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How Love Saved the Life of a Dying Lioness

By: Samantha Parker | Published: Nov 29, 2021

Say hello to Sheila, a rescued lioness with beguiling blonde fur whose one-of-a-kind personality now captures the heart of everyone she meets. When the big cat was brought to the facility, her bright coat and fierce demeanor made her the center of attention.

But over time, the rescue team realized that Sheila might not last, given her terrible condition. This is a story about how love saved her life.

Helping Sheila

Following a successful Animal Rights campaign, The Department of Agriculture rescued Sheila in July 2009. Many of the animals they rescue are victims of mistreatment but find a new lease on life in wildlife sanctuaries. They were hoping to see those same results for Sheila.

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A lioness can at least enjoy a few more good years of life following a rescue. But Sheila’s new life seemed like it was coming to a close before it had even begun. She didn’t seem to care about her life anymore, as if she longed for it just to be over.

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Poor Health

Sheila was too weak to do anything other than lie down and breathe. She was malnourished and underweight, all skin and bone. Vets were concerned as they watched over the dying lioness. They saw only one outcome for poor Sheila.

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It wasn’t a question of “‘if” but “when.” Sheila had in her a fading splendor, but there was little anyone could do. She did not deserve this fate. It would have been difficult for anyone to observe this majestic animal’s life gradually slipping away. 

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Exploited Animal

For years, Sheila had been abused, forced to work in the entertainment industry in Texas. Her handler had been vicious to her, seeing her only as a tool for profit. Once Sheila had become too worn down to make any more money, she was discarded.

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It’s not uncommon for beautiful animals like Shiela to be worked down to the nub, then thrown away when the private party and high-profile event money dries up. Sheila suffered for her handler’s gain. As a reward for her years of work, she was left for dead. 

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Close Observation

As a cub, Sheila had been trained to entertain the high society crowd that would cheer at her slightest lithe moments, springy leaps, and fierce little roar. But none of that graceful agility remained following Sheila’s rescue.

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The cat reflexes were gone, and she had lost her coordination. When she moved, her legs shook. Sheila had to be fed by hand. Her head was too heavy for her to lift, even to reach into a bowl of food.

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Stolen Animals

While Sheila’s case was the worst the Department of Agriculture had seen, her story is not unique. It’s estimated that around two million pets are stolen every year. Some are used in cruel puppy mills so their offspring can turn a profit for pet sellers and pet stores across the world.

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Sheila had been in the entertainment business all her life, where she was forced to perform nonstop for the affluent and tortured when she failed to meet expectations. Cruelty is just a part of the show. As long as there’s money in the game, the show must go on.

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Animal Welfare Org

The Department of Agriculture was running out of hope for Sheila’s recovery. They decided to turn her over to the specialists, In-Sync, an exotic wildlife rescuer & education center. They welcomed her with open arms, but from the moment they saw her, they knew the chances of her survival were slim.

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In-Sync was determined not to give up on Sheila, but euthanization was not off the table. They knew that if Sheila was going to recover, she would need the best possible love and care.

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Loss of Appetite

The initial plan was to bombard her with essential vitamins to boost her immune system.  Unfortunately, Sheila wouldn’t even eat. She would just lay there inside her cage and turn her back on her food.

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At one point, her care taker had to reach in and put meatballs directly in her mouth. But her carers persevered, willing her to find her strength again.

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Debilitated State

The possibility of euthanization hovered overhead like a shadow. As she couldn’t even stand on her own, it seemed like the most humane course of action. As Sheila regained some of her weight, they focused on getting her to walk.

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When she tried to take a few steps forward, her legs gave in. Her whole skeleton was riddled with broken joints, and she was clearly in pain. It must have been tough to watch her suffer so much.

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End of the Road

The vets did what they could to restore the lioness to good health, but Sheila’s health worsened over time. One day, she just dropped. She was dead to the world.

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The hand-feeding no longer worked, either. The food they stuffed down her throat just came up minutes later. The vets were convinced that she was untreatable and that her recovery was impossible.

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Mercy Killing

Despite their close care for Sheila, nothing seems to work. Her condition worsened each day. It was frustrating to the vets. They were pressed to make the final decision: to put her out of her misery. 

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An animal so beautiful and innocent deserves to go in peace, at least with dignity. It must have broken the staff members’ hearts in those final days. Maybe it’s what Sheila wanted too.

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A Rare Beauty

What a waste it was to let go of such a beautiful animal, deprived of life’s joys practically from the day she was born, exploited to the point of suicide.

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They must have contemplated the life Sheila could have had in South Africa, where buffalos and impalas, and other beasts run wild. Her life might have been very different. They made one final check, in preparation for her last treatment.

