CENTER POINT, Ind. | They're grrreeeat!
The four tigers removed in May from Roy Boy Cooper's tattoo parlor in Gary have gained weight, improved their coats and are in better overall health at their new home at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Ind., located about 65 miles southwest of Indianapolis.
"They were not the worst we've seen," said Joe Taft, founder and owner of the rescue center.
But the tigers are "better than they were," he said.
Officials from the United States Department of Agriculture seized the tigers from Cooper's tattoo parlor after an inspection found the tigers were underweight, lethargic and had skin issues.
In a spacious enclosure near the entrance of the rescue center, Taft on Thursday pointed to Pearl's striped neck to show how new fur is coming in normally now that the tiger isn't wearing a collar all day every day. Pearl still walks delicately because he had been declawed during his life at Roy Boy's.
"There's a lot of problems in declawing a big cat," Taft said. "The feet sink and grow tender."
On May 27, the day the tigers were removed, Cooper told The Times he felt he had complied with USDA requirements for keeping tigers. He said he had been handling tigers for 50 years.
Cooper, 64, died on July 22. His son, Adam Cooper, said losing the tigers may have "sped up the process."
While Roy Boy Cooper may be gone, the four tigers left behind are set to live a peaceful life in a natural setting.
The nonprofit Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, near Terre Haute, is the permanent home of 210 large cats, including tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, bobcats, lynx and ocelots. The animals live in grassy enclosures, usually with others of their species, on about 110 woody acres.
Taft said most of the animals taken in by the rescue center are seized by state and federal officials from people who are either indifferent or overwhelmed by what's needed to care for such large animals. The rescue center treats the animals' injuries, restores their health and provides a permanent home for the rest of their lives.
"The object is to provide them with a quality of life that's meaningful to them," Taft said.
On an overcast Thursday morning, dozens of tigers lazily watched the day pass by while others jumped to greet Taft as he walked by. Tigers typically sleep 18 to 20 hours a day, Taft said.
Elsewhere at the center, workers cleaned enclosures, served a giant horse's leg to a group of tigers for breakfast and made sure the big cats throughout the facility had water.
The Exotic Feline Rescue Center is paid expenses by authorities to take a seized animal. However, once the animal is at the rescue center, the center itself is responsible for the lifelong expenses of caring for and feeding the animal.
The center is open to the public for tours. Donations to the nonprofit organization are tax-deductible.