What we have here is me with a MUCH smaller and younger SoWePa. The cat is now nearly twice the size, and every bit as loveable.
Leaving SoWePa behind to go sailing was one of the hardest parts of the entire trip, perhaps my entire life. As I type, the final details are being tended to so that SoWePa can take the plane trip to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter Florida, his new home.
I know his chirp to me, and his absolute, unquestioning trust are gifts that will be sorely missed. I hope my travels will take me to Florida one day, so we can spend some time playing together again.
UPDATE: I wrote this page just yesterday, and went into the cage with him about an hour and a half ago, for one last cuddle session and to make sure he was still tractable enough to be safely moved into the shipping crate. As soon as I stepped into the enclosure, he was rabid about wrapping his paws around my leg and play-biting on my booted ankle. A firm "No Bite" yielded no change. Pushing at him was likewise pointless, and I finally grabbed hold of him and forced him off of me, throwing him away from my body. In a split-second, he was coming back at me - thi with his ears flattened back, a snarl in his throat as he reared up on his hind legs, an odd mix of defiance, anger and confusion in his eyes as they met mine. We stared at each other for a long couple of seconds before he took to biting on my jacketed arm. I continued to insist "No Bite!" while forcing his head away from me while he took several more bites at me through the parka. To be fair, since he didn't once try to bite my skin, I don't know if it was his intention to hurt, or simply to maintain his right to bite on my covered parts, his playthings. It doesn't much matter. Denim is useless against the power of his jaws, the heavy parka only served to fill his mouth, giving him something besides skin to achieve.
For the next 60 seconds or so, the longest minute of my life, I did battle with my angry, petulant child, struggling to keep his teeth from ripping into my flesh, fighting my way back to the gate, fighting for my life. If his bites drew blood now and drove him into a frenzy, or he was to render a limb useless, if I lost my balance and fell to the ground, if the situation escalated and he attacked me in earnest, I knew I would die there in that cage. Gotta keep a calm head, don't raise his intensity by freaking out... I gave him my jacket sleeve as a Sacrifice, which bought me the time to look away from him long enough to locate the gate latches, open them, and slide my body out. Now, of course, he was intent on coming out after me! But I managed to get out, and to quickly close the gate latches while he pulled with all his might at the sleeve of my jacket. I prayed he wouldn't rebite further up while unzipping the coat and sliding myself out of it. We had a tug of war over the jacket for about 10 seconds, then. His mouth firmly clamped on the parka, all four feet set as he pulled backwards, I saw the defiance in his eyes again, and relinquished the jacket to him. Only then did the adrenalin finally get around to replacing the blood pounding through my veins.
Frightened and a bit shocky, I made my way back to the house, dialed David's cell phone, and informed him what had happened, and that I'd seen that SoWePa was no longer safe to handle, period. David advised me not to make any decisions in this state, but my logic was crystal clear at that point. "Would you get in with him?" I asked. "No," he replied. It was decided, at least in my mind.
David was doing a presentation at the time, but vowed to call me back tonight when he got back home. Since then, I've spoken with a handful of friends, with my mother, and have come to the conclusion that my logic is not flawed. If he cannot be handled safely, if he's become so desperate for physical contact that he rages when he can't have his way, then it would be foolhearty and irresponsible of me to attempt to crate him or send him down to David. If anything should go awry during the transfer, limbs or lives could be lost. If he should escape during that transfer, my entire community would be at risk. And if I, the one who raised him, cannot read him accurately enough to predict such behaviors, how is a stranger, no matter how experienced or qualified, going to be able to tell that he's going to become dangerous when they come in the door of his enclosure. So it is with a heavy heart and after much deliberation that I conclude the only responsible option is to put my SoWePa to sleep. Arrangements have been made with my vet for her to arrive here tomorrow afternoon to assist in doing the deed. I know this will haunt me for years to come, and I'll probably never allow myself to become close to another big cat again, but it's the only Right thing to be done.
I step outside now, to see my grown child tearing away at the parka. He turns his head towards me as I approach, and I hear his chirp, his greeting to his mother/father/parent/love. Even now, he has no idea what may be wrong, and longs for me to come play with him. That's all he's ever wanted from me. There's no way to explain to him that he's become too powerful, too dangerous to me, that his daddy can never play with him again. <pause> The mature adult in me sees this as necessary, something that must be done. The loving man and child in me had to stop typing. As I wrote this, I could not continue, for the sobs wracking my body. I've not cried out with such utter abandon to grief in many years. I clutch a pillow to my breast, cover my face with it as I sob. The grief is unbearable, unfettered. "I don't want to hurt him!" I scream into the pillow, don't want to harm, my buddy, by cat, my baby boy. All I've EVER wanted for him was the best, to give him the love and affection he has wanted since the first time I met him, three years ago, as a cute little fluffy cub who'd rather lie in my arm and be petted than to romp with his sibblings.
My mind goes back to falling asleep in the cage with him last summer... the construction workers only knew where to find me when they heard my snoring coming from the enclosure... Some things even Love cannot change... and now it has come to this. If leaving him to the good care of David and the folks at Busch was difficult, this will be absolutely unbearable. Nothing will ever take away this pain.

