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Sherwood: Where the wild things still are

Sherwood's Wildcat Haven cat sanctuary, which takes in the ferocious felines some consider pets, turns 10
by: Submitted photo SANCUTARY – Coquille, a North American Cougar, lays in her enclosure at Wildcat Haven in Sherwood. Coquille is one of more than 50 wild cats that live in the sanctuary, which celebrate it’s 10th year this year.

My, how time flies.

It's been 10 years since Cheryl and Mike Tuller first opened their doors to 52 wildcats at their Sherwood home.

Today, bobcats, lynx, cougars and a pair of Siberian tigers are the fulltime residents of Wildcat Haven, an animal sanctuary on the Tullers' property.

The Tullers own eight acres, deep in the woods near Sherwood and have been taking in cats since 2001 when the couple realized how many people were keeping wild cats as pets, and decided to do something about it.

'People are keeping cougars in a 10-foot by 10-foot dog run in the backyard,' Cheryl Tuller said. 'People are breeding them specifically to sell, whether its to private owners or roadside zoos. There are thousands of breeders breeding and selling these animals.'

Wildcat Haven has taken in cats from all across the country, and each has a different story.

There's the story of Rastafari, a serval cat who lost part of an ear and half of her tail to frostbite while living with private owners in Iowa, or Morocco, whose broken foot was never treated by a vet.

'When we got him eight months later his leg was four inches shorter than the other. He was in real pain,' Tuller said.

If you build it, they will come

The Tullers' know first hand how it feels to own an exotic pet and be in over their head. Tuller purchased a bobcat-kitten hybrid from a Roseburg breeder in 1999 and it didn't take long for her to realize that she had made a mistake, she said.

'(The breeder) said that he could eat regular cat food, he'd just be bigger than a normal housecat and I thought that'd be great,' she said. 'Of course, six months into it I realized that none of that stuff was true. He was a wildcat.'

Tuller met with exotic pet groups and animal sanctuaries to try and tame her wild pet, but by the time he was 1 year old, the cat - named Bobo - was spraying throughout the house, couldn't eat domestic cat food and would chase after other family pets.

Bobo, Tuller soon realized, could never be domesticated and she began to look into alternatives for her pet.

'We were like 'we've got to get rid of him,'' Tuller said. 'But then, whose gonna take him? We'd have to put him down.'

Tuller wasn't alone. Exotic wild cats have become a growing trend among exotic animal owners, many of whom aren't able to take care of them properly, she said.

'We realized we weren't the only idiots out there. We already had Bobo and didn't want to put him down, but maybe we can do something to make this right, instead of adding to the problem we can maybe do something about it'

It was then that the Tullers moved from Tigard to their home near Sherwood so that Bobo could get the treatment and care he needed, with room to build other pens if they came across another wild cat that private owners could no longer care for.

'But what's that old saying, 'If you build it, they will come?' Within the first three months we had eight more cats sent to us, six came from the same person,' Tuller said. 'And it kind of went from there.'

Not open to the public

But don't head out for a visit to the sanctuary just yet - Wildcat Haven isn't open to the general public.

'We don't use the animals for profit, they come here to have a lifetime home in a peaceful and safe environment. We could make a ton of money if we let in people, but then we wouldn't be a sanctuary, we'd be a zoo.'

Wildcat Haven keeps the Tullers busy. Cheryl works as the sanctuary's director and Mike serves on the Wildcat Haven board of directors.

'It's what we live and breathe,' she said. 'It takes that much effort to do what we do. We're glad we're able to do it and we wish more people could do what we do, but I really wish that nobody had to.'

The Haven turns down requests to take in cats every month, Tuller said, and only accepts about five new cats every year.

Wildcat Haven is expected to continue to grow. The Tullers are currently building a new pen to house three new cougars, and are raising funds for a new 5,000 square foot enclosure for the sanctuary's two tigers.

More than anything else over the past decade, Tuller said that growing the sanctuary has been a learning experience.

'No matter what you think, a cat's nature and instincts always win over. I swore I could make Bobo a house cat. I knew I could without a doubt. But I learned over the years that instincts win out, and it is not going to happen.'

For more information on Wildcat Haven visit wildcathaven.org.