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Twice per week Lynda Sugasa makes one of the most substantial grocery runs in Nevada.
She drives to Winnemucca to pick up hundreds of pounds of donated meat for tigers, lions, cougars and other cats that live at the Imlay-based Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary.
But that meat supply suddenly disappeared as people stocking up to endure the COVID-19 virus pandemic snapped up local inventory.
The demand surge means recently expired meat that would typically go to the sanctuary is no longer available because people are buying it before it expires.
“The shelves have been getting emptied out by panicked buying; we have no more donations,” said Sugasa, executive director of the sanctuary. “Our costs have gone up to pretty much $4,000 per month, which is a huge hike.”
That’s a problem because big cats have to have raw meat to stay healthy and happy. Sugasa estimates they have a two-week supply on site in freezers.
After it runs out, however, they’ll be forced to pay retail prices for as long as the demand surge eliminates the supply of expired meat stores can’t sell for humans but is still safe for big cats.
“There is no substitute for their diets, they have to have a raw meat diet,” Sugasa said. “That has created a huge emergency for us.”
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The sudden need to buy what had been donated comes at a time when medical and public health advice against traveling or gathering in groups is undermining the potential for revenue from visitors.
The facility can’t accept larger forms of meat such as entire carcasses because they don’t have the staff, training or equipment for butchering. And roadkill or anything that’s been left unattended is out because it could be bad for the cats.
“You want to make sure you are not taking in meat that has been roadkill,” she said.
Mark Robison, a Reno-based consultant for Humane Network, which works with animal welfare organizations, said it’s important that Safe Haven weathers the pandemic because in the U.S. reputable sanctuaries for big cats and other exotic animals are few and far between.
Safe Haven is one of just eight Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries accredited facilities of its kind in the U.S. and the only one in Nevada.
The sanctuary has about 45 animals, including tigers, lions, African servals,
caracals, foxes, coyotes, bobcats and black bears.
It’s located on 360 acres of remote property which gives the animals plenty of room to run at full speed. The animals also have heated dens, climbing platforms and pools.
Also, the animals aren’t forced to perform or behave in unnatural ways to please humans. They also do not breed, buy, sell or trade animals.
Many of the animals have been rescued from roadside zoos or people who owned them in violation of laws that restrict owning exotic or endangered animals.
“There are so few places that have the space and expertise to allow these animals to be themselves,” Robison said. “If one were to go away it is a huge hole in the safety net for … these exotic animals.”
Safe Haven isn’t the only animal welfare organization coping with challenges related to the COVID19 virus pandemic.
Animal Ark in Reno, which is a home for injured, abandoned and otherwise non-releasable wildlife, has maintained its food supply but has had difficulty buying large quantities of bleach for workers to use to keep floors and other surfaces sanitary.
“Most facilities use bleach because it is water soluble and it has a proven record,” executive director William Baker said. “If anyone wants to drop off and donate some bleach here at the refuge, we would be happy to take it.”
Although Animal Ark is closed to the public due to the pandemic, Baker said the animals continue to be well fed and cared for.
“We are just weathering this like everyone else,” Baker said.
Organizations and shelters that help pets are also facing COVID19 related challenges.
In response to the crisis the Incline Village-based Dave and Cheryl Duffield Foundation launched a grant program for animal welfare organizations in Nevada. The grants range from $500 to $5,000 for organizations to pay for costs related to the crisis.
“For some of them it is buying dog food, for some of them it is enabling them to take in more dogs and cats,” said Megan Gram, who works for the foundation’s animal welfare arm. “It is really turning out to be a potential serious emergency situation.”
Social distancing protocol has forced Nevada Humane Society shelters to move to an appointment system for people to meet dogs and cats they might want to adopt.
It’s also putting pressure on their pet food supply, although shelter operators think their smaller-than-normal stockpile is the result of a delay and that they will be able to rebuild the reserve soon.
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Nicole Theodoulou, marketing director for Nevada Humane Society, said the greatest effect of the crisis might be a donation hit due to the economic downturn.
The society says the top three ways people can help would be to adopt an animal from a shelter, sign up to foster an animal and, for people who can afford to, make a donation.
Adoptions and fostering will prevent shelters from being overwhelmed.
To facilitate adoptions the organization is waiving fees. And with humane society veterinary clinics closed to reduce virus spread, it’s partnered with Best Friends Animal Society to offer free access to veterinary consultations by mobile phone.
One bit of encouraging news, Theodoulou said, came last week after operators of the Carson City shelter put out a call for people to foster animals.
The community responded and every eligible animal found a foster home.
“Their shelter was actually empty,” she said. “It was so exciting to get that good news out.”
Benjamin Spillman covers the outdoors and environment in Northern Nevada, from backcountry skiing in the Sierra to the latest from Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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