Here are some frequently asked questions regarding our animals, donating, visiting, volunteering and more.

What happens to former illegal pets?

Ill-equipped owners often abandon their exotic pets, not knowing where to turn for help. Sometimes owners simply move away, leaving the animal chained up with no food, water or realistic hope of survival. Federal agents who confiscate these animals put them on a waiting list for placement within a sanctuary, such as Safe Haven, for zoos will not accept them. Only a limited number of sanctuaries are accredited, legitimate and equipped to provide permanent placement and lifetime commitment to their care. As such, these facilities fill up quickly. If placement is not available, animals are euthanized.

Why is it so difficult to care for exotic wildlife?

All species demand a range of necessities in order to survive. For the sake of answering this questions, let us use the cougar as an example. Cougars can live up to 20 years in captivity and require:

  • A daily meat ration of 3% of their body weight, plus supplements
  • Safe enclosures that provide enough room to maintain a reasonable quality of life
  • Specialized, quality veterinary care

Over time, consistently providing these things for one’s exotic pet can become both very expensive and terribly difficult.

Where is Safe Haven located?

We are located two hours northeast of Reno in Imlay, Nev. For further directions, please visit our Visit page.

If I volunteer, what will my time commitment be?

Volunteers may work as often as they like from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., seven days a week. We do have limited overnight housing available to those traveling long distances that would like to volunteer consecutive days.

What are Safe Haven’s hours?

Safe Haven is open from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., seven days a week.

What is illegal pet ownership and why is it a problem?

Every day, people yield to the temptation and purchase a “big cat” or other unusual, non-native species. One problem feeds the other, and soon the growing demand for these animals results in more breeding and more unwanted animals. Exotic animals of this nature are also often sold as targets in “canned hunts.” Licensing requirements and laws regulating wild pet ownership vary from state to state, leaving loopholes through which such animals may still be obtained.

What medical challenges do these animals present?

Many former pets arrive at sanctuaries suffering from:

  • Diseases related to improper nutrition
  • Abuse by their owner, which also includes amateur declawing and defanging
Why not return former exotic pets to the wild?

Most illegal pets are non-native species that cannot be released into the wild. Even those that belong to indigenous species are rarely releasable due to:

  • Having been declawed and/or defanged by their previous owners
  • Being completely habituated to humans and lacking fear
  • Having no hunting or other necessary survival skills
How has Safe Haven responded to the illegal pet trade?

Safe Haven is a state- and federally-licensed organization that is trained and experienced in care for these types of animals. Our move to Nevada was largely prompted by the increased demand for placement of animals in need, many of which were confiscated illegal exotic pets. For more information about the illegal pet trade, please visit TRAFFIC: the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Does Safe Haven provide rehabilitative services for animals?

Yes. Safe Haven provides rehabilitative services for rescued animals that are eligible for return to the wild. When we receive calls from the public regarding baby animals, our volunteers assist the callers in returning them to the nest or den in the hope that the mother will return for the baby. When all attempts fail or if the orphan is injured, we then accept the animal for placement. Advice is given to the caller regarding temporary care only until we are able to safely transport the animal back to our sanctuary.

It is not our policy to provide information regarding the raising of wild animals. It is illegal for any unlicensed person to keep wildlife.

Does Safe Haven provide permanent placement for animals unable to be returned to the wild?

Yes. Safe Haven provides the highest-quality care for a number of permanent placement residents. Some of these animals were confiscated illegal pets, while others received injuries in the wild that have rendered them non-releaseable. Meet our current residents.

What are Safe Haven’ rescue guidelines?
  1. Only adults should rescue orphaned and/or injured wildlife.
  2. Before rescuing an adult mammal or injured raptor, seek guidance from a wildlife rehabilitator.
  3. Only attempt to rescue an animal if it is injured, in danger or has been clearly orphaned.
  4. If you can find a baby animal’s nest or den, return it and allow four to six hours for the mother to return. Remember, a baby’s best chance for survival is with its mother.
  5. It is also a common misconception that human scent on a baby animal will discourage its mother from returning or retrieving her young.
What happens if I find a fawn?
  • First, keep in mind that the doe will leave the fawn for short periods of time while foraging, so finding a solo fawn does not necessarily mean it has been abandoned.
  • If the baby is cold, emaciated, diseased, confused or if its safety is being threatened, call the local conservation agency to contact a facility that care for fawns.
  • If these things are not the case, leave the fawn alone and leave the area. The mother will not return if people or pets are present.
  • Never attempt to give milk of any kind to a fawn. They have very delicate digestive systems, and doing so may result in causing them severe diarrhea.
What do I do if I find baby bunnies?

