As a former classroom educator, I know the special bond that forms between students and animals. As a retired classroom teacher of students from an alternative school in one of the most underfunded and demographically challenged areas of Louisiana, The first day of class with my students , where many had been expelled from their home schools for academic or mainly social and behavioral challenges at school, I asked them one question. Knowing many where ashamed to be forced to attend our school as a last option, I asked them to anonymously write on a paper in one word how they felt about the type of students who attended this new school. I collected the papers and sat on a barstool in front of the class and read the answers aloud: loser, a waste, reject, useless, retarded, slow, worthless, good for nothing, shame, hurt, angry, dumb, stupid. Many of the answers were repeated . I threw each one in the trash can and crumpled it first as I read their answers aloud. The class was quiet. This class, and others that we did the same exercise together were quiet. These same students, I’d been warned would be a “hell hole” to teach at. These students were quiet, sad, ashamed, seemingly refelective in their mood.
I told them emphatically that those were all lies. That they were great students with endless possibilities and if we gave each other mutual respect, that I would help them through creative lesson plans designed with our assigned special ed teacher ( I was to teach GED English). There was nothing they couldn’t accomplish, and together we would prove the community and those home schools who had given up on them wrong. Every day, motivational speaker, Les Brown ‘s quote, “ Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you determine your reality.” Next to the date, every day, I’d write his quote and the domestic violence hotline on my whiteboard.
An unexpected auto accident and six subsequent surgeries left me unable to continue being a classroom educator, but those were my most special and memorable teaching years of my career. The year before my first cervical neck surgery, I’d begun the Louisiana Bobcat Refuge as a way to give back from my years as a classroom educator and freelance TV host.
Bobcats across the US were routinely being euthanized, because there was no set established protocol that had over time been researched and the rehabilitation of bobcats was expensive, considered dangerous and took a good year from a neonate rescue to successfully have prepared to release back into the wild, as Mother Nature intended. In addition, people took them for granted assuming, although they were rarely seen, there were many across the US, although most US states then, and still have very outdated population counts, yet they are still hunted and trapped and ripe for exploitation as fur demands for them and the Canada Lynx skyrocket in Russia, China and Japan, along with the demand for black market pets that is a multi billion dollar industry. With the CITES list having most wild cats in other countries listed as endangered or threatened, our US, Canadian and Mexican bobcats are certainly ripe for exploitation. Texas has reintroduced the jagurundi and ocelot, yet Texas participants in large pay off killing contests for large money prizes for as many bobcats, coyotes and Florida panthers they can kill and pike in the back of trailers and trucks taller than a person. Unsuspecting mother’s bringing their children to shop have been horrified and spoken to news outlets about the open viewing of carnage. How can Texas reintroduce to species of wildcats and not expect them to get caught in the crossfire by predator calling or incidentally trapped or intentionally by those who would pay a hefty price for a live animal or the fur of one so rare.
Even in Louisiana, the Florida Panther has been extirpated, and there is no tagging accountability on bobcat kills in this state. Nearly 6000 were killed only a year ago as voluntarily reported by a 6% randomized hunter harvest survey. With some states having only 4000 in their state, how many of the 94% of hunters that didn’t get the survey killed one of the US’s remaining self regulating species of wild cats? Self regulating according to scientific studies means they don’t require man to control their numbers, unlike feral pigs( where one can become hundreds in three years time) and coyotes who produce large, hearty litters of as many as seventeen, and are concerned a nuisance by Louisiana. Bobcats, most don’t realize produce usually one small litter of kits a year with 2 to five and they stay with the mother a full year having to learn survival skills and predation skills or they will starve. As ferocious as some believe them to be, they are actually terrified of man and will either run away when spotted or keep an eye on the human, while looking for the best opportunity to run or slink away in the opposite direction. The kittens during this year are vulnerable to disease, especially if exposed to domestic cat zoonotic diseases from unvaccinated cats, other male bobcats, hawks and Great Horned Owls, feral pigs who will eat meat and kill wildlife, not just feed on vegetation, coyotes and humans who either try to rescue and keep them as pets without the license or knowledge to know how easily they stress and can die or some hunters who proudly will display a kitten with half of it blown off and entrails hanging out on hunter sites, even when the administrators remove the photos, because they are so disturbing.
