Caring for wildlife is a wonderful privilege as well as an awesome experience. At the Wildworks care center we strive to make all the animals' lives as interesting and natural as possible. We raise orphaned babies, watching them grow and develop, while helping to ease the aches and pains of those who are older. We also get our share of injured critters with broken wings and limbs, head trauma, even blindness.
But in all my years of experience I've never had an animal come into my care in such atrocious condition as a young cougar we call Pirate.
When he arrived at Wildworks in 2003 he was eight months old. At that age a male mountain lion should weigh about 80 pounds. Malnourished when rescued, Pirate weighed only 20 pounds, one quarter of what he should have weighed. His spine and hipbones were protruding through rough fur and the pads on all four feet were raw and bleeding from pacing the concrete floor of the small cage he had been forced to live in. The tip of his tail was raw as if he had chewed it in frustration, his right ear notched, probably from a fight. But to add insult to injury, the worst of his problems was his eyes. The right eye, ten times its normal size, was bulging from its socket and the left eye had obviously been inured.
This poor little lion, to say the least, was in desperate need of help.
It was obvious Pirate could only see some motion and/or shapes. Pain and blurred vision made him suspicious and frightened causing him to lash out in self-defense when unsure of his surroundings.
At our veterinarians' examination the next day, an animal ophthalmologist was called in. Pirate was diagnosed with severe glaucoma in his right eye, a condition causing pain much much like a migraine headache. His eye was so enlarged that it was removed that same day. When he awoke from anesthesia, he was immediately feeling better, purring and meowing just like a healthy kitten!
We kept careful watch over Pirate and after a week in the house with round-the-clock care, his paws healed and he started gaining weight. He even became playful, attacking his toys as if they were prey.
We took him back for a recheck and the updated examination of his left eye confirmed that his retina was detached and there was mild glaucoma. For a time we were able to treat the eye with drops to keep the pressure at bay but eventually his left eye needed to be removed, as well. Pirate is completely blind.
What kind of life is in store for a blind mountain lion? Because all cats rely so heavily on their vision, I was concerned about his quality of life.
Pirate, of course, cannot live in the wild. But like a blind person, his other senses have taken over, helping him learn the boundaries of his enclosure, location of food and water, toys and humans. His feet step lightly and he points his nose upward when he walks to smell what's ahead. He calls to us and the other mountain lions when he hears our voices. He no longer paces and he is calmer and more relaxed.
However, there is now another problem. It was a couple years back when the large cat started experiencing seizures. Pirate loves to nap on his sunny shelf and sometimes he stays there after the sun goes down. One night I heard him fall from his shelf and I ran out to see the poor animal violently shaking on the floor of his enclosure. I wanted so badly to do something but it was beyond my control. As a month passed I monitored him carefully and there were no issues. Then he had the next seizure, and then another. Since that day Pirate has been given medication twice daily to prevent the episodes. He takes pills willingly in his food and we thought his serious problem was under control.
Until now. Just recently Pirate experienced 5 seizures within a matter of hours!! His medication dosage has been increased and he’s ok tonight as I’m writing this, but his future remains unclear. The only thing that’s certain is, no matter what happens, we will be here for him.
Your continuing contributions can help insure that Pirate will receive all the care he requires.
If ever an animal needed and deserved quality lifetime care, it's Pirate.
Mollie and all of us at The Nature of Wildworks