Meeeeoooooowwwww! Ty, Michael, Ed, Paul and I traveled only a short distance to this week's destination, Phelan, Calif., to meet the largest family we have ever helped. There were at least 130 members of the Almquist family, although they are not the traditional family "members." I'll give you a hint - lions, tigers and reptiles, OH MY!
Joel Almquist (the Dad) has always been involved in the wildlife community, helping care for and raise many large animals that otherwise would not have a home. When he married Chemaine, he shared his love and passion for animals with her, and the couple has personally made it their mission to care for wildlife every single day. Even the kids, Patricia, Kiah, Arianna and Noah, are completely on board and help out wherever they can. They began by simply taking in lost or abused animals in the area, and pretty soon realized that this was a bigger mission. The family started the Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary a few years ago, and their "family" has grown to include 22 big cats, 10 smaller cats, over 100 reptiles, horses, pigs and dogs, just to name a few.
Since this family has unselfishly put the needs of their animals before their own, their house was in serious need of help. They have dedicated all of their resources to helping the animals and providing safe and solid homes for them. They are constantly trying to raise funds so that they can provide more, but they are now in the position that they have to turn animals away because they simply do not have the space for them.
This family's love, passion and smiles are truly infectious. This week was a dream-come-true for me. I have always LOVED big cats (I love little cats too, and I travel to every show with my little kitty, Mercury). I have always wanted to touch a tiger - and this week I got the chance. It was pretty amazing to walk into the cage area where all of these majestic animals roam. The sound of a tiger's roar shakes your body to the core; definitely a sound you would NOT want to hear in the wild! We took extreme care and caution around these animals because even though they look cute, they are very dangerous. We even called in the professionals to help! Jeff Corwin came out an assisted us in getting all the animals to safety before demolition. It was great to have him there with us, giving us advice and imparting his wisdom especially since we are the experts in home building, NOT exotic animal transport!
I was excited to be a part of this build and see these exotic animals, and I was anxious to learn as much as I could and I learned a lot! First of all, many of these animals came to the sanctuary because they were used in magic shows, or people thought it would be good to get a wild animal as a pet.
Many of these animals had been abused, either drugged (so that they could pose for pictures) or de-clawed. Many of you, as I once did, may think that it is not abusive to de-claw a cat (large exotic cat or domestic house cat), but YOU WOULD BE SO WRONG! It is the equivalent of cutting off your fingers at the top knuckle, right below your nail bed. Not only is this a painful procedure for the cat, but it leaves the cat in pain for the rest of its life. Many cats will get even more aggressive after this procedure because they are in pain, and because we've taken away their natural defense mechanism. One cat, Diablo, had been declawed and it broke my heart to see him walk. He was in constant pain, almost limping, even though he had been de-clawed years ago. At Forever Wild, they have been able to provide paw reconstruction surgery to many of their cats - and they just needed the funding to do this for Diablo. As the family went away on vacation, I made it my mission to take care of Diablo.
I got to not only TOUCH a tiger, but I got to hold his head in my arms!
Don't be alarmed; he was under heavy sedation! What a truly incredible experience. I headed down to Glendale, Calif., with Diablo in the back of the truck. With the help of Kristina (one of the Forever Wild volunteers) and Jenny (the veterinarian to these big cats), we sedated Diablo, transported him from the truck to the operating room, prepped him for surgery, and took X-rays. I got so emotional when I saw the X-rays of his paws! Here is this amazing creature in constant pain because a human felt the need to mame him.
I got to stay for the entire surgery, which was not for the faint of heart.
In the end, we rolled him on a stretcher back out to the truck and brought a very sleepy tiger back home.
Back at the job site, the build was coming along in some of the WORST conditions we have ever experienced on the show. We had 60-mile-an-hour winds, followed my freezing rain, and even a fire! We braved all the elements! And we weren't alone. Since we were building a house AND an animal sanctuary AND a learning center, we needed lots of help. We had some of the greatest builders that you will ever meet: Bernard Murphy of Murphy Construction, Thomas Steeno of Steeno Design Studio, Scott Cross of SC Homes, Inc. and our marketing team led by Frank Williams of the BIA Baldy View Chapter. Since I was working on the learning center all week long, I was working closely with Scott Cross an amazing family man and builder that just happens to be the cousin of one of our favorite staff members Mrs. Jennifer Bohler who is currently expecting Baby Bohler any minute now! We are keeping our fingers crossed for a great delivery!
Overall, it was one of the toughest weeks we've had here on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but also the most rewarding. It was a dream come true to be around so many gorgeous animals, and even more of a treat to be able to hold one in my arms! But even more than that, it feels great to have been able to help the Almquist family who go out every single day and make a difference in the lives of so many animals. They are an amazing family that I know will keep up the great work for years to come!
Oh and from what I learned this week, I beg of all of you please NEVER have your cat de-clawed! Please, please, please! It's cruel ad unnecessary; no matter what your vet says! OK, that's my public service announcement. Pass it on!