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Last Minute Discovery

The In-Sync vets were tipped off by Sheila’s wobbliness and lack of coordination. They crossed-referenced these symptoms with signs of muscle deterioration and lymph node swelling and came up with a diagnosis.

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They discovered that she had toxoplasmosis. This, along with a Vitamin A deficiency, explained her lackluster color and overall bad health. She had parasites in her bloodstream, which had been denying her an appetite.

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Poor Animal Hygiene

Now that the vets had discovered the root cause of her suffering, Sheila’s doctors scrambled to get her medicated, but time was of the essence. The presence of parasites in her blood was just another reminder of the neglect her previous owner had given her. 

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Her meals must have been exposed to bacteria, served in a dirty environment, perhaps mixed with the waste of other animals. All this time, her immune system had been under attack by microscopic invaders, which were slowly killing her, sucking out her life force. 

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Medical Care

But just because they’d found a solution, the treatment wasn’t going to be an instant fix. Sheila was ever distrustful of humans, not surprising considering her history. Getting her to take medication was a constant challenge.

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They had to strategize on how to get Sheila to take her antibiotics. These antibiotics were essential in helping her to overcome severe bacterial infections. This seemingly-simple task sometimes took an hour to complete. Sheila may have been weak, but she was huge and unyielding in her stubbornness.

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Road to Recovery

Once they took effect, Sheila reacted positively to her new medication, which then became easier to deliver. After a while, she began to get used to her new carers. The glow of her coat gradually reappeared and would occasionally be seen moving around the corners of her enclosure.

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The lioness was looking better each day. The doctors watched her development with pride. The bounce in her steps returned, and her muscle pains slowly disappeared. Sheila became happy and stable, probably for the first time in her life. 

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Quick Recovery

Once she was on the right road, her recovery time exceeded even the highest of expectations. One day she was just finding her footing, the next, she was bouncing around like a rabbit with an extra wiggle on her hips.

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Her coat was shining once again, and her eyes were clear. She glared at her handlers as if boasting about her strength. She was ready to play. The staff of In-Sync Exotics watched with cautious optimism as they continued to feed her food and medicine.

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Take To Each Other

In her darkest hours, while she battled an infected bloodstream and fading eyesight, Sheila could never have imagined herself running free in the wild with her kind. She was simply too sick and dispirited. Life was not worth living.

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The antibiotics killed the bacteria that infected her system, but her spirit still needed repair. As she was moving into the final stages of her recovery, she made a meaningful connection with her neighbor in the next enclosure.

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Finding Her Inspiration

Sheila gradually filled out following her treatments, and eventually, she caught the eye of a certain someone. That certain someone was Kahn, a handsome six-year-old lion who had been rescued four months earlier. He’d also suffered similar traumas. 

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A primal connection was forged between the two as they recovered under the care of the In-Sync staff. The staff dished out pills and medication, but it was Kahn that really pulled Sheila back to her full strength. 

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Similar Backgrounds

In-Sync inadvertently played the role of matchmaker for these two. A bond grew between them that surprised everyone. Even the veterinarians couldn’t believe it, but it’s not that difficult to understand when you think about it. 

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Kahn had suffered a similar fate as his neighbor. He, too, had been mistreated and demeaned in the animal entertainment industry. He was thrust in the spotlight, used, and discarded just like Sheila. Ultimately he was lucky. He was rescued and, by the time he met Sheila, back to good health. 

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Things in Common

Both Kahn and Sheila had been rescued from irresponsible owners. They both came into the facility in bad shape. Perhaps the lion had become a symbol of hope to Sheila, that she could shed troubles just as Kahn had. His presence was all the proof she needed.

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They both found each other at their lowest moments. Both of them had been dragged across the country for profit, for shows and photoshoots. If people can find comfort in each other this way, why not big cats?

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Overburdened Animals

Kahn must have seen the lioness’ scars the day she was brought inside the sanctuary, both physical and mental. Kahn used to be beaten up too. He must have understood her pain and growled a roar of empathy.

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Seeing her must have transported him back to his own harrowing experiences of constant hunger and living under constant attack. Kahn was at least a hundred pounds underweight when he was rescued.

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Stunted Growth

Even as Kahn recovered, there was something visibly wrong with him. His growth had been stunted after being cooped up for such a long time. Not only was his size stunted, but he had been severely malnourished too.

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Kahn survived those horrible conditions, but his health paid the price – both physical and mental. No one else could relate to Kahn quite like Sheila.

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Coping Mechanism

When Kahn wasn’t forced to perform balancing acts, whipped, or sent back and forth across a firing range of camera flashes, he was kept inside a barren cage, barely able to move. There he would defecate and urinate in the same spot as he ate his meals.

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There he would become highly anxious, being unable to exercise or walk around. He developed a habit of gnawing on his tail as a coping mechanism. The tip of his tail was severely scarred and halfway chewed off. 