While rehabilitating and becoming a permitted, certified and registered bobcat and Canada Lynx rehabilitator, behaviorist , live trapper( to save bobcats from those who wanted to kill them, rather than reinforce poultry areas), and educator for schools, zoos, and universities, Louisiana Bobcat Refuge came to provide sanctuary for zoo retired bobcats, abused bobcats kept illegally, pet surrenders and bobcats who were severely maimed with a trap severed paw, an amputated front leg for a Canada Lynx who lost it to her neighbor’s dog that was running her while her owner wasn’t home, and finally swatted at him out of frustration. She had nearly bled to death when the owner returned home and discovered her. She survived the amputation, but while he was gone two of his Florida Panthers were fatally poisoned by the neighbors, although he couldn’t prove it. With his declining health and the help of a national organization he reached out to us to provide a loving and safe home for his remaining smaller exotics . We didn’t have room or space at the time, but we found a way through my teacher’s retirement and selling my home to grow the refuge into what it is today. One of our zoo retired bobcat was on display for three years and hated people, which is their solitary nature. The zoo contacted us after feeling badly for the bobcat and giving up on ways to try to lure or force him out of his den box on public display. One part time worker quit, because she just couldn’t force him out anymore. He was so obviously miserable. We appreciated the zoo reaching out to us for our always pro bono help; even when other rescues around the US need us for advice with a neonate bobcat, an animal control officer from California wanted to positively id a bobcat to ensure they sent it to the right place, we’re on call 24/7 pro bono. Some other rehab centers have successfully followed our protocol over the years with only positive outcomes and we’ve been able to disprove many old generational myths that were incorrect about bobcat singlets being released if rehabilitated under stringent protocols, bobcats being released far enough from a five mile radius they were found will not return to their place of origin and that bobcats, even though solitary when without kittens can and do occasionally cross and mark designated zones, but their territories are large enough to do so.
Because of support from compassionate donors like you who discovered through our viral story in August 2016, LBR survived an unexpected 100 year flood with 16 wildcats and five domestic rescues at the time, in a 24 hour flash flood that dropped almost 25” of rain (with no warning . Our local parish Bayou Mallett watershed overflowed into nearby gullies that filled our kitten intake barn nearly to the ceiling. Flooded all habitats with four feet of water and they are hidden several hundred yards in the interior of a hundred plus forested area for their own protection. Not one life was lost, as two of us stayed through the evacuation and never left for the three days it took the water to recede as we traveled from an aluminum boat with ice chests to bring fresh water, antibiotics and food to each of the 12 rescues and two of the specially trained enrichment domestic tabbies that refused to leave their wildcat friends. It’s been a long journey, but what I felt that night walking through thigh high water, so deep we were initially barefoot the immediate urgent boat ride out there, walking through sewage and snake infested water ( the property has many copperheads and water moccasins, even prior to the flooding) with mosquitoes surrounding our headlamps as we waded through the dark water through the current.
In those first early morning hours wading away through the forest, holding on to my “would be” husband and subpermitee, my heart was filled with almost physically collapsible relief that no lives had been lost. To feel the self blame had a rescue panicked or not had perches high enough and drowned would have been more guilt than I could have lived with.
The next thought was sorrow for all these unwanted rescues from others who faced euthanasia without LBR, my heart and spirit was broken and overwhelmed. Since my unplanned surgeries had left me disabled, the refuge went from an affordable back yard project in 2010 to a full time physical and psychological therapy my psychologist referred to it as as suddenly as November of 2011. But, I’d refused to break my promises to the unwanted rescues we took in. After no longer being able to offer myself as a full time teacher with what I felt like was a wasted (MAT) graduate degree, and only my disability income now remaining. I could only see darkness ahead, as we waded through the dark ominous water back to the boat at the forest’s edge. My soul was defeated. I could keep caring for the permanent disabled, declawed, imprinted rescues, but couldn’t fathom how I could intake anymore kittens. Those are the most at risk. People usually call for those to be rescued after they’re aspirating after being fed the wrong way or dying from coccidia with bloody diarrhea for several days and dehydrated or fed milk or cat food or exposed to disease before we get the call. They don’t always even make it sound like an emergency. Through experience with amazing veterinarians who trained and volunteered to be available by text and even after hours, the LBR building was now gone, our quarantine area habitat (which is five feet tall) was so deeply under water, we paddled past it while rescuing the three legged lynx from her habitat to eliminate her possibility of drowning. However, through a grant from the Greater Good and IFAW, along with help from donors covering the basics of staying open for intakes, LBR survived.
