Indiana exotic cat center strained by winter weather

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - A western Indiana animal refuge is feeling the pinch of the rough winter as it cares for its some 225 big cats.

This winter's heavy snowfalls and numerous days of subzero temperatures has sent five of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center's cats to the veterinarian, with those bills adding up to more than $60,000, refuge owner Joe Taft said.

"Mostly what we see are stress issues. The cats get cold and then they get stressed," Taft told WTHI-TV .

The refuge, founded in 1991, has lions and tigers among the big cat species at its site near the Clay County town of Center Point about 20 miles west of Terre Haute.

Taft said the center has had to keep its clinic warmer than usual because of the ill cats being kept inside, which has forced it to use more propane at the time when the cost of that fuel has skyrocketed.

Those extra costs on the center's $700,000 annual budget mean some planned improvements to the animal enclosures will need to be delayed.

"Instead of building new climbing towers and new toys for the cats, we're have to go on more belt tightening and take care of necessities," Taft said.

The cold and snowy winter also has reduced the number of visitors, cutting into admission revenue.

"It's unfortunate in a way because the best time to see a tiger is in a snowstorm," Taft said. "The tigers absolutely love the snow."

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