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So you think you want a Lion or Tiger for a pet?

Our position regarding private ownership is simply that we have no position. It is not our place to sit in judgment of others. We are neither a sanctioning body nor a regulating agency. We simply provide homes for unwanted big cats. But since a great many of the cats living at Tiger Haven have come from so-called private ownership, we feel that it is right and proper to let you know what you are getting into before you possibly cost an innocent cat his or her life.

Anyone who wants to possess a big cat should do so only with the knowledge of how to do it, and with the commitment to care for it properly for the duration of its natural life.

Such specialized knowledge can only come from experience. Big cats are dangerous. They can kill you. There is much to know about big cat behavior in general, and the species in particular, before you even entertain the thought of ownership.

This knowledge cannot be obtained in the time it takes for a cub to become dangerous. It would be akin to learning to skydive having never seen a parachute until you jumped, and even more dangerous.

Responsibility to care for the cat for the duration of its life can only come from having a location where you will not have to move, the ability to get the proper diet and veterinary care, an enclosure that is safe and large enough, and the financial ability to provide all this. 

P.S. Please don't ask us where you can buy a cub

Big Cats are not house pets!

So. You want a big cat as a pet? Perhaps a sweet little lion cub that you can cuddle with. There's nothing that will love you like a lion cub. Or maybe a tame cougar who can stay in your house and sleep on the bed with you. Before you run out and get a big cat there is some important information you should not only know, but fully accept.

The first set rule is that "big cat" and "pet" do not belong in the same sentence. Big cats cannot be "tamed" in the common sense of the word. They are, and always will be creatures of the wild.

A big cat is not a house cat. It does not stay small forever. In fact, lions and tigers soon begin growing at a rate of five pounds per week. When you finally figure out that you can't keep it, it is practically impossible to find a home for it other than a cemetery.

So you should first become aware of what private ownership of big cats is like. Talk to some people who have big cats. Learn the lengths you must go just to get the proper diet for your cat.

Do you have experience in handling big cats? If not, you shouldn't even consider ownership. Do you have children? If so, leave this page now. Too many children have been permanently disfigured or killed by their parents' big cats. Both the children and cats pay for their parents and owners' stupidity.

This page looks at some of the facts and fantasies of big cat ownership, and tells you some of the preparations you should make before obtaining a big cat.

Fantasy: I can show it enough love and affection that it would never want to harm me.
Fact: They know you love them, and they love you. But you cannot suppress the instincts that tell them to jump on you from behind and bite you on the back of the neck. They're only playing as they would do with another cat. But our skin is like tissue paper compared to theirs, and they don't know that. A big cat could playfully kill you and wonder why you didn't come to feed it the next day. The house cat has been domesticated for thousands of years, but even their instinct is still fully intact.

Don't feed it red meat and it will never develop its wild instincts (taste of blood, you know).
Fact: I never get over how ridiculous that line of thought is but I hear it a lot. Would you rather face a lion with a belly full of red meat than a hungry one? The truth is that it makes no difference. Man is not the natural prey of the big cats.

I will spend hours with it every day.
Fact: In the beginning you may spend a lot of time with the cat. But it's difficult to spend the amount of time necessary, every day, to properly train the cat not to bite and claw. And pretty soon it gets old and you have other things to do, like making a living. Or it gets too rough for you to handle and then gets stuck in a cage. Lonely and forgotten.

Fantasy: It wouldn't harm the children.
Fact: The smallest and weakest of any species is the natural prey for big cats. Even dogs attack children first.

Fantasy: I can get enough downed cows from farmers to feed it.
Fact: So what are you going to do if some cows don't die, starve your cat?

Fantasy: If it gets too much to handle I can sell it or send it to a zoo.
Fact: Suffice it to say that zoos will not take them. That subject is covered elsewhere. About the only places who will pay for a big cat are hunting ranches or people who want their skins.

Fantasy: The neighbors will love it.
Fact: Perhaps. But many will not. They will fear it will get out and kill their children and dogs. And unless the regulations in your state are tough, they may have a valid fear, depending on the type of enclosure you have. And it takes only a few disgruntled neighbors to cause you some serious problems.

Fantasy: I can always move to the country and build a big enclosure for it.
Fact: Enclosures are very expensive to build. Moving is also expensive and a hassle. Do you really think you will do that?

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The best Intentions!

How does a big cat end up in an abusive and dangerous condition when its owner had the best of intentions? There are very few who set out to abuse a big cat, or who really don't care if their cats are living in abusive and painful situations. 

So how does it happen? It is usually a progression of events rather than a single turning point.

Ten Steps to Disaster

The Pet Owner

  1. The purchase of a big cat in the first place. Everyone has good intentions, and it's really cool to have a lion or tiger for a pet.