If their nest has been damaged, remember it can be repaired. Look for a shallow depression lined with grass and fur. Place babies in the nest, cover them with a light layer of grass and leave the area. Mother rabbits return only at dawn and dusk. If you find healthy bunnies that are four to five inches long, able to hop with eyes open and ears up, they do not need your help. They are mature enough to be able to survive on their own. Please leave them alone.

What are Safe Haven’s suggestions for necessary animal rescues?
  1. Prepare a container. Place a soft cloth on the bottom of a cardboard box with a lid, a cat or dog carrier will work as well. Make sure there are air holes. For smaller animals, you can use a paper bag with air holes punched in.
  2. Protect yourself. If possible, wear heavy gloves. Some animals may bite or scratch to try and protect themselves, even if they are injured or sick. Wild animals commonly have parasites such as fleas, lice and ticks, and may carry diseases.
  3. Cover the animal with a light sheet or towel.
  4. Gently pick up the animal and put it in the prepared container.
  5. Warm the animal if it’s cold out or if the animal shows signs of being chilled. Put one end of the container on a heating pad set on low or fill a Ziploc bag with warm water. Wrap it in cloth and put it next to the animal. Make sure the container doesn’t leak or the animal will get wet, increasing its chill.
  6. Tape the box shut or roll the top of the paper bag closed.
  7. Note exactly where you found the animal. This will be very important for later release.
  8. Keep the animal in warm, dark quiet place. Do no handle it. Do not give it food or water. Keep children and pets away.
  9. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator, state wildlife agency or wildlife veterinarian as soon as possible. Don’t keep the animal at your home longer than necessary. Keep the animal in a container; don’t let it loose in your house or car.
  10. Wash your hands after contact with the animal. Wash anything the animal came in contact with such as towels, jackets, blankets and pet carrier. This will prevent the spread of diseases or parasites to you or your pets.
  11. Get the animal to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.
What is environmental enrichment?

On an instinctive level, environmental enrichment is something that improves the quality of a captive animal’s life. But more specifically, environmental enrichment increases the behavioral options available to the captive animal and draws out species appropriate behavior by:

  • Increasing behavioral diversity
  • Reducing the frequency of abnormal behaviors
  • Increasing the range of normal, “wild” behaviors
  • Increasing the positive utilization of the environment
  • Increasing the ability to deal with challenges in a more normal way

Experts in the field of environmental and behavioral enrichment study ways to provide captive animals with environmental stimuli to compensate for the absence of a rich and challenging natural habitat.

Training, also referred to as operant conditioning, is often included within a definition of enrichment. Although not a natural behavior, many captive animals seem to enjoy the attention of their keepers/trainers and appear to find these activities enriching. Operant conditioning programs reward behaviors that can improve the quality of the captive animal’s life, training them to allow the handling necessary for examination or the administration of medication, or to be moved to a selected location such as a lockout for safety.

Why is environmental enrichment necessary?

In their natural habitat, animals encounter a wide spectrum of environmental stimuli every day as they carry out the tasks essential for survival. They are “busy” all the time. For their individual survival, they must find food and shelter as well as avoid predators and other hazards. For species survival, they engage in mating and infant-rearing activities. From the moment of birth, animals in the wild develop and refine the skills essential for survival.

Captive animals have the same instincts and the same energetic need to respond to their environment as their counterparts in the wild. However, without the need to engage their environment and struggle for survival, their instincts and repressed energy can manifest itself into obsessive, stereotypic, counterproductive and even self-destructive behaviors.

No matter how ideal, a captive environment can never fully replace the vast range, challenging terrain or dietary authenticity and variety an animal encounters in its natural habitat.

How do animals respond to the challenges of living in captivity?

