A Second Chance

When it rains, Scott Lope spends the day with his crew digging ditches around the cages of rescued felines, making sure their cages do not flood.

At Wildlife on Easy Street in Tampa across from Citrus Park Mall, Lope is in charge of making sure the homes of the animals are always in the best condition.

“These animals are stuck in captivity for the rest of their lives, so we want to make sure they have the best cages, the best homes and the best lives that we can prepare for them,” Lope said. “We want to give them the best place of captivity possible.”

Wildlife on Easy Street is a non-profit organization that was begun in 1993 by Carole Lewis and her husband, Don. Their sanctuary is one of the largest in the country, caring for 170 cats within a range of 23 species.

Woes for Lewis began after he became aware that cats were being bought and sold at auctions. People who owned the cats did not want them anymore and “dumped” them at the auctions; and then, brokers sold the cats so that there was no feeling of guilt being personally felt. Breeders and taxidermists bought to kill or use them for decoration. Don started going to auctions all over the country and brought home abused, dying, maimed and unwanted cats. He then created the 40-acre home for these cats.

The nurturing for these cats relies solely on the donations from the public, Lope said.

“Without a doubt, it’s risky. We operate on people’s good graces, and it’s kind of scary. We are always operating at a big loss,” he said.

It costs $1,100 daily to keep the sanctuary operating. The founders compensate for any cost that cannot be covered. Volunteers are always needed to make donations, and all the proceeds go directly to the care of the animal is adopted, not the administration. Lope said that because there are no yearly funds or grants given to the organization, the donations from visitors are a very important source of support.

“These animals would have been put down. Now they have a chance at life, and they are given a safe and secure life again that goes on us depending on the public. What they give us determines how many animals can be saved, and there is always a waiting list of 50 – 60 cats that need to be saved,” he said.

Tours are held daily where some donate money, giving Lope the profit needed to keep these animals alive. There are an average of about 10 people per day on a tour.

Another alternative to keep these cats from facing danger in the future is to adopt. For $25 anyone can adopt a cat and receive pictures of the animal as well as a biography of its species. Lope said these donations are always efficient, no matter how large or small the sum.

Samuel Allfetto, a first-time visitor, said he has seen enough to make him a donator for life.

“It’s amazing what these people do for the animals. They are kept in good care, and so many lives are being saved,” Allfetto said.

Allfetto said he heard about the organization through a friend who is a big fan of wildlife preservation and suggested that he go and see the cats.

“I’m going to look into it more, but I definitely have a different outlook on supporting wildlife. I thought it was a great experience,” Allfetto said.

Wildlife on Easy Street also works with ministries of wildlife in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. They help these countries protect cats in the wild and assist zoos to accommodate the animals on display. Wildlife on Easy Street also supplies the countries with veterinarian books and equipment.

In addition to saving lives, the organization also reaches out to the public. It offers outreach programs to more than 80 schools per year and offers a free program to 12 schools per year. These programs educate children about the importance of preservation, Lope said.

“It’s more than a job working with these animals. We are making it better for the animals that didn’t have a choice and came from abusive situations. It’s great to see them happy and safe,” Lope said.

He also said the animals depend on the sanctuary, and the public will come through as long as they see that the organization is doing something good.

“Our bigger goal, or should I say, ultimate goal, is to get the law changed so that it’s not so easy for the public to get these animals and then discard them. We want to change the law to protect the animals better so there wouldn’t have to be a place like this, so a place like this wouldn’t have to exist. Then there wouldn’t have to be any animals to save,” Lope said.

Contact Narisa Steinberg at oraclefeatures@yahoo.com