John Taylor 1/26/99 3:03 pm


Many people wonder just how the hell one ends up with a cougar as a "pet." The most common question seems to be "Isn't that illegal?" Well, depending on the state live in, it's probably regulated at least. I've been working with exotic/wild animals for the huge majority of my life. I've worked with lions, bears, monkeys, hawks, falcons, owls, eagles, spent time in the company of tigers and dolphins... SoWePa is the first big cat I've ever "owned."
Acquiring him was a bit of an accident. A dog trainer acquaintance of mine asked me to check out a litter of cubs (some call cougar babies kits, but it makes no sense to me.) I'd been expecting to get a baby Siberian Lynx, but the breeder ended up only having the Europeans, which don't get a white coat in winter... Anyway, I drove up to Belinda Lowrey's place in MO to check out this litter. All were healthy, happy babies bouncing off the walls. I picked them up one at a time, craddling the 3-week olds in the crutch of my arm, on their backs. One after another, they'd tolerate it for 10 or 15 seconds, then squirm out and leap away to pounce on their sibblings. The Dog guy was looking for a female... but there was this one male, and he'd just lay there in my arm, purring away as I rubbed his belly. He really enjoyed the affection and attention. I called the acquaintance, encouraging him to take this male, but he insisted on a female. So at his request, I placed a significant deposit on the female for him and left.
Within a week, the guy told me he'd changed his mind, that he couldn't have the cat where he lived... leaving me stuck with the deposit. Well, I got to thinking about how unusually affectionate that one male was... ended up taking him home with me. Belinda had already had his claws removed (at my request, so that any negative associations wouldn't be attached to me,) and his feet were raw from being on a wire mesh cage. I nearly refused to take him because of it, but decided the cub needed my care more than I needed to be complaining about the improper aftercare. SoWePa rode in my friend Ben's lap all the way home, taking the opportunity to pee on his pants a couple of times along the way. This was to become a habit for SoWePa. He never seemed to want to do that to anyone else but Ben....

Big cat babies are ALL incredibly cute. They're furry, have these huge paws, they run and jump and pounce and play for a short while, then get tired and cuddle up and sleep like the dead. They consume enormous amounts of food - expensive special milk-formulas at first, then add some baby food and liquified meats, then slowly they're weaned onto solid foods. At no time can any wild cat exist on a domestic cat diet. They require whole animals, with bones, organs, etc. to be healthy. Just feeding these creatures is nearly a full-time job in and of itself. Within a handful of weeks, they've doubled in size, then doubled again. Until he was 4 or 5 months old, SoWePa would follow me around outside in the back fields of the Lackey Ranch, much like a puppy. Then when a sudden and unexpected change of living space brought me to move up to The Hill, his excursions had to stop. I didn't have the open fields there, and if he were to decide to run off or play Hide & Seek in the woods, I'd never find him, and he'd be shot by some redneck... so SoWePa started living his life in his enclosure.
Playing with a wild cat is not like playing with one's housecat. One must never play Swat games with the cat because, unlike their domestic cousins, even a cougar can snap your neck with one such swipe when full-grown. One cannot allow them to bite on you (some experienced trainers won't even allow the cat to mouth humans,) as a half-grown cougar's playful nip can prove crippling or fatal. One must always raise them with it in the forefront of one's mind what this cub will be in a year: a fearless predator weighing in at anywhere from 150 to 1000 pounds. Tigers can hurt you or break bones just by leaning against you. Lions and Ligers can crush you with their weight alone. And while they can play roughly with each other because of their fur and tough hides, we humans are fragile. Our skin is like rice paper to their fangs, and one doesn't want any creature which crushes bone (with the same ease we eat celery) gnawing on one's head. So while raising these animals can seem a joy to the uninitiated, it's a full time job and serious responsibility if it's to be done right. And it must be done right. There can be no errors. Fouling up the rearing of a big cat will mean that someone will lose a limb, or their life, and the unwitting cat will most likely be destroyed.


