Wildcat Haven

Rural Oregonians create heaven for abandoned exotic felines.

| September/October 2008

Seven years ago, Cheryl and Mike Tuller answered a newspaper advertisement for an adorable bobcat kitten. The breeder assured them Bobo would make the perfect pet and sent an irresistible video. After months of the “kitten’s” clawing, pacing, spraying and even biting, the Tullers realized they’d been duped. The result was Wildcat Haven, a nonprofit 501(c) sanctuary for displaced, abused and neglected captive-born wildcats.

“We’re one of a handful of facilities nationwide dedicated to smaller, lesser known wildcats,” Leslie Birrenkott says. Birrenkott is Wildcat Haven’s development director and part of the volunteer crew who keep the sanctuary going. Located on eight wooded acres near Sherwood, Oregon, Wildcat Haven houses rows of 2,000-square-foot wooden enclosures surrounding the Tullers’ home. The 41 animals include cougar, bobcat, lynx, serval, South American Geoffroy’s cat, Asian jungle cat, Asian leopard cat and African caracal.

“Most of our rescues aren’t from Oregon,” Birrenkott says. “They’re put in a carrier and flown in from Michigan, Ohio or Iowa. There’s a sanctuary network across the United States, and if one can’t help, they ask others.”

Working with wildcats

“You can turn your back to bobcats, lynx and serval – they don’t view this as aggression,” Birrenkott says as she walks over to a curious lynx who’s looking on. All the enclosures have straw floors, comfortable beds, colorful toys and the hiding places cats love. “Cougars are just the opposite – if you turn your back, it’s a sign to attack.” Of course, like their small domestic cousins, wildcats have individual idiosyncrasies and personalities.

Take Chirpy, one of Wildcat Haven’s 11 servals. “They’re usually kind of hissy,” Birrenkott says. “I started sitting on a log and talking to him, and he started coming up and walking around me. I discovered that he liked to play – like I’d move a twig or toy across the ground. Before I knew it, Chirpy was rubbing against me, and I was scratching him under the chin.”

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