This past weekend I took my daughter and grand-daughter to a local big cat rescue shelter called The Catty Shack Ranch. Fearing the worst, we were pleasantly surprised to find a well kept facility where all of the cats were clean, healthy, and well cared for. The cats were born in captivity and either abandoned by their owners or confiscated by the government from abusive conditions. Catty Shack adopts them for life and although, of course, they are caged, the cages are spacious with lots of different levels upon which to climb and toys to play with. As you can see from the above photo, they were quite content.
However, I was reminded of another rescue shelter I once visited in South Florida many years ago. This shelter was located on the west coast near Tampa and was called Noel's Ark.
It seems that Noel was a retired circus performer who wanted to provide a home for retired circus animals, particularly the great apes, who become cantankerous in their old age and are usually destroyed. Noel felt that they deserved a place in the sun to retire just as humans do and he did his best to provide such but alas, the weight of providing for them was simply more than he could manage and what began as a noble idea started to fray at the edges and soon became tattered altogether. But on my visit, I was rewarded with two lifelong memories that I will share with you.
One involved an old Chimp who liked to entertain visitors by getting an erection and swinging across the front of the cage with his pecker clattering against the bars. Clickitty-clickitty-click in one direction, and clickitty-clickitty-clack in the other. Most of the tourist were amused by this display but the group that I happened to be behind included an old hen grandmother herding her flock from exhibit to exhibit. When the old Chimp began his display the expressions on her face were priceless and far more entertaining than the Chimp. Of course, she immediately began gathering her brood and dragging them off one-by-one as they stood transfixed in slack-jawed amazement.
I had to run off in the opposite direction just so that I could let go my pent-up laughter. But that was just a preview of things to come.
When next I caught up with mama hen and her flock, they, along with about a dozen other over-stuffed tourists all decked out in their Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, were gathered at an exhibit that featured a very old silver-backed Gorilla. His enclosure consisted of a semi-tractor trailer with one wall removed and replaced by bars. It was a pretty miserable existence for the old boy and he sat there, his back to the crowd, amongst the feces and water littered straw that covered the floor, and delicately peeled and ate a banana, a nibble at a time. No human could have expressed more enjoyment of a simple treat. I was deeply moved for him.
But of course there is always some jerk who thinks the world exists for his entertainment and all the while that the Gorilla was enjoying his snack, this guy kept throwing peanuts at him so that he would turn around and be seen. Every so often, the great ape would glance over his shoulder at his tormentor, which only encouraged the jerk to throw more peanuts all the while he and his brood making ape sounds and being generally obnoxious.
I noticed that with each glance, the look in the Gorilla's eyes was more and more angry and when he had finished his banana, he calmly arose and walked over to a truck tire that lay in the middle of his pen. I could see it coming and got me and mine out of harm's way as the old man picked up that tire and hurled it, through all of the filth on the floor of the cage, against the entire length of the cage, completely splattering the gaggle of gaping tourists with the essence of hell. The old man calmly returned to his former pose with another banana as his visitors ran screaming in all directions. It didn't take long for them to assess the damage and reach the conclusion that they were going to have to live the rest of the hot, humid, Florida day covered in the foulest stench imaginable.
Again, I ran in the opposite direction so as to laugh my ass off. Sadly, as I was leaving I could hear the outraged tourists assailing poor Mr. Noel, exclaiming that this was the foulest place they had ever visited and demanding their money back. The shelter was shuttered not long thereafter and I have no idea what happened to either the animals or Noel. I wish them the best.
However, my experience this past weekend was totally the opposite and gives me hope.