A Siberian tiger lifts itself from a aluminum tub, water dripping from its striped fur. While standing, her body dwarfs the tub, making one wonder how she fit in it in the first place. A woman smiles as the tiger steps out and paces her pen.
“She’s beautiful,” the woman says, separated from her by two fences.
Dale Tolentino walks in between the two fences, a six-foot wide space that stretches down to other pens with other animals – wolves, ligers and lions. He approaches the Siberian’s pen, a girl named Honey, and pets her body as she passes.
Tolentino and his wife, Deb, received Honey after a stint on the Late Show with David Letterman. Honey shares a pen with a liger named Feisty, who came to the sanctuary after her owner couldn’t properly take care of her.
Many of the animals have similar stories at D&D Farm Animal Sanctuary in Boone County. They are sick. They have broken bones. Their owners cannot take care of the exotic animals.
Often, they are neglected. Sometimes, they are dying.
“You make the concern for the animal, not yourself,” Dale Tolentino told ABC 17 News. “And the animal concern was, ‘Get the animal out of the situation.'”
Tolentino remembers when Bonnie, a mountain lion, came to the sanctuary he’s run with his wife for 22 years. Five years ago, the local police department in an Iowa town said it had to put down some malnourished animals found at a man’s house. The Tolentinos traveled to Iowa to take in the mountain lion. The owner said he fed and watered Bonnie once a week. He offered food to the Tolentinos – rotting food with maggots in it.
D&D Farm Animal Sanctuary now has more than 200 animals it helps. Tolentino said the idea is to nurture them back to health and release them into the wild. Not all the animals leave, such as the tigers, but many dogs, cats and chickens spend time at the sanctuary to heal. Sometimes, the state’s Department of Conservation brings the exotic animals to D&D for rehabilitation.
“People ask us, they say, ‘How do you release them? They’re so cute, you want to keep them,'” Tolentino said. “And the big thing with wildlife rehabilitation is, you release them because they belong in the wild.”
For eight hours out of the year, people can admire the animals as part of two fundraisers. The sanctuary is open four hours in the fall and four hours in the spring. The money helps pay for the liability insurance, a cost around $6,000 a year, as well as any supplies needed. The sanctuary also takes volunteers and accepts donations.
Tolentino said caring for tigers and lions is a dangerous job that many find they can’t handle when they begin it. The animals are still, by nature, wild animals, and take training to remain docile around humans.
“It’s like someone loving to skydive,” Tolentino said. “I like to work with lions and tigers and mountain lions. You have to love it in order to do it. But you also have to know your limitations with certain animals.
“It’s like raising kids. You don’t want the kids there forever in your life. You want to give them a helping hand ’til they’re old enough to handle their own lives.”
Deb and Dale have ambitions to visit their kid, as well. Their son lives in New Hampshire, a retired Navy SEAL and aspiring nurse practitioner. But there’s the farm. The Tolentinos have taken one vacation in 42 years of marriage. Dale, a former Navy serviceman himself, retired from the U.S. Postal Service a few weeks ago. Deb works part time at a veterinary clinic. Dale Tolentino said he needs to figure out who will watch the sanctuary for the week and a half he hopes to take away, and decide how to pay for the drive there.
One volunteer said animal feed, of any kind, is always in high demand at the sanctuary. The large cats especially eat raw meat, and the sanctuary accepts deer meat hunters bring in. Plywood, as well, helps the sanctuary build bigger and taller pens to maintain the guidelines the USDA sets for housing animals such as tigers and lions.
But Dale Tolentino will never ask anyone for those supplies.
“We’re not good at asking for things,” Tolentino said.