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PetsExotic Animals

  • Author Doug Smith
  • Published January 12, 2011
  • Word count 2,258

NARLA Female Cougar

DOB 1/1/97

Arrived 1/8/2010

Rescue of Narla the Cougar:

This is a letter from someone who knew the Loppi's. This person below, wanted us to know that Rob was well intended and I post it here as an example of how even the best intentions usually end up bad for the exotic animal.

According to a number of emails I got after the fact, Rob's wife was looking to euthanize the cat, but Rob's friends, family and the media were on her case and she couldn't do it without looking like a monster when we were standing by, ready to take her. It is only because of supporters, like you, that we can help cats like Narla in their greatest moment of need.

Dear Big Cat Rescue:

I am very happy that you are giving Narla a new home. Since her owner, Rob Loppi's, death last May, I can't tell you how many people worried and wondered what would become of Narla. My reason for writing to you is not just to thank you for taking care of Narla, but because I wanted to give you some background information. I feel it is important for you to know how Narla came to Rhode Island in the first place. Since the story of Narla's rescue broke, I have read and heard many negative comments about Rob Loppi having this animal in the first place. There have been many comments in the newspapers that are just not accurate. Since Rob is no longer with us, and can't defend himself, I would like the real story known. He didn't just wake up one morning and decide on a whim that it would be great to have a cougar. I was there, and would like the true story to be told.

Rob got Narla when she was a baby, not 5 months old as was inaccurately reported. She was no bigger than a puppy, still had her baby fuzz and spots and was still being bottle fed. She was obtained by a person that Rob knew casually. This friend purchased her from a breeder in Virginia, thinking that it would be cool to have a mountain lion as a pet. When he got her home, his fiancé, correctly, would not allow him to keep her, so he brought her to Rob. People were always bringing unwanted animals to Rob...cats, dogs, goats, pigs...whatever.

Initially, Rob did not want to take her, but he was afraid that if he refused she would end up in a bad situation. Rob took her in and set about trying to find her a home. Since she was an illegal exotic at that point, this was not an easy task. He contacted the Dept. of Environmental Management in RI anonymously and was informed that they would confiscate the cat and most likely she would be destroyed - unbelievable, but true. They said that it was not their policy to find homes for dangerous animals, just to protect the environment and maintain public safety. He then contacted Roger Williams Zoo and asked them to take her - they refused because a). they do not take animals from private parties, only other zoos, and b). she came from a breeder and was bottle fed. They said that other cats would not take to her and would possibly harm or kill her. After many more such get the picture. No one would help. You should also keep in mind that this time period was before the internet was a household item, so trying to get information was much more difficult.

Feeling like he had no other options, he contacted the breeder in Virginia and asked to bring her back. He drove her to Virginia and was appalled at the conditions. Virginia's laws on exotics are (or, at that time, were) very lenient and this guy would obviously sell to anyone as long as the price was right. He just couldn't leave her there. He knew that she would be re-sold and probably end up in a traveling carnival or roadside "zoo" with her teeth filed down, being whipped into submission, living in deplorable conditions and spending most of her life in a crate. He knew that he could do better by her, so he made the decision that he would have to keep her to make sure that she was cared for and safe. Unfortunately, this would mean having her declawed for safety. This wasn't something he wanted to do, but he did it in an effort to try to maintain her.

He then set about getting Narla legal. Since he already knew DEM's position, he went to the Federal level. USDA told him what he needed to do in order to get a license to keep an exotic (again, at that time, their rules were much less stringent). He built the double cage (making it bigger and stronger than the required size and pipe diameter) with natural materials and different levels and perches for climbing, set up an account with a chicken farm so he could feed her properly, contacted a veterinarian who had the qualifications to provide medical care for Narla and set about learning everything he needed to know about the care and husbandry of mountain lions. USDA inspected and found him to be a suitable owner and he was granted a license. Once he had the USDA license in hand, DEM could not confiscate and destroy her, so he was then able to begin application for a RI license. He hired an attorney and, after getting through all the paperwork and red tape, he received the license. RI DEM inspected regularly, including random and surprise visits, always finding Narla in good care and condition.

Rob NEVER tried to domesticate Narla. He was very well aware that she was a wild animal. While he did have an amazing connection with her, she was always treated as a mountain lion, not as a house cat, which has been implied in the media. Narla has been characterized as "gentle and affectionate" and she was...with Rob. This, as you know, is the case with big cats…they bond to one person and can be jealous and aggressive with others. Visitors and friends were not allowed to just hang out in the living room with her. She didn't just wander freely around the house or yard. Even Rob's closest friends were not allowed direct contact. This wasn't Siegfried and Roy. She is a predator and certainly capable of attacking and killing. He knew that, and safety was always the first priority, not just our safety, but Narla's too. People can be foolish and cruel, which is why Rob didn't want the general public to know about her. That was another reason for the double cage, not just to keep Narla in, but to keep people out. There was only one other person, Rob's friend Mike, who was allowed to care for Narla and did so during Rob's illness. Mike was trained in Narla's care and feeding and did a great job. Rob was so grateful to Mike. With all he was going through, many rounds of chemotherapy treatments, numerous infections and finally a bone marrow transplant, at least he knew Narla was in good hands.