  2. You haven't built an adequately sized enclosure but you think there will be adequate time before the cub is big enough to need it. In the meantime, it can live in the house and sleep in the dog carrier.

  3. You play with the cub. You tickle the cub's belly and let it jump on you. Your kids play with it the same way. The neighborhood kids do, too. It learns that it gets attention by biting and jumping on you. You don't know that you shouldn't allow the cub to do anything when it weighs ten pounds that you let it do when it weighs four hundred. 

  4. Soon the cub is too big to let it play rough, but you have never taught it any different. You didn't realize that it would grow at a rate of five pounds per week. It hurts when it bites you.

  5. Your wife is afraid that the cub will hurt your kids, the neighbor's kids, or herself. She will no longer feed and clean up after it. And it can certainly stay in the house no longer. You are now solely responsible for it.

  6. You haven't even started on the enclosure. Gee, it grew fast. You don't want to even consider that you cannot handle the cub, or that you cannot teach it manners, or that you may have made a serious mistake.

  7. You hastily construct a small, temporary pen in the garage or back yard. It will do for now. All you really need to do is spend more time with it.

  8. You've had to work a lot of hours, and you're tired when you get home. You just haven't had the time to spend with the cub, which is now growing larger. It gets vicious and possessive when it even sees or smells its food. You are now afraid to even enter the pen with it so you through the food over the top.

  9. It is difficult to clean the pen without going inside, so you don't do it often. Your wife said she told you so, and is demanding that you get rid of the cub. The neighbors are complaining and the animal control people have been out. The newspaper article was not very flattering to you.

  10. How did it get to this point? And so quickly? You never meant any harm. Now you are threatened with lawsuits, people talk about you like you are an insane idiot, and your court date with the state wildlife people is coming up soon. And in spite of it all, you really love the cat. It's not the cat's fault that you didn't know how to take care of it. It is too big and unruly now and no one wants it except people you are suspicious of. They are saying you may have to destroy it.

*      And it all happens in only 4 to 6 months. Who would have known?

The Dealer

  1. You have seen in the newspapers that the zoo paid $25,000 for a pair of lions. It takes only 3 months to make cubs. You know someone who has a male and female tiger they want to sell. Recognizing an opportunity to make a lot of money fast, you buy the cats. You build a cage that's not really big, but big enough for the two of them, you think. After all, they're just going to be breeding.

  2. Realizing that you will need more than the one pair if you are going to produce enough cubs to make it worthwhile, you purchase another pair. That will also give you some variety. Maybe you will get a white cub. That's big bucks.

  3. You paid more for that pair than you really wanted to, so rather than build another cage, you divide the one you have already built.

  4. Both pairs are breeding, so you should have cubs before long. You didn't realize how expense it would be to feed them, but you will make it all back. You start advertising that you have cubs for sale.

  5. You are visited by an agent with the USDA. Do you have a license to breed and sell exotic cats? Didn't know you needed one? Too bad. He/she leaves you forms and an application to send in and advises you of some changes that need to be made in your facility. He/she will be back for the pre-licensing inspection. In the meantime, you cannot sell any cubs until you are licensed.

  6. It's getting expensive to feed the cats and make all the changes required by the USDA. But it's all going to be worth it. White tiger cubs sell for as much as $60,000.

  7. The cubs are born. You lose a couple, but what the heck. You will learn more about raising them as you go. They breed like house cats, don't they?

  8. A few months go by. More cubs are born, none of them white. It takes a lot of time to take care of the cats, and you've got your regular business to think of. The cats and the cages are neglected. You advertise the cubs for sale at $10,000 each - no takers.

  9. You learn that generic tiger cubs are worth about what you paid for the cats you bought, from $500 to $1,000. The zoos ask if the cats are registered in the SSP studbook. You say, "What?." And they politely get you off the phone line. Other prospective buyers think you are crazy, and you're beginning to wonder, yourself.

  10. The USDA agent returns and cites you for several violations. He/she gives you thirty days to correct the problems, which are extensive and expensive. You have sold a couple of cubs - cheap, and are really in the hole. And possibly in debt. When the USDA returns you end up getting fined in the neighborhood of $20,000 and your license suspended. Now you couldn't sell the cats if you wanted to. On top of that, you are told that the cages are too crowded, which they are, and you must get rid of some of the cats in any way possible - as long as it is humane. He/she will not help you find other homes for them. How did it get this crazy?

Exhibitors and Small Zoos

Everyone wants to see your animals, so you decide to open a small zoo. Surely all those people stopping by would pay an admission, especially if you had a variety of animals. Didn't know you had that many relatives and friends, did you?You end up with the same problems and the same ten steps, only the parameters are changed. More money going out than coming in and you are cutting corners in care and diet. Pretty soon you are facing fines and looking for homes for your animals

No one is immune, and we at Tiger Haven are certainly not "Holier than thou." A few bad turns or unexpected events and anyone can suddenly be in too deep. Even zoos find themselves with inadequate space, too many animals and not enough funding.

