Houston and Philly big cats forums uncover danger for first responders

The author briefing the Houston SPCA.When I speak about IFAW’s big cats campaign, I focus on three different aspects: the vision of how things should be; the nightmare of Zanesville and other tragedies involving captive big cats; and the reality of private possession and breeding, where misguided animal enthusiasts force these wild animals to be “pets” and where exhibitor licenses are handed out like candy on Halloween.

The importance of first responders impacts every aspect of this discussion.

First responders continue to bear a massive burden due to the U.S. big cats crisis—the fact that, on top of what they already do, these professionals have to risk their lives first on the scene when after a big cat escapes or mauls someone, is unacceptable. They didn’t become first responders because they wanted to kill a tiger or chase a lion down a highway. Their voices must be heard.

Thankfully, we are making great progress in achieving support for the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (H.R. 1998/S.1381) from police officers, firefighters, and public safety officers across the nation, and our national rally call to first responders continues to build momentum.

Members of the Philadelphia Police Department with Tim Harrison and the author.I’ve just returned from two successful big cat public forums led by IFAW in Houston and Philadelphia. (In Texas and Pennsylvania, it is, for the most part, perfectly legal to “own” a big cat as long as you have a permit.) The end-goal of each of these forums: building a robust national coalition of first responders who support the bill and join our efforts to speak out against private possession and breeding of big cats in the United States.  

In Texas, it is estimated there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild. On September 27, at the Houston SPCA, I was honored to join a wonderful panel of individuals with big cats experience, including Houston SPCA President Patricia Mercer, Houston Zoo’s Chief Veterinarian Joe Flanagan, and IFAW’s big cats public safety consultant, former police officer Tim Harrison.

The Houston SPCA knows this issue first-hand: is also the only shelter in the Greater Gulf Coast area with the ability to provide humane, temporary shelter to big cats, and it often coordinates with the Houston Zoo to provide rehabilitative care for these animals. I’m also quite thankful that the Houston Fire Chief and fellow Houston fire fighter stopped by the event to express support as well.

Tracy Coppola with PSPCA Humane Law Enforcement officer Sergeant Wayne Smith and Officer Jack Ardrey.On October 1, I was at the Pennsylvania SPCA (PSPCA) in Philadelphia, where Tim and I joined PSPCA CEO Jerry Buckley, Humane Law Enforcement Officer Sergeant Wayne Smith, Humane Law Enforcement Officer Jack Aubrey, and Lori Albright of Red Paw Emergency Relief, on another excellent panel in support of the bill and its impact on first responders. Before the briefing, two members of the Philadelphia Police Department stopped by to introduce themselves and express support.

Many thanks to the Houston and Philadelphia SPCAs and to all the other wonderful big cat advocates who attended the forums to support passage of the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act and IFAW’s rally call to first responders. Stay tuned for more to come!


To learn more about our efforts to protect big cats in the U.S., visit our campaign page!

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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