Steffens is the founder of Tigers for Tomorrow, an exotic animal preserve outside of Attalla. TfT, which celebrates its third anniversary at the Alabama location in June, is a last-stop sanctuary, which means once animals are accepted onto the preserve, they have a home for the rest of their lives.
Different circumstances cause the preserve — which is a home to 20 tigers, six lions, 14 cougars, a black bear, a grizzly bear, and many other animals — to take in an animal, Steffens said.
"It's not always neglect stories," she said while driving a golf cart past 10-foot tall chain-link fence enclosures. "People get them as pets and don't have the experience, or can't afford to take care of them." The veterinary bill for a lion, she explained, is much more expensive than a housecat.
Some of the animals are from "excessive" litters (when a mother has more babies than a zoo or breeder can handle), while others come from magic shows, roadside zoos and traveling circuses. They also get inbred animals, which can have undesirable features such as crossed eyes or health problems.
"I'm not against private ownership, but they must be realistic," Steffens said. "Owners are responsible to the community by putting up enclosures. We've taken cats out of Wal-Mart pens, carports with cattle fencing around them." That doesn't work for a big cat like Benny, who Steffens has seen jump 18 feet in the air from the ground.
Some of the newest residents of TfT include a mother wolf, Cheyenne, and her seven cubs, Little Bear, Garth, Tristen, Emma, Sophia, Delilah and Isabella. They were brought from Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, Fla., in March, when the cubs were 4 weeks old. They have a temporary home inside a 80 feet by 90 feet enclosure, but they need a home about three times larger than that, Steffens said. That means putting in quite a bit more fencing, which she estimates will cost $20,000-$25,000. In addition to that cost, all of the cubs will be spayed or neutered, and will eat about 45 pounds of meat a day when fully grown.
The yearly budget for the preserve is about $250,000 per year, said Steffens. This year, Steffens also hopes to hire an educational specialist, who will teach attendees about the animals and their native habitats, and she wants to establish a small mammal education program that would travel to schools and teach children about wild animals.
TfT is a 501 (c) 3 organization, which means expenses are paid by donations and fundraisers, like the one that's happening tonight at Tyson Art & Frame in Anniston. For $25, participants get to taste 25 different wines, said Janet Tyson Prosser, owner of the framing and wine store, and all the proceeds go to TfT. Cheeses will be provided by Mountain View Cheesery in Piedmont and Wright's Dairy in Alexandria.
Dr. David Cummings, a local dentist and photographer, will have photos of the new wolves for sale and Oxford author Judith Keat will sell copies of her book Confessions of the Heart. Steffens will bring two 6-week-old cavies, a South American rodent that looks similar to a rabbit, to the tasting as well.
The preserve does five or six fundraisers per year, depending on the need. They also have a wish list, which includes everything from a wood chipper to water buckets, on their Web site as well as a guardian angel program, where donors can adopt one of the animals at the preserve.
"I think there's a lot of people who truly want to help," Steffens said. "They just don't know how."
Tigers for Tomorrow will soon open during weekdays for the summer, but will close during inclement weather. The best thing to do, Steffens said, is call or check the Web site before heading to Attalla.
For more information on Tigers for Tomorrow, visit www.tigersfortomorrow.org.
Wine tastingWhat: Fundraiser for Tigers for Tomorrow, an exotic animal preserve in Attalla
When: Today, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Where: Tyson Art & Frame, 3326 Henry Road, Anniston
How much: $25 for 12 wines