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Stafford native is earning her stripes at wildlife refuge page 3
Colonial Forge grad is into cats. Really, really big cats.

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Date published: 10/14/2012

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In addition, local governments can limit the possession of exotic animals. They're expressly prohibited as pets in Fredericksburg as well as Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George counties. In Fauquier County, exotics are OK as long as the owner registers them with the animal warden.

In Caroline, Culpeper, Louisa and Orange counties, officials defer to the state code rather than address it locally

But even well-meaning animal lovers can get in over their heads, said Farrell, and the animals usually suffer.

"Hearing the conditions these animals have been in before, it's appalling," she said. "They don't deserve that."

HAPPY AND HEALTHY

These days, Turpentine Creek is home to more than 120 exotic animals, everything from cougars and white tigers to grizzly bears and bobcats. There's even a donkey named Pistol Pete.

Visitors can tour the facility and meet the animals, though for obvious reasons even the employees aren't allowed inside the enclosures with them. Even standing on the other side of a fence, caretakers are required to take two steps backward before turning their backs on any of the animals, Farrell said.

The ultimate goal is to house each of them in an onsite natural habitat. The nonprofit refuge uses donations to buy materials--each habitat costs about $20,000--while employees and volunteers provide the labor.

Farrell recently had the opportunity to watch as two ligers--a cross between a lion and a tiger that would not exist in the wild--were introduced to a habitat.

"It was the first time either of these cats had ever felt the grass beneath their toes," she wrote on her blog, Living with Lions.

"Brady was fascinated by his first tree. He tried to eat the branch, then simply tore the whole thing down onto the ground. Afterwards he settled on his bench and hasn't really moved since. It seems he likes his new perch overlooking the Ozark Mountains."

Farrell hopes tougher federal regulations will one day cut down on the number of exotic animals in need of rescue. In the meantime, she said, it's great to be part of the solution at Turpentine Creek.

"It'd be better if they were in the wild, but at least they're getting to be on grass, getting the appropriate medical care they need or getting fed daily," she said. "At the very least, it's rewarding to know they're happy and healthy given the circumstances."

Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
Email: egross@freelancestar.com


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Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge houses more than 120 exotic animals, including lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and bears, on 459 acres in Eureka Springs, Ark. turpentinecreek.org.

Kelly Farrell, a graduate of Colonial Forge High School and George Mason University, is interning at the nonprofit refuge through mid-February. You can read her blog at livingwithleopards.wordpress.com.

For more information on Virginia's exotic animals law and efforts to study its effectiveness, go online | to virginiaanimals.net.

And to follow federal initiatives aimed at curbing the private ownership of big cats, see Senate Bill 3547 at senate.gov or House Resolution 4122 at house.gov. The legislation is known as the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.