Big cats and big hearts

Natalie McMahon, Online editor

Tigers are celebrated for their roles as Tony the Tiger or Tigger from “Winnie the Pooh,” but behind the happy cartoons and frivolous advertisements, these animals are facing epidemic concerns. Alongside this ugly phenomenon comes people with the courage to do something about it, In-Sync Exotics is one of these groups.

“In-Sync Exotics is a facility where large felines who have been abused go to spend the rest of their lives, so there’s a multitude of different cats who have various different backstories,” Avery Schneider, volunteer at In-Sync Exotics, said. “In-Sync is like a sanctuary where they get to live happy lives and just be loved.”

In this non-profit organization, workers are dedicated to rescuing the abused, neglected and unwanted exotic cats. The cats stay in this establishment for life.

“A lot of our cats came from private owners, like people have tigers in their backyards and it’s pretty insane that you can do that,” Jennifer Hatch, keeper at In-Sync Exotics, said. “It’s sad how people take them and try to make them cute, little, cuddly pets and don’t see that they’re hurting a whole species by taking it out of the wild.”

In Texas city ordinances, it’s actually legal to get a tiger if you have the permit. Also, It seems some people don’t realize there’s a big difference between domestic house cats and exotic felines.

“There are tons of people in Texas who have tigers as pets since they only cost [about] $200,” Schneider said. “Lots of people assume that they can take care of tigers because you’re allowed to legally have one since they have such bad laws in the United States.”

There’s a very real reality at the heels of illegal exotic animal ownership and captive breeding. It all begins with the need of stronger legislation on those who abuse.

“There are more captive tigers in Texas than wild tigers in India,” Hatch said. “They’re deadly animals and they belong in the wild – it’s not a game.”

According to Hatch, the idea of In-Sync started in 1998 and became official in 2000. The founder, Vicky Keahey, has been working with animals for over 35 years.  

“Vicky actually worked for a vet clinic in 1996; one of the people there brought in a cougar, and they didn’t come back and pick it up. It needed medical work and they just kind of left it there,” Hatch said. “She was working there so she decided to take it home and build it a cage.”

While working as a veterinary technician, she rescued her first cougar.  Eight years, a cougar and a tiger named Kenya, Vicky founded In-Sync.

“Kenya was our first cat that was actually apart of In-Sync,” Hatch said. “Then she saw that there was a need for rescuing cats globally so she started a sanctuary.”

In-Sync’s main focus or goal is to love and honor the exotic felines’ right to life. Rescuing mistreated cats and provide them with a lifetime of high quality care is their primary focus.

“We have a chart for each cat because we know what each cat likes to eat,” Hatch said. “A lot of places don’t even care enough to know; we have a board with everything that they like and everything that they get for treats and stuff.”

The residents living in this sanctuary include tigers, lions, leopards, bobcats, cougars, cheetahs, lynxs, servals, ocelots, and lemurs. Though all different in shape and size, all are rescued from past trauma.

“I think it’s how much we know about the cats and how we always put the cats first that makes us different from other sanctuaries,” Hatch said. “We always want them to have peaceful lives as the first part where they’ve been rescued from has always been so bad.”