Witness Protection For 4 Big Cats FINALLY Ends After Years Of Secrecy!

Story by Big Cat Rescue

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HUGE NEWS about Big Cat Rescue’s “Witness Protection” Cats!! ALMOST FOUR YEARS…that is how long Big Cat Rescue has waited to officially introduce four big cats. They were seized in 2015 from Ohio’s Tiger Ridge Exotics roadside zoo and owner/operator Kenny Hetrick by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). We are so excited for you, our amazing supporters, to get to know our three precious female tigers Dutchess, Jasmine and Sapphire and gorgeous male black leopard Jinx. We know you will fall in love with them just as we have during the 4 years they have lived in witness protection–or purrtection?–at our sanctuary.

Photo: Big Cat Rescue

Watch our Facebook page LIVE throughout Thursday Morning – May 2nd Big Cat Rescue Giving Day – starting about 9 AM as we Introduce the Tigers and Black Leopard! Donate to their lifetime care at Big Cat Rescue: https://bigcatrescue.salsalabs.org/2019givingday/index.html

But why were these cats in need of “sanctuary” and witness protection?

Facebook: TigerRidgePerrysburg

You may recall the devastating story that broke back in October 2011 in Zanesville, Ohio. Terry Thompson was a private owner of dozens of big cats and other wild animals. He opened their cages and turned them loose before committing suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Authorities were forced to shoot and kill 38 big cats and 10 other animals as they roamed the town loose that evening.

As a result of this tragic massacre, Ohio passed a strong law banning the private possession of big cats.

Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune ~ Initial seizure of the animals from Tiger Ridge

Like all such bans, anyone who already owned exotic cats would be allowed to keep them. Owners were simply required to register their cats with the state. They began by filling out a form saying how many cats and what kind they had. They were also not allowed to buy or breed more. Most people complied or capitulated when ODA began enforcing the rule.

Photo: media.wtol.com

But Tiger Ridge Exotics owner Kenny Hetrick thumbed his nose at the law.

Facebook: Kenny Hetrick

He refused to report how many dangerous wild animals he owned. Hetrick’s facility had also racked up numerous USDA violations prior to the seizure.

Facebook: Kenny Hetrick

These including failure to provide adequate veterinary care and repeated failure to provide animals with a proper diet. Failure to provide animals with clean water and failure to provide animals with clean, dry enclosures were added to the list. Finally, failure to comply with federal safety requirements.

Photo: theblade.com

In January 2015, ODA seized his 11 wild animals – 10 big cats and a bear, later hiding them in witness protection.

They initially housed them at the state’s temporary animal holding facility in Reynoldsburg. A few months later ODA awarded temporary custody of the animals to three sanctuaries pending the final outcome of the litigation. These witness protection locations included Big Cat Rescue.

Facebook: Kenny Hetrick

Dutchess, Jasmine, Sapphire and Jinx arrived at Big Cat Rescue in August 2015. They were formerly known as Asia, Jessica, Emily and Shadow. We have been taking care of these four magnificent cats at our own expense every day since.

Facebook: TigerRidgePerrysburg

Hetrick took his legal battle for the return of his cats all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. The court maintained in 2018 that ODA had acted appropriately in seizing the animals.

Facebook: Kenny Hetrick

Then ODA filed a lawsuit for permanent possession of the animals. This was the final step before awarding the sanctuaries permanent custody of the cats. Hetrick did not fight this final lawsuit; his final day to do so was April 29, 2019. Big Cat Rescue was officially awarded permanent custody of the four cats on April 30, 2019.

Photo: media.wtol.com -awaiting court proceedings

It has been a long road and there were several stipulations Big Cat Rescue had to agreed to. 

In order to temporarily house the cats, they could not discuss the situation of the cats or share their information or photos/video on our social media sites. They even changed the names of the cats after their arrival (we will continue to use their current names).

This is why you may be surprised to learn these three female tigers and one handsome male black leopard have been housed at Big Cat Rescue for almost four years [in witness protection]!

Photo: Chris Nord – Jinx at Big Cat Rescue

But you’ve probably never heard about them! Well that’s about to change. We cannot wait to share the photos and videos of these cats that we’ve taken during their stay here but could never divulge. And of course there will now be numerous new photos and videos. Now, you can get to know each of their personalities too!

Photo; Andy Axter – Sapphire relaxing at Big Cat Rescue

We know very little history about the cats, not even their ages. But we do know they have been loved from the very second they arrived at Big Cat Rescue. We plan to keep giving them a lifetime of love, nutritious food, excellent vet care, and enrichment.

Photo: Corri Blank – Sapphire at Big Cat Rescue

Thank you for your ongoing support of our cats and our sanctuary.

It is only because of the donations we receive from donors like you that we can continue to rescue and care for big cats. If you’d like to be one of the first to support the lifetime care of these four beautiful cats, you can do so HERE.

Photo by Meg Norris of cats at Big Cat Rescue now


Related Big Cat Story: Majestic White Lion Denied Life of Sanctuary; Officials Want to Auction Him Off To Trophy Hunters!Related Cat Man Chris and BCR Video: Never Turn Your Back on BIG CATS!

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  1. So glad these big cats are in a good place now! Big cats do not belong in private homes. I would like to see all wild animals restricted from being pets. I have a domestic cat, he is a black and white cat, and that is enough for me to handle.

  2. Well done to everyone at Big Cat Rescue for keeping this secret for 4 whole years! I wouldn’t have thought it possible in this day and age of phones with cameras and instant access to the internet pretty much everywhere. The “kids” are beautiful, and such a joy to know they are now in a place that is taking proper and loving care of them. 😃

    • I grew up ~45 min away from that man’s roadside zoo. Being located on a major road, we’d drive by it several times a year; the “enclosures” were no bigger than cages!

      When he first started having issues with getting the proper permits to have the animals, the local news ate it up. People came out of the woodwork to pledge their support for him, making the state out to be a bunch of meanies for taking the animals away. This dude didn’t have the money for the permits and people were trying to donate to him. A man can’t afford to pay for the right to have exotic cats, do you really think he can afford to keep them fed and healthy? No!

      I’m glad to see a positive update on the situation and to know that the cats are good hands.

  3. I believe that is “there is no “I” in the word Team! Given names can be spelled any old way moms & dads want to spell them!! Thank you JessiCAT for all that you do. Your stories make me laugh, giggle & cry but most of all they shed light & knowledge on the good, bad & ugly humans can do to the animals on our planet. Your stories bring together like minded human beings to try & change the bad the others do. Your writings are supurrb & I appreciate your time. Blessings to you both. Thank you Big Cat Sanctuary. Now that’s a TEAM!!!!!

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Written by JessiCAT

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