Big cat sanctuary started in Rockwell

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 16, 2011

By James Carli II
For the Salisbury Post
On a small road between Rockwell and China Grove lies a big cat rescue named Suzie’s Pride.
Abutting the property on which stands the more well-known Tiger World, Suzie’s Pride is a nonprofit started by former Freightliner employees Bill and Char Cook.
In 1998, the Cooks were approached by a friend about keeping a lion named Suzie in their sanctuary. From that point forward Suzie’s Pride has developed into a no-kill, no-breed facility for unwanted, abused, and neglected big cats from private owners, commercial entities, zoos and other sanctuaries.
Presently, Suzie’s Pride is home to five lions and one tiger, all female. Bill Cook explained the couple has plans for more cats, as he is certain the need will arise.
“Until we control the breeding, stop cub photos from making millions — where people keep a cat until they reach 50 pounds, then dump them — there will be an exploitation problem,” he said.
And while they only have lions and tigers now, the Cooks are anticipating a future to include more energetic cats like mountain lions.
Big cat rescue is no small feat, and until February of 2010, the Cooks were shouldering the entire costs of food, maintenance and veterinary care themselves. However after getting laid off, the couple is turning to the public, and said attention is something they will have to get used to, even though they would prefer to maintain a low profile.
The sanctuary is not generally open to the public like a zoo. However they do have events often that serve as fundraisers. Information about these events, and about the cats and the organization itself, is available on the rescue’s website,
Along with the costs of food, which neighboring Tiger World helps with, and veterinary care, there are strict rules and regulations about keeping “exotics.” Within three months, the rescue achieved nonprofit status, and according to the Cooks, Suzie’s Pride complies with all county laws and has a Class C USDA license.
The facility is inspected at least once a year, and Char Cook invites anyone who suspects anything is wrong at the sanctuary to call Rowan County Animal Control.
“Because it’s Joe Public who keeps us on our toes,” she said.
The couple also pointed out that they have had no complaints or issues with the public, and that they are very grateful to Rowan County for all the assistance it has provided.
What inspires the couple to keep going at such a demanding endeavor?
“I’m not going to turn away a big cat, stand by, and let it get put down,” Bill Cook said.
Suzie’s Pride is located on Cook Road in Rockwell.