What Happened » Statements
These are statements by the volunteers who have been helping California Fish and Game and Chuck Traisi in the care of the 54 big cats and assorted domestic animals at John Weinharts facility.
I volunteered my time to assist the Fund for Animals in the care of the animals at this facility. What I witnessed there has haunted me ever since. Not only were the animals languishing in sub-standard enclosures that allowed little or no opportunity for exercise or psychological enrichment, but the spirit that brings life into the eyes of these fabulous creatures was gone. The only thing they had to look forward to is a meal, which thanks to the Fund, was finally adequate to keep them alive.
When I volunteered, the worst violations of animal care had been cleaned up but what remained was difficult to witness. It was like what I read about at the Kabul Zoo - filth, small and dilapidated cages, listless animals. With only meager tools, the volunteers tried to clean feces from as many cages as possible. Tigers, who are normally drawn to water when it is hot, had only one small tub per enclosure to cool off in. Trying to tip these tubs over to clean and refill them was not only a challenge to the volunteers, but dangerous as well.
Also, during one of my visits, the doors that allow tigers to enter a holding area broke down, allowing tigers from two different enclosures to come in contact with each other. A fight ensued which caused serious injuries to one of the tigers. Risking their lives but needing to correct the situation, Mr. Traisi and the volunteers managed to temporarily fix one of the doors and eventually the tigers went to their appropriate enclosures. Because these enclosures are so poorly constructed, it is not difficult to imagine the animals escaping, potentially injuring or killing anyone in the area.
Not only is the health of these animals in question, but the health of the volunteers who try to make life better for them is of concern. With exposure to feces and the ubiquitous flies that overwhelm anyone in the area, it is easy to see how disease might spread through exposure to these elements.
It is my hope that justice will be served and these animals will eventually spend the remainder of their lives in facilities that meet the requirements of animals care.
- Aurie M. Kryzuda
Board Member for Project Wildlife in San Diego and REP America
The first time I went out it was with the attitude of wont this be cool, helping with tigers. Then I drove in to the Rescue facility. It is run down, clearly unsafe for both people and the animals. The looks of resignation on the faces of the beautiful cats that this was how life is, broke my heart. If for one moment anyone can walk out there and think this is not inhumane, they have empathy for the animals. My hope is that the best interest for them is taken above Weinharts. They cannot speak, please listen to those of us who are able. They deserve better.
- K. Weldon
I visited the Tiger Rescue with five other people early last year before this investigation began. We were all very excited to have such an opportunity to view these Tigers up close and personal.
Two of the people with me are trained exotic animal handlers and the trip was purely for recreation and education.
After paying our tour fees, a guide opened the large gate and our tour began. As we walked past Tigers and several breeds of large cats, the mood changed to one of questions at first, then things got worse.
We witnessed empty water dishes being lapped by the cats, panting tigers with no shade in the 98 degree sun and our eyes actually watered from the stench of feces and urine.
One of my friends who has worked as an animal handler for many years left the tour area after ten minutes and waited for us in the car. She was very sick.
We were told by the tour guide that the reason the water dishes were empty was because the cats turned them over shortly after being filled in the morning, so the keepers would come back and show them some attention by refilling the dishes. This refilling got tiresome and was stopped.
Several Tigers had open wounds, presumably from fights and one was noticeably limping VERY thin. I could actually count her ribs.
When our tour was done, which was (thankfully) very short at our request, we saw at the front of the compound a large portable cage containing two very young tiger cubs. Three visitors were in the cage carousing with and petting them. We were told that to enter this cage for 20 minutes it would cost $100.00.
Back at our car the Handler who had left the tour early had her head between her legs so she wouldnt throw up. All of us were disgusted and sickened by what was supposed to be an exciting adventure.
There were very few den boxes for the cats, a misting system over part of the compound which did not work and rotting animal bones covered with flies from long ago feedings.
This atrocity stayed with us for weeks and was even reported by our group.