But we exist under conditions that even zoos do not have to adhere to. We have pledged to provide a home for the cats for the remainder of their natural lives. Euthanasia for convenience, space requirements or lack of funding is not an option.

Neither would be relocating the cats to another facility. It is traumatic to a big cat to be moved, and how would we guarantee a good life for the cat? Probably doesn't matter, anyway. Tiger Haven was the last stop for most of them before they were scheduled to be destroyed.

Need a new home for your Big Cat?

So you don't want it anymore and you have probably discovered that it's not that easy to just "get rid of" a big cat. 

After all, who wants a grown (or almost grown) cat that jumps on your head, scratches and bites?

If he being unruly it's because you didn't handle him properly. If he is biting and scratching, he is only doing what a house cat would do. He is just being what he was born to be. But if he has not been trained to behave he is now most likely ruined and unhand able by others, and is worthless to most people or facilities.

Before deciding to give up you cat and send it elsewhere, you should examine the reasons for your intentions, and what may happen to the cat that you loved so much.

There are some harsh words following but there are things that need to be said and things you need to know before making your decision.

When you give up your cat do you know where it will end up? Will it be sentenced to spend the remainder of its life in a tiny cage being yelled at by uncaring gawkers? Will it go to a farm where it will be turned loose and chased by dogs and "great hunters" who want a trophy? (Wow, did you see how that cat jumped when I shot him?! Too bad it wasn't a killing shot. That meant another hole in the pelt.) Perhaps he will be shot as soon as he comes out of the cage and it won't last long.

Maybe you can avoid all this and just have him euthanized (unless it's a tiger or other endangered species, then you can get into serious trouble). Maybe it would be better to kill him now than let him live a life of misery. Then you would be the one who has to return its questioning look as life drains from its body, "why are you doing this?"

What were you thinking when you bought it? Yes, we know that most people who buy cubs for pets buy them to "get them out of the horrible conditions they live in." And in fact, the person you bought it from is maybe more at fault than you. He, or she, should have made sure that you were qualified to own, keep and take care of a big cat.

But regardless of how you obtained the cat, it's now yours, and your responsibility. It's not that easy, and certainly not right, to ask someone else to bear the expense of food, medicine and care for the next several years.

We once received a request to take a five year-old cougar. The uniqueness had long ago worn off and now it was just a financial burden. The owner no longer spent any time with the cougar, so it had become too rough to handle.

In talking with the owner, we discovered that he wanted to move to a more expensive area that did not allow exotic animals, and he also wanted to spend his spare money on expanding his business rather than taking care of the cougar. And, since he had bought the cat, a child had come into the family.

He didn't seem to understand why we would not accept the cougar. He didn't seem to understand why we wouldn't spend $10,000 on building a proper enclosure for the cat, and spend many thousands more over the course of its life for food, veterinary services, and keepers to take care of him.

When you take a big cat as a pet, it is your responsibility to take care of it for the rest of its life. If you choose to kill it, or put it in an unknown situation where possible harm can come to it, what does that say about you?

Now that we have that out of the way, here are some suggestions.

Find a way to keep the cat.

If you cannot keep your cat where you are for any reason (zoning, neighbors, etc.) the best alternative is to move to another area that is better and safer for the cat. If you can afford to keep the cat, even if it means doing without some other things you want, your responsibility to your cat should come first.


  • if it is impossible to keep your cat, 

  • if you have children, 

  • if you cannot spend time with your cat, 

  • if you cannot feed it properly, 

  • if you cannot keep it in a proper enclosure 

Then you should do the honorable thing and find a good home for your cat. There are few sanctuaries in this country, and they most always stay full. But here's what you should do. 

  • First, find a sanctuary that will guarantee that the cat will have a permanent home if they accept it. 

  • Go and visit the facility to ensure the cat will be taken care of properly. 

  • Pay the expenses for moving the cat to the facility. 

  • Pay the cost of building a proper enclosure for your cat at the facility. 

  • Make an agreement with the facility that you will pay for the food, veterinary care, and upkeep of the cat, through monthly payments, for the rest of the cat's life. 

  • And last, be a testimonial to other idiots who want a big cat as a pet. Tell them the truth about why you no longer have your pet. Make yourself available to groups to tell the story. Many will say, "If I was going to do all that I would keep the cat myself."

Great! Keep the cat, give it a safe and good life, and save others the headache and heartache.

But remember, whatever you do, it is a responsibility you took upon yourself. It's up to you to do what's best for the cat.

If you arrived at this page from a search engine, click
the link below to go to Tiger Haven's home page.

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