People in under-regulated states get these cute little cubs all too often. Somehow ignorant of what they'll one day become, they take the furballs home and do their best to feed as directed. But they lack the experience and expertise to raise the cub so that it will be safe to handle when grown. And they often don't anticipate the destruction a 4-month old big cat can do to one's household. Have you a couch? Not for long! In casual play, the cub will literally tear the arms off of it in under 20 minutes. Rug? Cool toy to pull on til threadbare or gone. Lamps? Ya mean those things that teeter around and then fall down into lots of smaller pieces to play with? OOoh, KEWL! A <fish tank, planter, cabinet, desk, chair, stereo, vacuum, telephone, remote, TV, pillow, quilt... you name it, they'll demolish it> to play with! So what do they do? They do what any self-respecting, unprepared homeowner would do. They put the cat out in its cage or in a garage or basement.
Now the situation's even worse. They aren't around you all of the time, so when they DO get to see you, their foster mother, they're frantic, excited! They pounce on you, grab your leg tightly, mouthing and biting on your knee, ankle, hand, arm, thigh. Go to the ground with them (a BAD idea) and now your head and neck are fair game as well! And believe me, it HURTS! So now the cat gets even less time and attention. As you can imagine, this just makes them all the more needy. Soon the once-proud owner is tossing food in and running like hell. This is NOT the cute, cuddly cub they signed up for!

