Lots of sunshine and plenty to eat for this rescued tiger

The narrow two-lane road turned from asphalt to gravel, miles off the freeway, and we wondered if we were in the right place. There were no streetlights or billboards, only thick forest, sweeping grasses and delicate wildflowers. Then, a tiny sign: EFRC Parking. On the shoulder, please.

We had arrived at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana, about an hour west of Indianapolis. It’s a sanctuary for more than 200 big cats, representing 9 species, and most had been horribly abused or abandoned. They come from all over the country, from bad circuses, bad zoos, tattoo parlors, meth labs and overwhelmed owners. Here they get a second chance to live out their days in peace.

Each cat has a story, and we hear many of them on the hour-long tour. Sinbad is an awkward-gaited black leopard whose earlier bone fractures healed improperly. Achia is a sleek, taupe-colored puma who purrs like a contented housecat. The Munchkins are a pride of 7 lions and tigers who were rescued from a dark basement where they were locked in small cages without food or water, apparently left to die. They weighed between 50 and 80 pounds, less than half of what they should have. They are thriving now, but remain small in stature.

We sped quietly past the tiger Montana. It was dinnertime, and he gets loud and aggressive when interrupted.

Upon their arrival, the felines are given medical care and placed in appropriately sized, natural enclosures. Some enjoy the company of others and some prefer to be alone. A few are too frail or traumatized to be displayed. They also are spayed or neutered, although male lions get vasectomies so they don’t lose their manes. Accidents, however, do happen. One majestic lion, King, was only 14 months old when he was taken from an owner who could no longer afford to feed him. He was also fully declawed. Believed to be too young to father, King was placed with Jasmine, a female lion. The result was a daughter, Lauren, and all three live together.

The center was founded in 1991 with 3 cats and 15 acres. It has since expanded to more than 100 acres and is one of the largest such sanctuaries in the country.

A few travel tips: The center has been created for the comfort of the cats, not necessarily for people. Visitors are warmly welcomed, but amenities are few. The paths are unpaved, and the single restroom is portable. Bring your own water bottle. Also, in the spring and fall you’ll see more because the animals are less hidden by heavy foliage. The cost of admission is $10.

Next time we’ll stay longer. The center has one guest cottage that sleeps two adults (but no children) for $150 a night. We’ll be able to see cats from the front yard, and in the morning the keepers will take us on a private tour to some of the restricted areas. Let’s get going, pussycats!

Exotic Feline Rescue Center: http://www.exoticfelinerescuecenter.org

A 'tweeter' from my front yard

A 'tweeter' from my front yard

I arrived at Tweet Camp Chicago, along with a couple hundred journalists, philanthropists, PR reps, entrepreneurs and one teenager. Some pretty big bylines were among the group. We had heard that Twitter was good for us, but we didn’t know why or how.

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” said photojournalist Karen Kring, one of the camp counselors. I tested her by asking if Twitter is something done on a computer or via telephone, and she was kind. The answer: Both.

Bit by bit, byte by byte, the media mavens took us through the mechanics and vocabulary of a Twitterer. Or, Tweeter. Or, just plain Twit. They showed us how to find people to follow and what we want to say. Or tweet. We got pizza and a commemorative t-shirt.

“Twitter is pointless and boring until you join the conservation,” said Scott Smith, who then was an editor and director of content for Playboy.com.

For sure. And then we saw specific examples:

Kim Mance, co-founder of the travel website http://www.gogalivanting.com said she uses Twitter to get quotes for her stories. She puts out a question and then follows up the responses via email. “It’s easy to get a huge stream and a range of perspectives,” she said. “It’s also easy to verify because you can see what’s in their profiles and who they are and where they have been.”

Alicia Dantico, then the social media director for Garrett Popcorn, spent long hours interacting with customers. Sometimes she surprised them by showing up in their offices with tins of freshly popped treats.

The teenager said he knew someone who was practicing to be on a game show and asked people to lob trivia questions his way.

As the day wore on, tapping noises from keyboards grew louder and louder as the campers became confident and tweeted their first tweets. I did, too. Follow me @pmckuen.