BEAR CREEK, Fla. (WMBB) – Nestled just north of Panama City, the Bear Creek Feline Center has been rescuing many different breeds of exotic cats for the last 20 years. The location, chosen by the owners, was known specifically for the great shade provided by large oak trees.
Bertie and Jim Broaddus have run the facility since the start, and say they just loved those oaks. “The cages were built around trees and we didn’t have to do anything but just let those trees cover the whole tops of the cages,” Bertie said. “They had great sunlight.”
Fast forward to October 2018 when Hurricane Michael made landfall and forever changed the Panhandle landscape. The Broaddus’ said they prepared as best they could, and knew they would do anything to keep their cats safe.
“We were here Monday and Tuesday, battening down the hatches, getting our dart guns ready,” Bertie said. “We stayed here with our cats. We did not lose one cat, not one cat died. Now, the cages had some problems but we’ve been working ever since the day after that hurricane.”
They’ve been working on trying to restore the facility to its pre-storm conditions, but sadly, the tree canopy that was so important to the original site selection did not fare well. The family said they lost 15 to 20 trees that day with dozens more damaged on the property, but they needed to save whatever trees they could in order to protect the cats.
“In fact, I wouldn’t let anything be cut down for a long time. I just wanted my stuff,” Bertie said. “And yeah, an arborist came out because we really wanted to save those trees. They’re so natural, it looks good to me. We don’t want these cats in cages, but if you can make it look like the jungle that’s a good thing for the cats.”
They’re still adjusting to a ‘new normal’ after the storm which, for the Broaddus Family, includes new routines for the cats during this summertime heat. Their day starts early, cleaning the cages and making sure the cats have plenty of water.
“They have automatic water, so we run those to make sure the ground gets cool,” Bertie said. “Then we also have where we’ll put water into a tub and let it fill, and then that afternoon or first thing in the morning, because of mosquitoes and bugs, we dump that water and it cools the ground.”
The cats also get to have a little fun with cold treats. Bertie says she likes to make blood pops, which they love to lick.
“We throw bags of ice into [the cages] especially [for] the Siberian Lynx because they love the ice,” Bertie said.
In addition to more air conditioning, fans and treats for the cats, the Broaddus’ have replaced shade cloth along the tops of the cages which can help drop temperatures almost 10 degrees, even in direct sunlight.
“It makes a difference, and we keep ordering more so we can cover the cages as it gets hotter and hotter,” Bertie said.
The repair list for the facility is still long, but they say the refuge is almost back to 100% of its pre-storm conditions. Their spirits are still high though, and the next project is to finish the house.
“We still have to get our house finished,” Bertie said lightheartedly. “And that’s been way down on the list because the cats needed to be in a safe environment, and cool and calm down. They were very upset, not only from the hurricane but those machines that came in to lift trees that the wind blew down on top of cages.”
The Feline Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and the Broaddus’ have always relied on volunteers to help with a lot of the work necessary to run the facility. After the hurricane, volunteers played an even bigger role in getting the place put back together with the Navy and Tyndall Air Force Bases sending in help of their own.
“I do want to thank the Navy and Tyndall Air Force Base. They sent people out here and they were on top of cages putting up shade cloth. I mean really helping us when you know, we just rely on volunteers. I mean, we don’t have the budget for any kind of paid help,” Bertie said.
Ultimately, the Bear Creek Feline Center is dedicated to preserving and protecting the cats. The center currently houses 19 cats from 5 different species, and they say all of the African Servals, Siberian Lynx, Florida Panthers, Jaguarundis and Bobcats were born in captivity.
“These cats have been altered and never were born in the wild,” Bertie said. “They were born in captivity, and they wouldn’t make it [in the wild]. Most of them have been declawed, but we didn’t do it.”
For these big cats, the Feline Center is their forever home, and the Broaddus’ say “It’s all about the cats here.”