Rob didn't use Narla as a gimmick or sideshow attraction. Sure, people knew about her and would be curious to see her, but he never profited from her. He allowed "ordinary" people to come to see her in her cage, but never allowed media attention. He wouldn't give interviews, allow media photos or any exploitation of her in any way. He didn't want to glorify having a big cat in his yard. He didn't want people to think that it is ok to try to keep a mountain lion as a pet. Rob knew that keeping her was not an ideal situation, but at that time, he felt he was doing what was best for her. When he made the decision to keep Narla, he took on a huge financial, supplements, veterinary care, etc. and he could have very easily used this beautiful animal as a way to make money, but that was never his way. He just wanted to give her the best life he could and keep her safe.

So, now you know Narla's story. I felt that it was important for you to know that, while she may have been raised in someone's backyard, she wasn't just a passing fancy, she wasn't a "pet" in the conventional sense of the word. She was a lifelong responsibility taken on by a guy who made a hard decision based on limited options. Had she not been born to a breeder in Virginia who sells these animals to anyone with enough money to buy them, without any thought or concern for where they will live or how they will be treated, she would not have been in Rhode Island. If Rob hadn't "rescued" her first, Big Cat Rescue may have found Narla in a horrible situation, if she had survived at all.

Thank you again for all that you do for these animals and, especially for Narla. She is always loved and surely missed.


Julie A. Aldrich

Scott, Chris and Andrew picked up Narla the cougar before 8 am Thursday morning (1/7/10) in RI and began the trek back with her. They arrived here at 6:15 am on (1/8/10) and at 7 am, after being weighed and having her eyes and tail checked by Dr. Wynn, released her into her new Cat-a-tat.

Scott said the original plan had been for Animal Planet's film crew to contact the local Animal Control officer to have them on the scene and all of the media as this would be a good opportunity to show that big cats never work out as pets. Scott said that despite the owner, Marilyn Loppi signing a contract with us saying that she was willing to be filmed, he felt that she would rather not let us pick Narla up than be embarrassed in front of her wealthy neighbors. So instead of meeting with Animal Control and the press, as planned, he decided to go to Loppi's home an hour early. She has been very unreliable from the start, so I am not surprised that she would not keep her word.

Marilyn first contacted us in October asking us to take her dead husband's cougar but she didn't want to sign a contract saying she would never own another exotic cat so she tried everywhere else she and her friends could find, but no one wanted or would take the cougar. )Her husband had bought Narla when she was only 5 weeks old.) She finally gave in and signed the contract, but refused to even pay the $250 for a carrier for her. The story she gave the press is that she can't afford the cat, but she lives in a $353,000 home on what Scott said looks like 25 acres, with horses and in a very posh area. While her husband was dying in the hospital with leukemia and documenting his battle with the disease on YouTube (see Rob Loppi) she was vacationing and remodeling her home and rarely mentioned her husband on her Twitter account until after he died and then it was all "poor, poor me..."

After Narla left she finally did open her door to the press, but just to applaud herself for finding such a wonderful sanctuary. She failed to mention that she dumped the responsibility of caring for Narla for the rest of her life on us and that she exposed the cat to yet another harsh New England winter rather than letting her go last October. In the news there have been dozens of comments posted about what a great pet she was and how Marilyn did such a wonderful thing by shirking her responsibility. It was a missed opportunity to really get the message out that it never works out well for the cat when people try to make pets of them. Hopefully the video Chris shot and that taken by the Animal Planet crew will rectify the situation. Narla is much better off here, but having your fun and then turning your back on your pet when your life changes should not be promoted as the responsible thing to do.

The owner tossed shrimp in the carrier we bought and shipped to her the week before, to lock her up so that all our people had to to was put the carrier in the mini-van they rented in RI. They had flown to RI and then drove straight back.

Those of you who are fans of Scott's on his personal Facebook page got to see pictures and info on her rescue and ride back to the sanctuary. Scott used his iPhone to keep his fans updated, but Chris doesn't have an iPhone and hasn't been able to update our 4,400 fans here yet: Hopefully, Scott will cross post to our fans and Chris will get some pictures and video posted there and on YouTube as soon as he gets some sleep.

Her tail looks OK and she is in good condition overall, but has the same old cat eye issues (Uveitis:, that many of our cats have. She is enjoying our considerable warmer weather at 50 degrees and all of the hard work everyone did to get her Cat-a-tat ready. Thanks everyone!

Big Cat Rescue, a non profit educational sanctuary, is devoted to rescuing and providing a permanent home for exotic (i.e. wild, not domestic) cats who have been abused, abandoned, bred to be pets, retired from performing acts, or saved from being slaughtered for fur coats, and to educating the public about these animals and the issues facing them in captivity and in the wild.

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