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SANDSTONE, Minn - Continuing our special report Wednesday, we take you to The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone where more than 100 hundred rescued wildcats live. But the sanctuary is about to become full, and now the real push for prevention and education is about to begin, as FOX 21's Dan Hanger reports.
This is what it's all about for the workers of The Wildcat Sanctuary:
"[To] actually see it act like a cougar or tiger for the first time and get the natural confidence they are supposed to have - run across an open area - jump on a log or perch and then just relax and take a cat nap -- that's the best reward we can ever receive," explained Tammy Thies, the director of TWS.
The rural 40-acre site is home to 112 rescued wildcats from across the country -- all thanks to $800,000 in donations every year.
"It's all the general public going out of the kindness of their heart because they want to see an animal that was mistreated or abused to finally live with compassion and dignity," Thies said.
But the private property is about to reach capacity and Thies says there are no plans to get any bigger to help deal with the thousands and thousands of wildcats living in people's backyards, basements and garages.
"People don't think of 20 years down the road this animal is going to get big; this animal is a predator," Thies said.
The mission of The Wildcat Sanctuary won't be going away though.The group will still take in rescues as space opens up, but the next big phase will be education, prevention and legislation.
"Similar to puppy mills, there are breeders that breed tigers -- hundreds of tigers a year -- just for photo opportunities at malls, sports shows, things like that. And those tigers grow up with no place to go and what usually happens is their sold as a pet, or even worse, their parted and their parts are sold for profit," Thies explained.
Holly Henry, caregiver and educator at WTC, says there needs to be a shift within the American culture when it comes to keeping wildcats captive.
"Everybody wants to hold and cuddle a cute little furry thing. We understand that attraction, but what's hard to comprehend is that happens after that," Henry said.
The sanctuary has partnered with other sanctuaries across the country to produce -- and soon release -- and educational book about the captive wildlife crisis.
"We're trying to teach kids that yeah, you want to hold a little tiger cub or; it's really intriguing to have a giant snake, [but] those aren't appropriate pets. It's not a doable situation. And by going out to pay $25 to pet that baby, you're contributing to that problem," Henry explained.
It's a shift in perception for a problem that most Americans don't even think about, but a problem experts say can be compared to the drug trade in America when talking raw dollars.
"So please don't go and patronage a traveling exhibit with photo opportunities. Go to an accredited zoo that you can actually learn and educational message while benefiting the animals," Thies said.