So what do they do? Some dump them on sanctuaries and rescues. Some continue to feed the animal but stop handling it, so it becomes a menace and is eventually destroyed. Some are found chained up in a garage. Others are found in 6'x4' dog runs, with the bone fragments from a poor declawing operation growing back up, out through their skin, making every step excrutiatingly painful, causing the cat to be a live wire, an accident just waiting to happen. Believe it or not, some fools even raise such animals with small children! Now what do you suppose a several hundred pound predator makes of a young child running and flailing about? Sure enough, it's some prey object, something to play with and bite on. Why are people so stubborn about getting these most dangerous of predators when they have no idea what they're doing? Don't ask me, I've no clue.
The sanctuaries and rescues are overfilled with unwanted cats, most of which are untractable. Zoos do not want these animals, for a number of reasons. But sanctuaries and rescues are not government agencies, they are privately funded by love for the cats and the donations of the few who understand that providing 5 to 35 lbs of meat a day is an EXPENSIVE proposition. We do have a few less expensive resources, but feeding a cougar will cost about $1500 a year in store-bought chicken and beef. That's amongst the smallest of the large cats. A lion or tiger will consume closer to $6000 a year in meat, not including medications, suppliments, veterinary care... Fencing in an enclosure costs from $1500 at a BARE minimum for a cougar to as much as $20,000 for a reasonable sized enclosure for a couple of lions or tigers. Who pays for all of this when we find that the cub is starting to grow up? Well, the money comes from donations and self-sacrifice, and alot of hard work. The labor comes from volunteers, and the expertice from one HELL of alot of selflessness and love of these magnificent animals.
I'm not going to try to discourage you from getting a big cat. I'm going to tell you flat out "DO NOT DO IT!" Don't encourage the breeders to make more of them. You may think you're saving the poor cub from such a shabby place, but all you're really doing is making room for another litter of unwanted cubs and encouraging the breeders by paying for the priviledge! If you want to be involved, find a shelter or sanctuary and volunteer. Expect to do the shitwork for a long while. This is as it should be, and not because you need to pay your dues, but because you'll need that time in the vicinity of these powerful animals before you're truly ready to interact with them. It also mirrors the reality of owning a large cat. If you take one home with you, YOU will be cleaning up after it, YOU will be getting, cleaning and delivering meat. YOU will be building enclosures, shovelling dirt and gravel and sand... building platforms, and you'll be spending thousands of dollars on top of it all. You won't be going on any vacations, though, so you'll have a little extra cash there. Nobody's going to be able to babysit your cougar/tiger/lion for a week or two. In fact, you're never going to be able to go away for more than a night or two again. And if you get a Great Cat (one which roars,) your neighbors are just gonna LOVE you. Get a female, and they'll love you for weeks at a time when she goes into heat and YOWLS! out her mating call so that people in other states can hear it. Oh, yeah, getting a baby cat is a great idea...
These animals belong in the wild. Their bodies and instincts are built for that environment. Don't let any self-serving jerk tell you otherwise. Don't be persuaded by nonsense about a handful of generations in captivity. Don't kid yourself into thinking you can handle it, or that you'll build a bigger enclosure as it becomes necessary. It ain't gonna happen! The burdens of raising the cat will suck your resources out from your wallet in a heartbeat. And once the novelty wears off, there's still the reality to contend with. These are superhumanly powerful lethal predators. Move too fast, turn your back, stumble and fall, and those 7 generations of captive breeding won't even be a milliseond's thought in that cat's head as his instincts tear an arm off your shoulder or his playful pounce rips the flesh from your body in cubic foot chunks. It's a travesty that we have brought them into captivity, an even bigger one that we continue to destroy their natural habitat because we can't put as much control on our population as we put on parking spaces.
I love SoWePa dearly. I got lucky and raised an exceptional cub into a fine cat. Nevertheless, I had to make the decision to give him up, to send him to one of these already burdened sanctuaries, so that I could have a life of my own again, and so he could have the room I couldn't afford to build him. In the time that I had this wonderful creature, my partner was bitten in the hand. The tentative chomp required 3.5 hours of reconstructive surgury and months off of work. He got lucky, has only a scar to show for his mistake. If it had been a lesser individual cougar, he'd be missing at least his thumb and index finger right now. I hope I've made my point.

NOTE: This pic of SoWePa and I was when he was only HALF grown... look at the size of my hand (and I have LARGE hands) in his mouth..


Enjoy the large cats for what they truly are. Visit them in zoos or QUALITY sanctuaries that are open to the public. Volunteer your time, labor, expertise, money, goods and services to these organizations and people who are doing a largely thankless job for the cats - a job that we, as a society, will not do for ourselves. But please, PLEASE, PLEASE!... leave them to those who've taken the years necessary to know how to raise and care for them properly. Trying to raise a large cat WITH that experience is already a dangerous undertaking. Attempting to do so without it is courting disaster on bended knee.
Since I wrote this (just yesterday,) I've had to add the Update. Please, heed my advise. I know all of this, knew it all along, and yet things got out of control. My business partner bears the scar, the bills, and almost lost use of his hand. Earlier today, I came closer to dying than I've been before. Even though I suffered only a couple of deep bruises, it was by Grace, experience, a heavy jacket, and a cat who really does love me and doesn't want to hurt me, that I'm able to type this now. If SoWePa had bitten harder, or the jacket hadn't been protective enough, if I'd not kept my head, or not known not to escalate the situation, he might have crippled my arm. This would either have made it impossible to retreat from his attack or worse yet, ended up with him running loose and scared, a fatal menace to the children that live a few hundred yards away. If this can happen to me with this cat, it can and will happen to a novice. Leave them in the wild, where they belong. Discourage unnecessary captive breeding, and support the rescues and sanctuaries that are equipped to care for these animals. When you see the cute, cuddly little cub, bear this report in mind. They don't stay that way for long.. and the results of a bad decision can easily be lethal.
To find out more about sanctuaries in your area, try a Net Search under Cougar Sanctuary or Great Cat Rescue, Lion Rescue, etc. To visit Busch Wildlife Sanctuary's home page, click here.

My heartfelt thanks and eternal gratitude to David and the Busch family, their sponsors and contributors, for offering to provide SoWePa with a permant home.