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September 17, 2010

More Than 15,000 Animals Saved

Chuck and Cindy Traisi retire from Wildlife Center

  • The Traisis rescued this young tiger from a desperate situation. The Fund for Animals

  • A job well done: Chuck and Cindy Traisi at their retirement party. Ray Eubanks

  • Chuck Traisi developed special expertise in mountain lions. iStockphoto

by Julie Hauserman

Maybe it was a coyote hit by a car. Or a tiger nearly starved by an exotic pet dealer. Once, it was a pygmy hippo someone foolishly thought he could keep in his yard.

In 25 years of running the Fund for Animals Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Ramona, California, Chuck and Cindy Traisi helped more than 15,000 wild and exotic animals. The title of Cindy Traisi's book about rescued animals explains why: Because They Matter.

Now, after a quarter century of hard work, the Traisis have retired.

"They instilled passion—the passion of caring for our precious wildlife," said Barbara Woodhull, a long- time volunteer at the Center, which The Fund for Animals operates in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States. "It was like a teaching school. All of us were learning the ins and outs of taking care of the animals and diagnosing them and fixing them and, hopefully, releasing them where they came from."

The FFA Wildlife Center opened in the 1980s with the donation of a shelter and property to the Fund for Animals. The Fund's director at the time, Cleveland Amory, wanted to use the property as a sanctuary, and he knew the perfect person for the job: Chuck Traisi. Traisi had helped Amory stop the U.S. Navy from killing about 4,000 goats on nearby San Clemente Island.

Chuck left a government security job and Cindy left her teaching career to work for animals.

"We have made ourselves available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for emergencies involving wildlife," Cindy wrote in the introduction to her book. "We have cared for them and treated their injuries or illnesses with great diligence. We have set them free with unimaginable joy in their hearts and ours."

Rescuing tigers

In a grueling case in 2003, California Fish and Game asked the FFA Wildlife Center to help rescue big cats in a so-called "Tiger Rescue" in Colton that was a scene of neglect and horror.

"It was disgusting," Chuck said in 2005, after the facility’s owner was convicted of animal cruelty. "The cats had no water, nor anything that could hold water. The cages weren't even made for cleaning. When I got there, there were 54 exotic cats, some clearly underweight, some clearly emaciated. No captive animal should ever be desperate for food."

Chuck moved into a nearby motel to help care for the big cats and their cubs. He spent 21 months there. Cindy and the center staff took in the cubs. Chuck and Cindy recruited hundreds of volunteers, organized delivery of thousands of pounds of food for the cats, and, most difficult, arranged safe places for the cats to live in sanctuary.

"He cared for all the cats until the last one was transported to her new home," recalls Christine Jensen, a long-time animal care technician at the FFA Wildlife Center.

From raptors to hippos...

Over the years, the Traisis, along with staff and volunteers, created a sanctuary for predatory animals and built large flight cages to rehabilitate birds of prey from Cooper’s hawks to golden eagles. The center rehabilitates and releases 400 to 500 animals a year, with special emphasis on predators like mountain lions, coyotes, and raptors.

Chuck became an expert on the care of the center's most frequent visitors, mountain lions and coyotes.

Chuck and Cindy had special relationships with the 40 permanent shelter residents who, for various reasons, can't return to the wild. These include Hanna the pygmy hippo, rescued from a doctor who kept her in his yard without adequate shade and water; and Samson the lion and Sheba the mountain lion, both rescued from the entertainment industry.

"Chuck and Cindy were the commanders of their vessel. They took it through highs and lows to get it where it is today," said Woodhull. "They taught us to go the extra step in trying to make a difference in this world as far as how we treat animals."

...And beyond

"We're tackling the enormous task of replacing these quality animal caretakers who have given so much to the wild creatures of this region," said Debra Parsons-Drake, HSUS senior director of The HSUS' five animal care centers.

And the Traisis? For the first time in 25 years, they can live a quiet life where the phone doesn't ring at 3 a.m. with an animal emergency. Back at the FFA Wildlife Center, the roots they planted are solid and will continue to grow, thanks to their dedication.

The HSUS is one of the largest and most diverse providers of direct animal care in the country. Our centers in Texas, Florida, California, Oregon, and Massachusetts provide relief and protection for sick, injured, abused, and abandoned animals. Learn more about our animal care centers.

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