Wally – In Memory


Wally, a male lion, arrived at the sanctuary in November of 2020. He’s estimated to be about 18 years old, though we don’t know for sure.

Our sanctuary had been called upon to help four big cats. They were located out-of-state and one of their caretakers had passed away. Though many other people were coming forward, trying to take the cats, sell them or send them to a pseudo-sanctuary for more breeding or display, we were so grateful to be there for them.

As soon as we arrived, we knew this wouldn’t be easy. A single lane, curvy dirt road through the woods, led up a quarter of a mile to the cages of these lions and tigers.

We knew there was no way our transport trailer could make it up that hill. And with piles of scrap metal, cars and other collections lining the road, there was nowhere to turn around or come back down either.

The terrain was so rough that the tires on our transport crates bent and could not make it up the hill on their own. It was obvious, we had to come up with an alternative plan right away.

We had no other choice than to sedate these four big cats individually, put each of them into our vehicle, drive them down to the city road and load them into our trailer a quarter of a mile away.

This would all have to be done quickly, before the cats woke up. Not an ideal way, but the only way, given the circumstances.

Their Previous Years

Cubs had been bred at this location for years. They’d been sold on the internet, as well as for cub petting profit. Thankfully, the decision had been made to finally give these remaining cats sanctuary.

Years of producing cubs, having them pulled away to be sold – this would be the end of that cycle.  Our hearts broke when the story of Sara, one of the lion cubs born here, was shared with us.

“In 2014, I started working selling cubs.  This was my first lion cub I held and thought this was so cool. I thought I located a great home for her.  It was a roadside zoo, a petting zoo.

They destroyed her when she got too old to pet and it broke my heart! She was 4 months old when they destroyed her.  She would have been almost 7 years old today.”

Wally and Marlene, his 25-year-old mate, had lived together in this 20’ x 30’ concrete cage for two decades.

We sedated them, got them safely loaded into transport crates, and started out on our long 13 hour journey back to the sanctuary.

Life at the Sanctuary

Caretakers at the sanctuary had also been busily preparing habitats for the big cats while we were away. Once we arrived with them, the cats were all safely unloaded. We watched over them closely for days as they adjusted.

Like most new residents, it was scary for the cats at first. But, the moment they finally felt grass under their feet and ran in an open space for their first time ever was exhilarating!!

Wally just couldn’t get enough of the smell of pine trees. And the scratching posts, perches, logs, and earth under his paws was simply enthralling for him.

Wally and Marlene will live out their geriatric years together with lots of room to roam, something they truly deserve. Even though they’re past breeding age, Marlene has received an oral contraceptive to stop her cycles and the risk of life-threatening pyometra.

We love them like they have always been part of the sanctuary. And knowing their future is bright helps fade the hardship of that day – the first day of the rest of their lives.

How You Can Help

Rescuing geriatric cats like Wally is such an expensive commitment. It can cost as much as $10,000 every year to support just ONE big cat! That’s why our sponsorship program is so important. It helps provide the best life possible for those we’re able to rescue.

Thank you for considering becoming Wally’s sponsor parent, or even giving a one time donation toward his care.  There are easy buttons at the top of this page you can click to help. It makes such a difference for him!


In Memory

With sorrow, it was time to help spirited lion Wally pass on with dignity. He’s now joined his first love Marlene and our pride on the other side.

We hoped we were wrong, but our suspicions were confirmed. Wally had cancer of his lower intestine that had spread to his lymph nodes.  Tests showed the cancer was also causing a partial blockage of his intestine. This explained the recent gastro-intestinal issues he’d had.

Similar to your senior cats at home, cancer and kidney disease often occur late in life in wild cats.  And since the sanctuary has such a high senior cat population, we’re dealing with these illnesses and good-byes more than our hearts can take.

I remember the day clearly when I received a call from the USDA.  The agent was passing alonginformation that 4 big cats needed a permanent home.  She said the female lion was 25 years old and the male lion was 31. There were also two adult tigers.

That age of the lions seemed unlikely. But it underscored these cats had been in captivity a long, long time.

At that time, I didn’t hesitate to say “yes” to help them. Even knowing they were senior cats, and their time was limited. But once they’re at the sanctuary, I seem to forget that.  My heart overrides my head and I just wish they had more time.

Wally loved many things at the sanctuary but warming up to us was not one of them. He saved all his love for the two ladies in his life.

His lifelong companion was Marlene, who passed away earlier this year. They’d been together for decades and Marlene was the one in charge.

After Marlene’s passing, we introduced Wally to a witness protection cat to ensure he wasn’t alone.  With her, they were equals.  They would playfully chase each other around the yard at full speed until one caught up to the other, then they’d rub against each other.

But he showed us his appreciation in other ways – from blissfully acting like a kitten when he experienced pine trees for the first time, when he stalked along the fence line following his caretakers (as long as they weren’t looking) to see if they had any treats, or when he curled up in the den and indoor room snuggling with his new partner.

He would half try to intimidate us and the other big cats along the fence line.  But when it came to his gal pals, he was easy going and as sweet as they come.

Wally taught us that they don’t have to love us in order for us to love them so completely! Our goal is that they love life.  After years in a small concrete cage, Wally finally got to experience what life like a lion could be like.

I truly believe the last year of his life was his best ever! Feeling grass for the first time under his feet, days filled with companionship, enrichment to bring out his natural stalking and playing behaviors.

And most importantly, as hard as it was to say good-bye, he received compassionate end-of-life care, allowing him to move on with the dignity fit for a lion.

Though he and Marlene were only with us for the last chapter of their lives, we know it was their happiest and we miss them so.