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Big cat sleepover: Cedarhill holds fundraising raffle for second year in a row

 

Charger is one of several tigers who have found a permanent home at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary in Caledonia. Up to four people can win a weekend getaway at Cedarhill through the sanctuary's fundraising raffle, B&B with the Big Cats.

Charger is one of several tigers who have found a permanent home at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary in Caledonia. Up to four people can win a weekend getaway at Cedarhill through the sanctuary's fundraising raffle, B&B with the Big Cats. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Winners of a

Winners of a "B&B with the Big Cats" raffle fundraiser at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary will spend a weekend at this cottage, which overlooks the tiger pens at the sanctuary. In addition to tigers, Cedarhill is home to lions, bobcats, horses, pigs, birds, dogs and hundreds of cats.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Sheba growls in defense of the ball in her pen at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary in Caledonia Tuesday. Sheba is one of 15 exotic cats, including lions and tigers, and one of about 300 animals who have found a permanent home at the sanctuary, which rescues abused and neglected animals.

Sheba growls in defense of the ball in her pen at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary in Caledonia Tuesday. Sheba is one of 15 exotic cats, including lions and tigers, and one of about 300 animals who have found a permanent home at the sanctuary, which rescues abused and neglected animals.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Armin and Nancy Gschwendtner peer into Zeus' pen as he sleeps after lunch Tuesday. Both Nancy and Armin work at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary which is home to lions, tigers and hundreds of other rescued animals.

Armin and Nancy Gschwendtner peer into Zeus' pen as he sleeps after lunch Tuesday. Both Nancy and Armin work at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary which is home to lions, tigers and hundreds of other rescued animals.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Isabelle Altman

 

 

There's a hill in Caledonia where, at night, people can hear the growls, barks and occasional roars of lions, tigers and the many other animals that call Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary Home. 

 

Nancy Gschwendtner, who has been director of the sanctuary six years and lives on the grounds, said she doesn't hear the sounds at night anymore, though people who have stayed the night have asked her how she sleeps there all the time. 

 

"I had one guy call me recently. He's trying to sell me an alarm system," she said. "I said to him, 'Sir, I'm really sorry but I have lions and tigers. I don't need an alarm system.' He hung up on me." 

 

And for one weekend this year, as many as four people won't need an alarm system either -- for the second year, Cedarhill is holding a fundraising raffle, and one winner, along with up to three adult guests, will win a weekend "B&B with the Big Cats." 

 

The winners will stay in a two-bedroom cottage, complete with a kitchen, on the grounds. Gschwendtner imagines them sitting out on the back porch in the morning, drinking coffee, while looking out over the pens of Kumar and Mr. Big, two of the many rescued tigers who have come to call Cedarhill home over the years -- along with lions, bobcats, the occasional cougar, horses, pigs, dogs, birds and hundreds of cats. 

 

Many of the 300 animals and nearly all of the 15 exotic cats were rescued from abusive or neglectful homes. The sanctuary began in the 1980s when founder, Kay McElroy, rescued a 6-month-old cougar cub named Zack, who was being kept in a small dog pen and whose paws were infected from a botched declawing job. When she couldn't find a local zoo or sanctuary that could take him, McElroy started Cedarhill -- along with a lifelong mission to fight the exotic pet trade. 

 

Each of the animals at Cedarhill have a home for life -- not even the cats are up for adoption -- and the sanctuary is not open to visitors.  

 

Usually. 

 

Last year, when the funds for the rescue began to dry up, Cedarhill staff dreamed up a fundraiser that promised a weekend getaway to the winner of a raffle designed to bring in more money.  

 

At the time it was a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity. But last year the sanctuary sold almost $4,000 worth of tickets, Gschwendtner said. With such a success under its belt, the staff decided to hold it again this year.  

 

"Generally we don't open to the public, so this is kind of a big deal to people that they can actually come in and say that they were part of Cedarhill for a day, a couple of days," Gschwendtner said. "They'll give the horses and pigs treats. Now we'll make it a very interactive stay here. 

 

"I know last year the people who won went home and they were so incredibly happy with what they got out of it," she added. "We thought, 'Well, we're going to have to do it again.' Because it was really nice to see that." 

 

 

 

Cat tales 

 

Walking around the sanctuary, Gschwendtner pointed to different animals and told their stories. 

 

Sheba, a lioness, came to live at Cedarhill about five years ago, along with another lion and four tigers.  

 

"She gets mad at her tail," Gschwendtner said. "When she's playing with a ball or something, she thinks her tail is going to take it away from her. And she sits there and she (growls at it). You can tell it (ticks) her off completely, but it's her tail!" 

 

Armin Gschwendtner, who four years ago handled groundswork at Cedarhill and now handles construction on a contractual, as-needed basis, has as many stories about the animals as Nancy. Across the pen from Sheba is Zeus, a large male lion who was rescued from a sideshow zoo with his malnourished mate. The mate died not long after the two were rescued. 

 

"I was running some wiring with a buddy of mine (around Zeus' cage). ... The whole time we were running this wire, (Zeus) couldn't have cared less," Armin said. "And we're coming down the last poll ... I'm standing there and my buddy's zip-tying it as I'm coming down the pole, and then all of a sudden, (Zeus) decided, 'Hey, I haven't scared this guy yet. Let me try that.' And he came charging over to the fence, just 'Rawr!' My buddy turned so white, man, it was funny. 

 

"And then he just stood there, saw that he got the better of my friend, who left, and I had to finish up, but after that he just walked away again (as if) to say, 'Ha ha,'" Armin added. 

 

Stories like those will be part of the deal for raffle winners, who get a full tour of the sanctuary. They'll be able to walk dogs, feed the pigs and horses and do some sort of enrichment activity with the exotic cats.  

 

"We may let you put some paint on a canvas and then we'll go put it down and then the lion or tiger can make a picture for these people. So it's completely personalized," Nancy said. 

 

The weekend package also includes dinner at Broussard's and a complimentary brunch.  

 

"So it's a nice package," Nancy said. 

 

Tickets can be purchased online -- one for $20, three for $55 and 5 for $90, Nancy said. To purchase tickets or for more information on the raffle, go to http://www.cedarhillanimalsanctuary.org or follow Cedarhill on Facebook.

 

 

 

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