It is a wonderful thing for these animals that the Fish and Game Department has stepped in and found someone like Chuck Traisi to save these helpless animals.
- J. S.
I knew of Tiger Rescue from a year ago, when a group of us decided to visit. We all have experience volunteering at various other Sanctuaries, so we knew what kinds of conditions were acceptable. Nothing at this facility was acceptable. The only way I could describe it would be to compare it to a homeless shanty town for animals. Now a year later, and actually being able to walk around the inside of the facility, does the reality of this facility come out. Cages are literally falling off their hinges, being held together by a quarter inch thick piece of chain. Their den boxes might accommodate a German Shepherd, not a 500lb Tiger, which is apparent by the injuries on the crown of the cats backs. Every time a cat enters there den box, there back rubs up against the top of the den box, eventually causing a rather nasty wound. There was very little shade, no tree trunks to climb on, and very little toys. It seemed like water was a luxury to have, not a necessity, by the lack of water in any of the cages. The cats were feed very sporadically, depending on what was available. The cats were thin because of this. The only thing the animals were given plenty of were flies, courtesy of the landfill located about 50 feet from the facility.
I was anxious to do anything I could to try, for even one day, to clean their enclosures and help feed them. What I saw made me sick, even though I knew so much had already been done before I arrived. There were as many as 8 tigers in one enclosure, even though tigers are solitary animals and each should be in its own enclosure with a den box big enough so they can be comfortable inside.
One of the enclosures that houses three male tigers becomes a war zone during feeding time. One tiger is so aggressive that you have to feed them differently than at all the other enclosures. Three pieces of chicken have to be thrown over the top of the fence very quickly (there are no feed holes in any of the enclosures) and then give the aggressive one another piece so he will get out of the way and the other two can get at least one more piece before the aggressive one comes back for as many as he can get. It is so sad to see the other two cowering and staying out of the way because they dont want to get bitten and hurt. At this time, there is nothing that can be done to change this situation, as there are no other enclosures to house any of the three.
We were very fortunate to be able to clean five enclosures that day, picking up all the feces and small pieces of glass we found lying around. We emptied drinking water and swim tubs and gave every cat clean, fresh water to drink and filled all the swim tubs. Unfortunately, in the enclosure which houses the eight tigers, there was no swim tub at all! So many of them had tried to get in it for relief from the heat, they had broken it beyond repair and Chuck cannot afford to buy another one because his limited funds must be spent for food.
The saddest story of all is the African lion with the facial distortion. He is housed next to another, beautiful and healthy African lion. The one with the facial distortion had not been fed at all and was very close to death when the Department of Fish and Game came in and took over the facility. The vet who examined him said he would not last more than one or two days. Chuck decided to try and save him anyway. After some TLC and plenty of good food, he began to come around and is now fairly healthy and so sweet and loving. Unfortunately, while he was being starved, he lost most of his mane and also has some neurological damage. Even though the lion next door is a magnificent, beautiful animal, all of the volunteers that day agreed that the one with the facial distortion is the most beautiful cat in the compound!
It is heartbreaking to see these cats come up to the fence and rub against it, wanting so badly to be petted and have some human contact, yet knowing the best we could do was talk to them and try to let them know how much we care about them and their fate. Their eyes are sad and haunting and they dont even have names! How anyone could say he is an animal lover, yet abuse these beautiful, innocent creatures the way they were is simply beyond belief for anyone who truly does love these great cats.
I drove an hour and 45 minutes each way to try and help the cats of Tiger Rescue and would do it every day if I could. I donated about part of the cost for one days food and would donate enough to feed them all every day if I could.
In my opinion, Chuck Traisi is doing a magnificent job, above and beyond the call. He is truly unselfish in his devotion to these animals and I pray he and his wife, Cindy, will have the opportunity to find permanent homes for these cats so they can live out the rest of their lives in comfort, with the love and caring they all deserve.
- Sue R.
