On Thanksgiving Day in 2001 a small rosette-covered ball of fur came to Hawk Creek like a wreaking ball. Nothing was safe from this rambunctious Ocelot kitten as she explored her new home. “Laguna” was the result of overcrowding at another facility after many of their enclosures had been destroyed by a hurricane. In need of a forever home, this endangered wild cat was sent to the Center. We never could have imagined the impact that she would have on all of our lives.

Laguna was an extraordinary wild cat ambassador. As one of the only adult Ocelots in the country that not only was usable for education programs, but LOVED her job as an ambassador, she went everywhere. She thrilled children with her antics at schools as she rolled around in her favorite smell, nutmeg. She left people in awe at her beauty at the American Museum of Natural History and she was a diva on the Rachael Ray Show. On local television spots she would catch a glimpse of herself on the video monitor and would “flirt” with the camera and the stunning cat she saw staring back at her. She was so enthralled being in front of a camera or a group of people that she wouldn’t want to walk off stage, until she was ready of course, then she would get up and walk back to her crate like the professional she was.

Every program she starred in she taught people about the plight of small wild cats, the devastation of their habitat loss, and the vital role they play on this Earth. She instilled in them a sense of hope for the future of wild cats, and most importantly, she created a bond between everyone she met and ocelots. The connection people got from meeting this amazing cat upclose cannot be forged through any other form of education, no book or video can create it.

When Laguna wasn’t busy teaching people, she enjoyed going on adventures with her trainers. She was fascinated with water and loved going in the kayak with Loretta and trying to catch fish. She loved going on walks to explore new places. Tanya even took her over to the new Mill Rd. site to let her get a sneak peak at the new Cat Conservation section where she spent an hour playing in the new wild cat habitats and filming what would be her last T.V. appearance. She gave the new habitats two paws up which made staff even more anxious to move the cats to their new homes.

A week later, on Thanksgiving and 14 years to the day after her arrival, Laguna didn’t come out for her breakfast. Tanya found her curled into a ball struggling to breathe. Loretta and Tanya rushed her to Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center. Laguna allowed staff to get x-rays and start an IV as we worked to raise her body temperature. Her chest x-rays showed that her lungs were a mess with the culprit most likely being cancer. While her heart refused to give up, her lungs simply couldn’t sustain her and she went into respiratory arrest. OPVMC staff got her intubated and breathing again but the brain damage was too severe. The impossible decision to say goodbye was made. She was already gone leaving just her physical body surviving on machines, and that was not a life for her. She will never be forgotten and we will continue to fight for ocelots and other wild cats. We miss you everyday Laguna.

View Laguna’s last news appearance, when she was able to explore and play in what would have been her new home at Mill Rd., here.