Some animals living in captivity may become frustrated and/or bored with their surroundings and respond by:

  • Pacing
  • Obsessive chewing and licking
  • Repetitive vocalizations
  • Aggression towards cage-mates or keepers
  • Self-mutilation
  • Obsession or disinterest in food
  • Consuming nonfood items
  • Banging themselves against their caging
  • Lack of grooming
  • Lethargy or apathy
  • Hiding
How does Safe Haven provide environmental enrichment?

Safe Haven believes that environmental enrichment contributes to the welfare of captive animals by helping them to maintain good physical and psychological health. Environmental enrichment at Safe Haven is designed to proactively encourage the expression of healthy, normal behaviors, as opposed to a reactive approach in which undesirable behaviors are negated. Safe Haven endorses a behavioral engineering approach to environmental enrichment, with the addition of operant conditioning programming. We have specific enrichment programs for our big cats and foxes.

What is the intent of environmental enrichment?

The intent of environmental enrichment at Safe Haven is twofold:

  1. In addition to a wide variety of sensory and behavioral enrichment activities, permanent residents receive ongoing scheduling of operant conditioning to facilitate safe handling for husbandry purposes.
  2. Orphaned animals being raised for reintroduction, or adult animals undergoing rehabilitation prior to reintroduction, receive enrichments designed to elicit behaviors that will be needed upon release, and to maintain their physical and psychological well-being while in captivity. Contact with keepers is kept at a minimum for animals marked for reintroduction. As a result, they receive no operant conditioning.
What specific environmental enrichment activities are employed at Safe Haven?

Environmental enrichment is built into the design and furnishing of our animal enclosures. These include:

  • Caging for permanent residents is made of large mesh, allowing for a high level of visual, auditory and tactile interaction with the environment outside the enclosure.
  • All large animal housing is outdoors and features natural, dappled sunlight, shade and flooring.
  • All outdoor housing is subject to seasonal variation in ambient temperature, with supplementary den heating provided when needed.
  • Outdoor caging also includes wood/foraging piles.

Many captive animal enrichment activities center on foraging and hunting behaviors, such as:

  • Gelatin “blood jigglers,” which wiggle and move in a manner similar to live prey. These are periodically provided to our cats and foxes.
  • “Bloodsicles” are provided in warm weather, while trying to catch floating bloodsicles in a tub of water mimics the act of hunting.
  • Scented boughs are sprayed with essential oils such as rosemary or pine, and are then positioned to hang within the cage. Although scented boughs are used for olfactory stimulation, our bigger cat residents will eat the leaves. We also incorporate special treats within digging beds, forage piles, piñatas and specially constructed cubes made from old fire hose.
  • Punctured cardboard tubes and paper bags are filled with dried herbs and sprayed with oils.
  • Water mixed with essential oils, such as rosemary, pine, orange, vanilla, wintergreen or peppermint, is sprayed in a variety of places within the animal’s enclosure.
What are Safe Haven’s current funding priorities?
  1. Donations for day-to-day expenses such as food and veterinary care.
  2. Funding toward our Intern Housing Project. On-site housing in our remote location has become critical for our six-month interns. Our interns are recent biology, zoology and animal science graduates seeking experience in their field which is required in order to obtain future staff positions. The on-site housing will provide more internship opportunities in the future.
  3. Funding toward the material costs to construct new habitats for several of our recent rescues. Safe Haven staff and volunteers provide the labor to reduce costs.

For more information, please contact our Executive Director, Lynda Sugasa at (775) 538-7093 or visit our Donations page.

Is Safe Haven open to the public?

We love visitors, but ask that you request a tour up to 24 hours in advance. For more information about booking a tour, please visit our Visit page.

What kind of tours does Safe Haven offer?

We offer a variety of tours, including personal, education and photography. Tours are offered seven days a week, up to twice a day, depending on the season and are available by appointment only. For more information, please see our Visit page.

What is the difference between each of the tours offered?
  • Personal tours are available to the general public and offer a comprehensive view of our facility and residents. Personal tours are $10 per adult. Kids 12 and under are $7.
  • Educational tours are available to classrooms hosting children in grades 1-12 for a nominal fee. Educational tours offer children a first hand educational experience with exotic wildlife and includes well-researched presentations from our staff.
  • Photography tours are open to amateur and professional photographers alike. Photography tours cost $50 an hour, with a two-hour minimum. Meet our residents, while exercising your creative muscles.

For more information regarding our various tours, please see our Visit page.

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