I am one the Exotic Animal Handlers that visited Tiger Rescue last year. I also gave an interview for LA Times, USDA and Fish and Game and have helped Chuck at Tiger Rescue whenever I have had a day off work. Chuck Traisi is doing a fantastic job of taking care of all animals. I no longer see starving cats dragging themselves around the enclosures. Due to the correct nutrition, having drinking water and water to play in they feel much healthier and happier and are starting to behave just as cats should. Unfortunately due to the mixing and the inadequate enclosures cat fights are occurring more frequently, dominant males are putting females and other males at great risk and more and more wounds appear every day. Cat fights are fast and deadly sooner or later a cat will be killed either an adult or a soon to be born cub. Both Lions have torn the chain link of the enclosures and the single Tigers suffer wounds that will never heal due to parts of wire and nails that we are unable to get to. We need help in fundraising to be able to find and transport all the animals to good homes.
- Natalie P.
On my first trip to Tiger Rescue, (June 16, 2003) words simply cannot express my anger, disbelieve, disgust, and utter empathy I had that day. I am a current and active volunteer for other sanctuaries and am familiar with the standards, treatment and appearance of how things should look and feel at rescue facilities. I knew this place was going to be bad, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw that day. I wanted to take each and everyone of those animals out of there that instant! The living conditions were completely subhuman and inexcusable. As a society, we treat murderers and rapists in prison better then these cats had been treated in the so called care of Mr. Weinhart.
It made me wonder what they could have been rescued from if this was to be a better alternative for them.
I was so affected by this dilapidated disaster, I cried all the next day. The look on the cats faces broke my heart. It was as though their spirit had been completely broken and that they were merely existing at this point, some just barely struggling to hold on to life, as in the case of a small African Lion who was about 48 hours away from starvation when Fish and Game and Mr. Traisi took over the facility.
Here is a bit of a description of what I encountered that first day (and this was weeks AFTER many situations had already been corrected by Mr. Traisi):
Since I have been there on a weekly basis for the past 5 weeks, I have seen many improvements that without Mr. Traisi being there everyday, I am 100% sure would have never happened. I fear that African Lion I mentioned earlier would be dead for sure.
- There were/are makeshift den boxes made from flimsy wood, with nails sticking out of them all over.
- There are pieces of glass recovered from the enclosures on a daily basis.
- The gates and fencing on and around the enclosures look like they are about to come down at anytime.
- The tarps covering parts of the enclosures to supposedly provide shade, are constantly being blown out of position and coming undone, due to the wind and must to readjusted and tacked back down on a daily basis. This provides a very inconsistent source of much needed shade for these animals. (It has been over 100 degrees there daily)
- There is constant fighting going on throughout the day between the tigers. And since they all have their claws and all of their testosterone, it makes for a very unsettling situation, for the tigers and the people there. I saw injuries on almost every cat. One in particular had a huge laceration from his back, extending all the way down his ribcage. The length of the cut was at least a foot long, and about three inches wide. It had been repeatedly reopened up from fighting and was having a very difficult time healing. The exposure to bacteria and eventual infection was at great risk.
- There were flies covering these animals at all times, especially the cats with injuries.
- Due to the over-population in these enclosures the cats urinate and produce feces fast then it can be cleaned up. Plus, there are no sure fire ways to be able to get into their enclosures on a regular/daily basis for cleaning.
Mr. Traisi has been feeding and watering these animals on a daily basis and their food aggression has been minimized significantly. He has been administering antibiotics to a tiger with the large laceration on his side, and the wound has since healed up quite nicely. Mr. Traisi has provided shade as best as he can by having the tarps readjusted and tacked back down as often as possible, he has been cleaning as many enclosures as possible on a daily basis.
It is my opinion, with all this back breaking and emotionally wearing hard work day in and day out, being there 7 days a week, Mr. Traisi has CONSIDERABLY enhanced and improved the life quality of these cats. You can see it then you look into their eyes.