Since our own rescue in the fall of 2016, LBR has developed an outreach program for students ( beginning K-5) especially focused on inspiring, empowering and generating community stewardship and volunteerism and we would love to have your help in being a part of Team LBR to leaving a lasting legacy, not only for students, but wildlife and disabled domestic shelter pets .
Here’s the plan:
Prior to this fundraiser being implemented, LBR could not be open to the public, even Nat Geo , Animal Planet and The Wildlife Docs TV shows had to be filmed at “off location” sites to not stress the rescues in our care. Even in zoo type captivity, wildcats tend to gravitate to one handler and others cause them to hide or become very stressed. We are a lock down facility through LDWF.
However, I’ve spoken to the LBR Board, several of our longest mentors and supporters, the LSU College of Education, Asst. Dean and Professor Pamela Blanchard, PhD ( who co created Coastal Roots, an amazing non for profit) and her students who are collaborating with LBR this semester creating 20 pro bono exciting, fun, and interesting indigenous species, bobcat focused lesson plans for our original, “Wild Comes With Class” program (approved by the State Board of Education latest science curriculum requirements), and our LDWF biologist and permit coordinator about our proposed idea.
Initially, the lesson plans are targeting K-5. They will be presented at the Louisiana Science Teacher’s Association in the fall of 2018 to encourage the 1000 plus science teachers in attendance hit to access a special Louisiana Bobcat Refuge/LSU portal on the refuge website for educators to access the pro bono lesson plans, which can be accessed world wide.
Upon completing a lesson, the teacher is encouraged after having taught her students about wildlife and stewardship. Learning not only bobcat scientific facts through fun games and creative projects, they’ll also come to the realization that just because they might not have seen certain types of wildlife up close shouldn’t mean they should fear the unknown and want to kill it, breaking old generational myths.
The next step in stewardship and community service is because the students can come to LBR to see the wild bobcats without causing them distress, because they are all well secured and hidden from those who might not have their best interests at heart; they’ll be encouraged to schedule a field trip to an approved domestic animal shelter to volunteer and learn about responsible pet ownership, spaying and neutering, and hopefully find a rescue pet of their own and save lives when they go back with their parent or guardian. Upon taking photos of their community service to add to the LBR website to encourage others to participate and share their experiences, a representative from LBR in a bobcat mascot costume will visit the class (within a certain range or arrange the costume to be mailed to a student teacher at a university in their area on our behalf) and distribute official Bobcat Community Ambassador Badges and Certificates.
The very last part of the project is as students are learning about bobcats and survival, they’ll have the future opportunity to visit LBR on a field trip. We charge no admission. We are all volunteers, even living here and on call both within and outside Louisiana, 24/7. One of the unique aspects of LBR that has intrigued so many people from the UK ( which is where the Nat Geo production crew flew in from) is that they have no bobcats or Canada Lynx there. Our LBR permitted AKP-Abandoned Bobcat Kitten Surrogate Program was specifically developed over ten years of research living 24/7 in and around bobcats ( both wild and domesticated) and learning their behavior. There is no other program in the world that can replicate what we do without knowing and following our protocol, which is why we offer our long term rehab services on a case by case basis to other states with special approval from LDWF.
At one time we could not show the rescues in our care, which average 12-20 adult wildcats at
any given time, not including the neonates and kittens during spring or fall baby season. However, we’d observe that some of rescues that were considered by others as only worthy of euthanasia( trap severed paws, amputee, neurological damage from a car hit, declawed or defanged from captivity) could not only function as though they were unaware of their perceived disability, some of them magically bonded as surrogates for the rescues abandoned singlet bobcat kittens. There was another myth broken. Kittens who were singlets had to have a sibling or be paired with another bobcat kitten for survival skill development. Our program proved this to be a falsehood, so many singlet kittens forced into life forever 12-20 years in a sanctuary, could have had the opportunity to go free if someone else had spent time and resources with the animals, themselves and questioned this mythology. An out of state rescue reached out to us to use our protocol on a Mt. Lion late last year to send us the cub, although they take two years of rehab prior to leaving the mother. Sadly, LBR is currently only set up and permitted for smaller felids and their state DNR forced them to give the cub to a permanent sanctuary. Several weeks ago, we saw a news story where three or four cubs were all being transferred to a permanent sanctuary to live out the remainder of their lives without even a chance to be free and wild with the funding for long term research to test the old school myths and see if it’s possible, if done correctly. There’s already a shortage of sanctuaries, world wide, especially in the US. Why not give these animals a chance to be free with a dedicated research team, time and funding to support the findings .
