It all started with a newspaper ad in the local Sunday paper in 1987. "Six-month-old cougar cub for sale. $1000."
Out of curiosity, our founder, Kay McElroy, went to see it and what she found absolutely broke her heart. This little cougar cub was chained in a small dog pen and very thin with badly infected paws from an obviously botched declaw job. Although he was so despondent, he already had proved to be too much for his owners to handle. Since Kay had just moved to Mississippi and was short on funds from her move, she told the man selling the cub that she had an old tractor that she would trade for the cub hoping to get this cub out of this poor situation as quickly as possible. At first, the man refused and demanded the cash, but after two weeks he thankfully changed his mind and brought the cub to what would become his forever home.
After days of phone calls trying to find Zack a home at a zoo or rehabilitation center, Kay came to the realization that she either had to build an enclosure for him or have him euthanized. Finding the second option unbearable, she poured her heart and soul into giving the cub, whom she named Zack, the best life and care possible. Zack was the beginning of Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary, which would become her life's work and greatest challenge.
Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary, Inc. was incorporated in 1990 and received a 501(c)(3) non-profit status in 1992. More rescued animals began arriving in 1990.
One-by-one, the animals started coming to Cedarhill who had been neglected by humans. A Chinese snow leopard and tiger came to us after their owner was killed in an automobile accident. The tiger had been living in an underground cement bunker for three years. Their owner bred and sold exotic cats as a business, but upon one of their owner’s death, they were unable to afford their care and all of their exotic cats had to placed elsewhere. Next, a lioness arrived who was literally dropped off at a veterinarian's office in Kansas very close to deathe when she was only 2 months old. She was in a coma and only weighed 7 pounds. Her little face was covered with bruises and abrasions. Later, we learned that she had only been fed small amounts of goat's milk to make her more marketable as a “miniature” lioness. Next came a cougar, who was left abandoned by drug dealers in 10-degree weather with no food, water or shelter. His face and front legs had been shredded with a weed eater and he had been left for dead. Next came another cougar, who was locked in a closet for several months during the summer when his owner was jailed for numerous DUI's.
As time passed, more animals came... each with a story worse than the last.
In 1993, Kay began to realize that the problem of displaced exotics was bigger than her own backyard. She held a small conference at the sanctuary with representatives from seven states. It was then that she and those present began to understand the magnitude of the horrible plight of exotic animals in the United States.
There are still no federal laws regarding big cat ownership and at the time, only seven states had any laws controlling the breeding, selling and trading of exotic animals. Finding this unacceptable, Kay began to work on legislation for the state of Mississippi. After four years of hard work, a law was passed to outlaw canned hunts, ban exotic auctions, and require the registration of all exotics with the State Game and Wildlife Department. We are proud to say that these laws still stand in Mississippi, protecting more exotic animals from being legally bred and sold in our state.