Paws for Celebration: Commemorating Rescued Exotic Pets

Paws for Celebration: Commemorating Rescued Exotic Pets

Discovering the Stories Behind the Sanctuary

What do you imagine when you think of a wild animal sanctuary? Majestic elephants roaming vast natural habitats? Mighty tigers basking in the sun? Or perhaps curious bears indulging in their favorite snacks? Well, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has been bringing these captivating scenes to life for the past four decades.

As PAWS celebrates its 40th anniversary, I can’t help but be in awe of the incredible work they’ve accomplished. This organization has been at the forefront of efforts to rescue and provide lifelong care for animals who have fallen victim to the exotic and performing animal trades. From heartbreaking tales of abuse to remarkable stories of rehabilitation and triumph, the PAWS team has seen it all.

PAWS was founded by the legendary Pat Derby and her partner Ed Stewart, who were determined to put an end to the exploitation of captive wildlife. After years of working in the entertainment industry as an animal trainer, Pat could no longer stomach the behind-the-scenes cruelty. She decided to blow the lid off this shocking world, exposing the harsh realities in her tell-all book, “The Lady and Her Tiger.”

This was the catalyst that sparked Pat and Ed’s lifelong mission to rescue and provide sanctuary for these animals. In 1984, they established PAWS, and the rest, as they say, is history. But this is no ordinary history – it’s a story of triumph, resilience, and the unwavering dedication of a team who refuses to back down in the face of adversity.

Elephants: Majestic Giants Finding Peace

When you step onto the sprawling grounds of the PAWS ARK 2000 sanctuary, the first thing that captivates you is the sight of the magnificent elephants. These gentle giants, who have endured years of abuse and exploitation, have finally found their forever home.

The five elephant habitats at ARK 2000 provide the elephants with hundreds of acres of varied natural terrain to roam, lakes and pools to bathe in, and state-of-the-art elephant barns equipped with heated stalls and an indoor therapy pool. It’s a far cry from the cramped, barren enclosures they were forced to endure in their previous lives.

One of the most remarkable aspects of PAWS’ work is the level of individualized care and attention they provide to each and every animal. Take, for instance, the story of Pygmy, a 37-year-old Asian elephant who was rescued from a roadside zoo in 2016. Pygmy had been confined to a small, concrete enclosure for years, with no access to the enrichment and exercise essential for an elephant’s well-being.

When Pygmy arrived at PAWS, the team knew they had their work cut out for them. “She was in a terrible state, both physically and mentally,” recalls PAWS’ Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. Jackie Gai. “But with patience, dedication, and a lot of love, we’ve been able to see her truly blossom.”

Today, Pygmy can be found splashing in her pool, foraging for her favorite treats, or engaging in playful interactions with her elephant companions. It’s a heartwarming sight that reminds us of the resilience of these magnificent creatures and the profound impact of compassionate care.

Tigers: Roaring Back to Life

If elephants are the majestic giants of the PAWS sanctuary, then tigers are undoubtedly the charismatic superstars. With their striking features and powerful presence, these big cats have captured the hearts of visitors and staff alike.

PAWS has rescued tigers from a variety of harrowing situations – from cub petting operations and circuses to roadside zoos and private owners. Each rescue is a testament to the team’s unwavering commitment to ending the exploitation of these magnificent animals.

One of the most recent additions to the PAWS family is Cleo, a 10-month-old tiger cub who was confiscated from a private facility in California. When Cleo first arrived, she was in a dire state, suffering from severe Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) that had left her with multiple bone fractures and deformities.

“Cleo has been through so much in her young life, but she is resilient and full of energy,” marvels PAWS’ Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. Gai. “With proper nutrition, dedicated care, and the perfect natural environment, we’ve been able to witness her remarkable recovery.”

As Cleo explores her spacious enclosure, stalking through the tall grasses and splashing in her pool, it’s a testament to the power of compassion and the transformative impact of a safe, nurturing sanctuary. And Cleo’s story is just one of many that exemplify PAWS’ unwavering dedication to providing tigers with the care, attention, and freedom they deserve.

Bears: The Overlooked Wonders of the Sanctuary

While elephants and tigers may steal the spotlight, PAWS’ bear residents are equally deserving of our admiration and respect. These fascinating creatures, with their intelligence, agility, and complex behaviors, often go overlooked in the grand scheme of exotic animal advocacy.

That’s why PAWS has been shining a light on the plight of captive bears through their Take the Pledge for Bears campaign. Each month, the PAWS team has been educating their supporters on the unique qualities and challenges faced by these remarkable animals.

One of the bears calling PAWS home is Ben, a 26-year-old Asiatic black bear who was rescued from a roadside zoo in 2005. Ben had spent his life confined to a small, barren enclosure, with little opportunity to engage in his natural behaviors. But at PAWS, he’s found a haven where he can roam freely, forage for his favorite foods, and bask in the sun to his heart’s content.

“Bears often don’t get the attention they deserve, but they are truly fascinating creatures,” says PAWS’ Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Chris Draper. “By sharing their stories and advocating for their protection, we hope to inspire more people to join us in the fight against the exploitation of captive wildlife.”

As I walk through the bear habitat, watching Ben amble across the lush, natural landscape, I can’t help but feel a sense of wonder and admiration. These animals, often overlooked and underappreciated, are thriving in the care and sanctuary provided by the PAWS team.

A Legacy of Compassion and Resilience

As I reflect on the stories of the PAWS animals, I’m struck by the unwavering dedication and resilience of the organization’s founders, Pat Derby and Ed Stewart. Their vision to create a safe haven for captive wildlife has not only transformed the lives of countless animals but has also left an indelible mark on the world.

Pat, in particular, was a force to be reckoned with. Her early career as a Hollywood animal trainer gave her a firsthand look at the cruelty and exploitation that went on behind the scenes. Determined to expose this shocking world, she wrote her tell-all book, “The Lady and Her Tiger,” which became a catalyst for her life’s work.

“Pat truly was legendary,” reflects Ed Stewart, PAWS’ President and Co-founder. “She was known for her ferocity in the battle against animal abusers and her relentless drive to end the exploitation of captive wild animals used for entertainment.”

Even after Pat’s passing in 2013, PAWS has continued to honor her legacy, steadfastly pursuing their mission to rescue, rehabilitate, and provide lifelong care for animals in need. Under Ed’s leadership and the guiding hand of the new CEO, Dr. Chris Draper, the organization has only grown stronger, adapting to the evolving challenges of the animal welfare landscape.

As I wander through the PAWS sanctuary, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe and reverence for the incredible work being done here. From the majestic elephants to the charismatic tigers and the overlooked wonders of the bear habitat, each animal’s story is a testament to the power of compassion, resilience, and the unwavering dedication of the PAWS team.

So, as PAWS celebrates its 40th anniversary, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on the remarkable achievements of this organization. Because in a world that often seems consumed by darkness, the light shining from this sanctuary is a beacon of hope – a reminder that with passion, perseverance, and a deep love for all creatures great and small, we can make a difference, one paw at a time.

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