for the animals. I also paid to build a home on the property so there was always overnight coverage at the sanctuary during the build-out of the new site. This is because it was, and still is, a labor of love.

The best advice I can give someone is to get the business side in order. The animal rescue and care is the easier part of running a rescue/sanctuary, even with the heart wrenching decisions we make day in and day out. Here is a good resource for building a sustainable sanctuary: http://www.sanctuaryfederation.org/gfas/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Arcus_Building_Sustainable_Sanctuaries.pdf

I have seen so many start-ups with good hearts and qualified animal care, only to fail due to a lack of fundraising or meeting legal business requirements. And when this occurs, their animals need placement.

I would recommend volunteering at an organization near you on the business end to see what it takes to start a sanctuary or rescue group. Only then will you really know what it takes to run a successful sanctuary and if you are willing to commit the remainder of your life to making it sustainable.

Other ways you can help:

  • Become an advocate for wild cats in need.

Do you ever feed your wild cats live prey?

No, we never feed the cats live prey.  It’s a sad fact that the cats here at our sanctuary will remain in captivity forever.  They won’t ever be released for many reasons – either release is prohibited due to state law, there is no native habitat to release them to, they were captive born and taken from their mothers far too young so they have no survival skills, they were defanged or declawed, etc.  For that reason, they have no need to hunt for their food.

We love ALL animals and it would be inhumane to introduce live prey to captive cats since they would not kill them quickly and efficiently as cats in the wild do.  We are a USDA licensed facility and accredited by humane organizations like the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the American Sanctuary Association.

We feed our cats a well-balanced nutritional diet that includes beef, poultry, venison, and beaver.  We do not accept donated food as we can’t assure the quality of such food.  We pay for our food supplies in order to ensure it is high quality and nutritious for the cats.  Diets are approved by our veterinarian.  We assure our cats are fed a complete, well-balanced, high quality diet in order to give them the best quality of life possible.

What can I do?

There are many things you can do to help end the captive wildlife crisis. 

Do not patronize exhibitors, breeders or pseudo sanctuaries. By giving them money you are essentially funding the over breeding of captive animals including big cats. 

If you are passionate about helping animals be sure to fully research any rescue facility before donating or visiting. 

Do not buy wild animals or take animals out of the wild to keep as pets. Instead, adopt an appropriate pet like domestic dogs and cats from your local shelter. There are millions of animals in shelters waiting to be adopted. 

You can also lobby to local, state or federal government officials to ban the wild animal trade, private ownership of big cats and captive breeding of wild animals.