Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary
- Tell us a little about yourself and your inspiration for founding Noah’s Ark?
I have had a passion for helping children and animals all my life, ever since I was 4 years old. My life is all about Noah’s Ark, all day every day, from the time I wake up until I go to bed at night.
- How did that goal start to take shape into something like what we see today?
Although I was always taking in and saving animals and later, children (even during childhood), it was only when I moved to Georgia in 1978 that I finally had enough room and resources to get into rescuing animals other than domestic pets and small wildlife such as songbirds and squirrels. We became a licensed nonprofit shortly after moving to our current location in Locust Grove in 1990, and that’s when things really started taking off and the animals and children came flooding in.
- Was your goal always to create something like the current Noah’s Ark or how has the dream evolved?
I’d always dreamed of being able to rescue and provide for hundreds of animals and children, I just didn’t know that the need was so great. However, God knew exactly what was needed and that’s why Noah’s Ark is what we are today.
- Explain the name Noah’s Ark? I chose the name Noah’s Ark because I wanted to build a sanctuary for animals and children that was an “ark of safety” as I call it. It needed a name that represented a loving, healing, lifesaving environment.
- Not everyone is licensed to run a facility like Noah’s Ark. What is involved in receiving and maintaining a wildlife rehabilitation license and proper permissions to have exotic animals like bears and tigers?
Unfortunately, the laws differ from state to state (and sometimes even from county to county) regarding what animal species are legal to own, and this creates lots of exotic animals in less than ideal living conditions, because it’s so difficult for their welfare to be monitored and enforced by governing agencies with limited resources. In Georgia it is illegal to own any exotic animal (primates, big cats, bears, etc.) or native wild animal (raccoons, squirrels, deer, etc.), and anybody that exhibits these types of animals like zoos, circuses, or rescue/ educational facilities (like Noah’s Ark) must have permits from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and sometimes US Fish and Wildlife too, depending on the species. All facilities are inspected by these agencies at least annually, which determines whether or not their permits will be renewed.
- Noah’s Ark is an animal sanctuary. How is it different than a zoo and what do you see as its mission?
Although Noah’s Ark is similar to a zoo in that we house and allow people to view our wild animals, the main difference is that we do not breed our animals for conservation efforts or for profit. Zoos typically focus on obtaining and displaying the healthiest individual animals so that they can reproduce and maintain a genetically diverse captive population. A sanctuary like Noah’s Ark doesn’t usually allow their animals to reproduce, because there are already so many captive wild animals in need of rescuing and finding a forever home. Also, zoos will trade animals from facility to facility, depending on how many of that species is represented in captivity and what the animals’ individual genetic make-up is. Sanctuaries like Noah’s Ark provide a forever home to animals in need that have nowhere else to go, and we care for them for the remainder of their lives, no matter what condition they are in.
- Noah’s Ark houses animals from diverse backgrounds. What is your philosophy behind selecting the specific animals, many with health issues, you take in?
I so wish we were able to take in all of the animals that we are asked to, but the bottom line is that animals don’t come in with checkbooks and credit cards. We will only take an animal in if we have the resources to properly care for it for the duration of its natural life. Resources include funding obviously, but also staffing requirements and other logistical concerns. But really, it all boils down to whether or not we can afford to care for that animal the way it deserves to be cared for.
Rescuing the BLT (bear, lion, tiger) from a drug dealer in 2001 was very special, but being able to watch them blossom and allowing them to live as free as possible and with each other, even though they are three very different kinds of animals, was and still is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of.
- What are some of the things you are most proud of about Noah’s Ark?
Rescuing the BLT (bear, lion, tiger) from a drug dealer in 2001 was very special, but being able to watch them blossom and allowing them to live as free as possible and with each other, even though they are three very different kinds of animals, was and still is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of. But also in 2013 I rescued a critically ill, precious orphan in Haiti named Mackenson, and watching him grow physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally has been one of the most incredible blessings in my life.
- How much does it cost to care for the animals and where does the funding come from?
Animals are very expensive to care for, especially large and exotic animals, and it costs roughly $33,000 every month to care for our rescued animal friends. This includes their food, medical bills and supplies, enrichment costs, their enclosure maintenance and many other costs that always seem to pop up when you have animals. The majority of our funding comes from people that may not necessarily give a lot of money, but they always give consistently and have done so faithfully for many years. We are very blessed to receive in-kind donations of animal food, supplies and other items and because Noah’s Ark is a 501©3 nonprofit, we receive no state or government funding to help us support the animals in need that we take in and care for.
