The Cat House, also known as the EFBC's Feline Conservation Center, a cat sanctuary in Rosamond, California, is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the world's endangered felines. They have more kinds of cat species than I even knew existed. It functions similarly to a zoo, in that you can pay to tour the facility and observe the cats, which supports the work that they do. But one big difference from a zoo tour is that there aren't moats and ravines separating you from the animals. Another is that they have a Twilight Tour. Apparently, the really good stuff happens in the evenings after closing hours. So three times a year, the Cat House opens its doors for a big Twilight Tour fundraising event where you can see the animals at their active, doing things like eating dinner, or engaged in enrichment activities with their caretakers.
There are a lot of Were-creatures in my book, TRUST. Writing the 'Were' parts requires imagination, of course (and I've got a good one), but I really wanted to get as realistic as possible about that 'prey in front of predator' experience. My Muses agreed that I couldn't write realistically unless I spent time watching the animals my Weres turn into. I listened to them and bought tickets to Twilight Tours, hoping I could observe a few jaguars.
I arrived at sunset and headed over to the jaguar section where I stood with ten other amazed people who were also watching these stunning creatures from an incredible five feet away. The sight of the immense muscles in the jaguars' backs thrusting out and in as they paced caused me to hold my breath and wrap my arms protectively around myself. I witnessed them napping, grooming and leaping up and down from the perching spots, all while the guide informed us about how they hunt: waiting up in trees for hours and then jump down from trees onto unsuspecting prey.
One of them was lying in a corner, sleeping rather peacefully. It was actually sucking on its own tail, which the guide explained was the equivalent of human thumb sucking. Awww, someone said. Then the cat yawned. One glimpse of how wide those barely hinged jaws opened - and the sight of those fangs up close??? The word 'cute' swiftly exited everyone's mind. As the guide recited a list of why jaguars were one of natures most efficient killing machines, the caretaker showed up in carefully secured pathway behind the large cages, wheeling a huge cart of large boxes. The guide then announced that in order to keep them stimulated, they'd created a variety of ways for the cats to 'work' for their food, since that's what happens in the wild. That night, in honor of the Twilight Tour, the jaguars were getting special treats: whole raw turkeys frozen in big blocks of ice. The trick: to get to the meat, the cats had to figure out how to break or melt the ice. Our treat: we got to watch!
When the first cat got his treat, thunder boomed and I felt the earth begin to quake. I looked around frantically, ready to follow whatever earthquake guidelines the sanctuary had (we are in California after all), only to realize that what I was experiencing was actually the purr of an excited jaguar. Several people stepped back, despite the bars, the curiosity, and the fact that they paid to be there. I have been in love with animals - big cats in particular - since I was a little kid. But every time one of those cats looked at me, my DNA screamed at me to get the hell out. Watching them break the ice with swats of paws, melt it with their gigantic tongues, and then devour those turkeys was an experience I will never forget.
I went expecting to do research and fall more in love, which absolutely happened. I left ready to write endless chapters about jaguars. I also took with me an even greater respect for mother nature and her creatures, as well as the work the sanctuary people are doing for endangered species. It was a pretty amazing experience. If you can make the Twilight Tour, I highly recommend it!
For more information on the Cat House Sanctuary go to:
There are many more types Were-creatures in the world of my book, which means I have many hours of animal watching to look forward to. The series is called Between Lions, after all. I will definitely be going back for another twilight tour this April!
Do you have a favorite place to get your animal fix/creature research on? A zoo, a sanctuary, or even a youtube station that I should check out? I'd love it if you'd leave your suggestions for me in the comments below!