Simply put, these cats deserve a much better life then what Mr. Weinhart has provided them.
- Nikki R.
I am one of hundreds of volunteers who have come forward to assist Mr. Chuck Traisi in caring for the animals so horrendously neglected at Tiger Rescue, the so-called sanctuary operated and managed by John Weinhart.
The situation which brought us all here should never have been allowed to happen, and should not be allowed to continue. These animals were left to languish with very little food or water, deplorable caging, without shade in summer, or sound shelter in winter. Some enclosures are so small that there is barely enough room for the animal to pace. Other cages are larger but crowded with unaltered males constantly fighting for dominance, leading to injuries, some life-threatening. Still other cages hold both male and female animals capable of breeding. A few animals live alone in small cages, with a cramped box to sleep in and nothing else.
The only reason Ill be able to live without these images haunting me forever is because I have seen the improved condition of these animals with the care that they are now receiving. The cages are still inadequate, but they are now cleaned everyday. Drinking water is changed at least once a day, shade has been provided and food is supplied in abundance. We have even been able to provide some minor medical treatments. Where back and hip bones were obvious, fat and muscle tone have appeared. Coats that were dull and matted are now sleek and shiny. These are tough creatures, survivors in the truest sense.
But it is worth pointing out that now that they are regaining their strength and zest for life, they are becoming more dangerous to their caretakers. Fighting for dominance is becoming more ferocious, and the possibility for an accident becomes more likely with each passing day. As long as these animals remain at this substandard facility, the public, the volunteers and the animals face increasing dangers of severe injury or death.
These animals have lived a nightmare. They need and deserve our support. Please help us to ensure that every one of them gets permanent placement in an accredited sanctuary.
- Victoria Van Camp
Websters Dictionary defines a sanctuary as a place of refuge and
protection. Tiger Rescue, according to John Weinharts sign at the entrance of the
facility reads a nonprofit sanctuary for retired animal actors.
Sadly, Tiger Rescue was never a sanctuary and clearly not a place of refuge
and protection. I volunteered for a day at Tiger Rescue over a year ago before
Fish & Game closed down the facility. Weinhart led me to a cage that housed 4
tigers. As he shifted the tigers into an adjoining cage, I couldnt help but
notice the stench from the co-mingled mass of feces and debris in the cage. The
amount of filth was inhumane and insanitary. But more alarming were the
noticeably bone dry water buckets in each of the cages in the heat of summer. It
took me 2½ hours to sufficiently clean out 1 cage and another 1½ hours to
clean the adjoining cage once the animals were shifted. While I was cleaning,
Weinhart proceeded to work on his truck. It wasnt until the last half-hour that
I was there that he came over to help me out so that he could go home for
lunch by noon.
I remember the juvenile African lion that is mentioned in several of the
other statements. He was emaciated, restless, and kept crying out to me. My 4 hour
day was heart breaking but has offered me a point of comparison about the
vast improvement of how the animals and the conditions inside the cages look
today under Chuck Traisis supervision. Today the juvenile African lion has gained
weight, is extremely playful, and has a mischievous glow in his eyes. The
best part is that now he has a chance to live out a full life in captivity.
Mr. Traisi accepted an enormously difficult task when he came aboard as the
temporary caregiver to the animals at Tiger Rescue. What the animals gained in
Mr. Traisi was somebody who cares about their welfare and continues to place
their best interest as his main priority. The details of how horrible the
conditions were at Tiger Rescue are articulately expressed in many of the other
statements. What I would like to note is that public awareness is key to helping
prevent another Tiger Rescue nightmare from happening again. Lobby for tougher
laws to be enforced against animal abusers and exotic pet traders, alert the
authorities against facilities that appear to be substandard, neglecting or
mistreating their animals, continue to speak out for the animals who are
defenseless in the eyes of the law and their abusers. Ironically, in the end, perhaps
Tiger Rescue was an appropriate name for the facility after all...