- Is there an admission fee to visit Noah’s Ark?
There is no admission fee to visit Noah’s Ark to walk around and enjoy the animals, but we do rely on and really appreciate donations! We also offer awesome behind the scenes guided tours that are available for a cost.
- Your son Charlie is a co-founder. How does family play a role in Noah’s Ark?
Family is everything at Noah’s Ark, as my family helped me build it and they continue to do so today. Having my son share my dream and knowing he will continue to carry out the mission of Noah’s Ark long after I’m gone is a blessing from God.
- Since Noah’s Ark is funded by donation, what is the role of volunteers at Noah’s Ark?
Volunteers are crucial to our survival, although we do have a few paid staff members. We have over 250 people volunteer their time every year at Noah’s Ark, and 100 of those are full time volunteers. They help care for certain animals, serve as tour guides and habitat ambassadors, help with special events and fundraisers, do outreach and speaking programs, help in the office and gift shop, and many, many more things. Life without volunteers would be nearly impossible at Noah’s Ark.
- What does Noah’s Ark mean to the community and how has the community supported your work?
Noah’s Ark is very important in our community because we provide a safe haven and educational atmosphere for people of all backgrounds and ages. We provide opportunities for children and adults to volunteer their time, or serve their court mandated community service hours. We also help local pet rescue groups by offering low cost veterinary care.
- How many visitors come through in a year?
Over 250,000 people come visit Noah’s Ark annually from all over the world.
- How many total animals and how many species?
We have roughly 1500 animals from over 100 different species.
Sanctuaries like Noah’s Ark provide a forever home to animals in need that have nowhere else to go, and we care for them for the remainder of their lives, no matter what condition they are in.
- What are the different ways you find/receive new animals?
The animals come from the Department of Natural Resources, zoos, educational institutions and from the general public.
- Tell us about the BLT and their story?
In 2001, Baloo the bear, Leo the lion and Shere Khan the tiger came to Noah’s Ark in 2001 after police officers found them in the basement of an Atlanta home during a drug raid. At just a few months old, all three cubs were in pretty bad shape when they first arrived. Shere Khan was underweight and malnourished, but with the treatment of his parasites and a proper diet, he began to regain his cub like energy and gain weight. He has always been the most mischievous of the BLT, and also seeks out affection the most from his brothers. In fall of 2014 he was diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) which is common in older exotic cats, and he is responding really well to treatment. Baloo was in the worst condition of the BLT because he had a severely ingrown harness digging into his flesh because his previous owners didn’t loosen it as he grew. The harness was so ingrown that his flesh had begun to grow over and around it, and surgical intervention was required to remove the harness and clean his deep, infected wounds. Baloo recovered just fine and is probably my very favorite animal at Noah’s Ark because he has such a beautiful personality and is just so full of himself!Poor Leo had a big, infected wound on his nose from being confined to a small crate- he paced back and forth against the wire door so much he rubbed the skin right off his nose. The wound on his nose eventually healed although he always had a scar from his abuse. He was very stoic and acted so tough but he was the sweetest gentle giant of a lion. Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan always ate, slept, and played together and were truly inseparable despite their obvious differences. They became famous around the world and were featured numerous times in the news and on TV stations like National Geographic and the BBC, and I believe they taught humans more about diversity and the true meaning of unconditional love and acceptance than any human ever could, just by loving each other and sharing that love with the world.On August 11th 2016, we had to say goodbye to our beloved Leo. He hadn’t been himself for a little while and after numerous tests, radiographs and ultrasounds, our veterinarians preformed exploratory surgery to find out what exactly was ailing him. During surgery, we discovered that over 80% of his liver was full of inoperable masses and because of this, the heart wrenching decision was made to let him go. It was the kindest thing we could do for him. Baloo and Shere Khan were able to say goodbye to Leo and have been doing well since his death. Animals are so perceptive and with the incredible bond the BLT had, we think Baloo and Shere Khan knew Leo was terminally ill long before he began showing symptoms. We buried Leo inside his habitat right by the trio’s “clubhouse”, which was their favorite resting spot. Even in death, we wanted for Baloo, Shere Khan and Leo to always be together.