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Developing Trust

Kahn’s violent past made him difficult to handle during his early days in the facility. He had no friends. As far as he was concerned, all the humans around him were predators, exploiters out to shame and hurt him for reasons beyond his comprehension.

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It goes without saying that Kahn was aggressive. Interaction was difficult and dangerous. His carers felt under threat even when they approached to deliver his food. Their main challenge was to convince the lion to trust them. It took time, but he eventually began to accept them. 

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Settled in a New Environment

After a while, Kahn realized that the staff at the facility had only good intentions. The old suspicions he had developed from his life on the road gradually gave way to trust. He had become clean, comfortable, and well-fed.

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His health problems had cleared up. He struggled to take all this in at first. He was in a new world of care and love, antithetical to the one he grew up in. Kahn had found a new home at last.

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New-Found Friendship

Kahn gained the confidence to explore this new world, full of better-natured humans. The staff built a staircase so that he could go up in his den if he pleased, where he would seek shelter if the weather wasn’t to his liking, or to sleep or play.

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From there, he observed the facility’s other inhabitants. Some of them were in their own enclosures playing, others were still in recovery. It was from that perch that he first saw Sheila. He immediately empathized with her, and a new friendship was formed.

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Effects and Reactions to Trauma

At certain times of day, Kahn and Sheila would walk beside each other like perfectly social creatures with only a fence separating them. They got to know each other as they walked about, learning each other’s traits.

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Their friendship was initially built on sharing the same hardships, and although they both had different reactions, in the safety of the sanctuary, they bonded over the shared experience.

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Shared Space

The In-Sync staff was amazed by what they saw. This was a treatment that went beyond what antibiotics or other medications could offer. They realized that something special was at play between Kahn and Sheila. Khan had truly brought Sheila back to the land of the living.

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As their friendship grew day by day, the staff decided that it was time for the pair to take their relationship to the next level. They gave them their own space in a newly constructed enclosure.

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The Sweet Couple

From the beginning, Kahn has been an essential part of her recovery. First from a distance, then up close, and finally intimately. Their friendship developed into something more as the days wore on. A quick glimpse into their enclosure would reveal playful activities and, sometimes, kisses.

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Their bodies, chemically charged, exuded pheromones to attract and to give encouragement. Their pain had broken at last. After all the fear and suffering of their past lives, love made it all bearable. 

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Birth Control

In the small community where Kahn the lion and Sheila the lioness now belonged, their success story became a symbol of all the sanctuary hoped to achieve: a desire for love to win out over fear.

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Now that they were sharing space, the vets made sure the lioness was spayed in order to avoid unplanned breeding. As cute as cubs would have been, they could not afford happy accidents, as the cubs would not survive in the wild, like their parents.

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The Big Day

After ninety days of dating, the carers at In-Sync Exotics finally decided to let them have their own little “marriage” ceremony. 

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They were given their own enclosure on a permanent basis. Their handlers noticed, much to their delight, how Kahn politely let Sheila be the boss in their relationship.

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The Newlyweds

For the first time in their lives, they were happy and healthy. They spent their days playing and snoozing on one another. Kahn was in every way a gentleman to Sheila, an ideal partner who didn’t mind giving her a certain degree of control.

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Kahn didn’t like other lions ogling at his blonde wife, and she didn’t mind her husband being jealous. Just look at her with her feet up! What a beautiful, relaxed couple.

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Kahn’s Possessiveness

Sheila was robbed of her cubhood and thrown into forced labor as soon as she was born. Sheila would sometimes become engrossed in her playtime, amusing herself with cardboard boxes like a baby. She’d never experienced this before, learning for the first time how it feels to be free. 

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Other lions would watch as she tossed her box around. Kahn didn’t like this. He would roar at them to scare them off. This must have been music to Sheila’s ears, knowing she was taken care of and loved like never before.

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Fate of Abusive Owners

Owning exotic animals is a controversial matter. But there is no doubt that cruelty and abuse are involved, of the same kind that Kahn and Sheila suffered. Their previous owners were banned from the ownership and management of wild animals or domesticated pets for life. Of course, others are still out there.

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But thanks to animal rights activists, these abusers were slapped with legal penalties. Depending on the court’s judgment, they may also be given mandatory prison sentences. It’s safe to say that they won’t be showcasing wild animals again.

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Happy Ever After

Sheila the lioness should have died given her suffering.  It was the cruelty of humanity that put her at death’s door and the kindness of humanity that saved her. However, above all else, it was love that brought joy back into her life.

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She miraculously lived on another day. Now she’s better than she’s ever been. If their story tells us anything, it’s that life can be so beautiful, even after prolonged suffering and pain. With a little time and love, we can still be whole again. 

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