Although, still beautiful and magnificent , our rescues weren’t zoo or display quality, so even as an ambassador animal( which bobcats usually are not well suited for, behaviorally) they all would have been euthanized through no fault of their own, even “ Dessa “ who underwent a type of impromptu hip replacement surgery ( after being hit by a car late one night) by Dr. Gia Morgan, DVM( WERLA) who appears normal, but must be fed special food to not become impacted.
The beauty we’ve witnessed is seeing these rescues that were considered throw away sand not worth even taking on. I was even told by someone close to my family that I was taking on animals not meant to live and wasting my time and resources. One family member even chided my husband and I for risking our lives by receiving possible infections for exposing ourselves to the contaminated water for several days, while another told me that animals in emergencies didn’t matter, only people matter. As a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, I reminded him of all those who lost their lives, because they wouldn’t get on a bus and evacuate without the only friend a little grandma had, when perhaps none of her family came to see her. That animal he so flippantly said was unimportant was all she and thousands like her valued in the world at that time. He only said people like that, put the lives of first responders at risk to have to go and save them. People can be so heartless. This in law fit that description. Fortunately, our LBR board president, Bill Bryan, ( formerly an LA Asst Attorney General), now an Emergency Management Legal Consultant Attorney helped to develop and pass legislation after Hurrricane Katrina, so those atrocities would never happen again. People would never have to choose between their lives or abandoning their beloved pets to face certain death and the guilt and grief they would carry forever.
At LBR we heard these negative comments about animals we rescued, animals we didn’t evacuate to ensure were as safe as they could be considering stressing them with an evacuation would have made their circumstances worse, so we bathed in ice chests for several days in bleach water just to stay and not abandon them.
As an educator I remember how badly some of my students felt about themselves for obvious physical disabilities and some that were not as apparent as invisible illnesses. I know the shame I felt with what is considered an invisible illness from my cervical neck surgeries that left me with my own disabilities. I also have debilitating General Anxiety Disorder and ADD, but the rescues inspired me to have a purpose and will to live, even though for many years, I was ashamed and tried to hide that I was no longer the person I was, and had been proud to be. Although, I felt great compassion for my students who struggled with their own insecurities and never tolerated bullying to my students or when I was on duty, it was obvious that students hurt, even when I tried to encourage or stand up for them.
If disabled rescued wildcats could help me thrive and have a reason to live during one of my darkest times, studies show they can do that for others, students and adults, alike. I still have a lot to give, and so do these rescues.
We’re raising funds to add another large closed in porch to the main kitten intake building with a one way, large glass window and soundproofing . It will be walked in on all sides with a connecting interior door that enters to the kitten rescue area. For a scheduled school visit a surrogate will be brought into the glass window porch/room and await the kitten to play. There will be toys, perched and many enrichment items for the surrogate rescue bobcat and kitten to play and chase one another, while the students are seated just outside the building on benches on a covered patio. Only one school can be scheduled at a time. Since the bobcats cannot see or hear the students or media that may be present during the 30 min to an hour visitation, they’ll behave normally. Either myself, or another subpermitee or grad student will do a presentation to the students, not only emphasizing bobcats as our state and US felid, and bobcat or Canada Lynx facts, along with other indigenous felids or species, but LBR wants to empower, inspire and bless those students who’ve ever felt they being who they are wasn’t enough. Louisiana Bobcat Refuge’s intent is to: let students experience something they’ve never seen or may never again see in their lifetime and appreciate what Mother Nature provided in this species, we desire for their community stewardship and volunteerism to extend beyond their local shelter, so they too can have empathy for animals and desire to save lives and most importantly, LBR desires for every student to feel special and realize that they serve a wondrous purpose just the way they are and to embrace and love themselves, just as the rescues see helping others other than focusing on their own perceived problem.
We’ve decided to extend our services to the most at risk cats and kittens up for euthanasia that are elderly, blind , in need of surgery, amputees, or other issues that would make them less likely adoptable. We’re raising funds for a separate intake, recovery and play area for them to live out their lives feeling loved. For those that are friendly and open to petting and attention, we’ll allow students to share in the experience of the love that even a domestic kitty that was considered unwanted can bring into someone’s life and change our perspectives for the greater good . That’s the lasting legacy we hope you’ll help us as part of Team LBR achieve. Thank you and purrs of love for your heart and compassion.