Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary director Nancy Gschwendtner and exotic animal caretaker Danny Blackmon stand near where a giant oak flattened the facility's walk-in freezer and smashed a fence around a Siberian tiger's enclosure on Thursday. The sanctuary is appealing to animal-lovers for donations to purchase food for the animals. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
Sheena the tiger relaxes in her enclosure at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary in this photo the sanctuary posted to Facebook earlier this month. During Thursday's severe thunderstorms, a massive oak tree fell on the fence of Sheena's enclosure and crushed a walk-in freezer that holds food for her and 18 other big cats who live at the Caledonia sanctuary. Cedarhill staff are asking for donations to purchase food on an as-needed basis until they replace the freezer.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
April 20, 2019 9:59:30 PM
Sheena the tiger's roaming days have long since passed.
That's a good thing, as it turns out.
During Thursday's series of thunderstorms that swept through the Golden Triangle, a giant oak tree, 16 feet in circumference, came crashing down at Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary near Caledonia, smashing the fence of Sheena's enclosure.
"She definitely wasn't happy about the situation," said Danny Blackmon, Cedarhill's exotic animal caretaker.
At 20 years old, the 400-plus pound Siberian tiger is among the more sedate of the 19 big cats that have a home at Cedarhill, which has been providing abused and neglected animals -- from cougars to housecats -- with a forever home since its founding in the 1980s.
"If it had been some of the other animals, they would have definitely been able to leave the enclosure," Blackmon said. "So, in a sense, it was luck it happened the way it did."
Cedarhill Director Nancy Gschwendtner was in the house next door to the tree when it was felled.
"I heard this big boom," she said. "I thought it was thunder, but when I came out I could see it was the tree crashing down."
Gschwendtner and her staff jumped into high gear to assess the damage and see if any animals had been injured.
"Initially, we just made sure (Sheena) was safe when we saw that the tree had crashed over into her enclosure," Blackmon said. "We saw that she was still moving around and wasn't going into seizures, which is one of her health issues. Once we saw that we could get her up and get her moving and she was still responding to our voices, we got her locked up in her den."
By Saturday morning, the fencing had been put back up, allowing Sheena room to move around. Huge sections of the tree had been cut for removal.
Gschwendtner said even if Sheena had left her enclosure, she posed no real threat to the other 200-plus animals on the property.
"We have another fence that separates the animals, plus the perimeter fence around the entire property," she said. "No one was ever in any danger."
Unfortunately, the fence was not the only casualty of the felled tree.
The tree flattened the facility's large walk-in freezer. Only about 20 boxes of chicken could be salvaged from the $9,000 worth of food.
The loss of the freezer presents a dual challenge for Gschwendtner and her staff.
"We do have a couple of smaller freezers, the kind you find in someone's home," she said. "But we don't have nearly the amount of freezer space we need."
Although replacing the walk-in freezer will be covered by insurance, it is likely to be months before a replacement arrives.
"Right now, if someone offered to give us a lot of meat, we wouldn't have a place to keep it," Gschwendtner said.
As of Saturday, the sanctuary has about three days' supply of food.
Given the circumstances, Gschwendtner is asking for cash donations so food can be purchased on an as-needed basis, even putting out a call for funds on social media. Smaller food donations should be scheduled by calling the office. She said anyone who wants to help should visit the sanctuary's website at cedarhillanimalsanctuary.org or call their office at 662-356-6636.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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