COPLEY, Ohio — There is something wild tucked away in a small Akron suburb.
L&L Exotic Animal Farm Refuge and Rescue in Copley, Ohio, started about 23 years ago when Lorenza Pearson purchased his first bear cub.
He says he was just a crazy kid with a dream — a dream of one day becoming an animal trainer. While living in Alabama, Lorenza visited a snake ranch almost daily, until they handed him a broom and gave him a job.
Lorenza tells a story of following a van down the highway shortly after moving to Ohio, watching what he thought to be a large dog looking at him through the back window. At a stop light, he realized it wasn’t a dog at all — it was a bear.
“I followed that van forever until he finally stopped. I told him I wanted to buy the cub,” Lorenza said. “I don’t think he believed me at first. I took the last $500 I had in the world and bought that cub.”
The cub, Rachel, was soon paired with a lion cub called Caesar. This was the start of something big. Something bigger than Lorenza was ready for. The cubs grew rapidly, as did his food and vet bills.
Today, Lorenza tries to educate people on the responsibilities that come with owning large exotic animals. He admits he had no idea what he was getting into when he started. He didn’t know the dangers of owning and interacting with exotic animals.
“Back then, there were no regulations. You could have these animals anywhere you wanted,” Lorenza said. “You think by raising an animal from birth that that animal will never turn on you or hurt someone. I learned the hard way.”
About 20 years ago, Lorenza’s 2-year-old son was killed by one of his large cats.
“That’s in the past, and I’ve dealt with my demons, but that’s why it is so important for me to teach people about these animals,” said Lorenza. “Kids and big cats don’t mix. You can’t have these animals in your house. A lion is not a puppy. You can’t put one of these animals on a leash and walk down the street.
“These animals can be unpredictable. They’re large and strong and you shouldn’t get one unless you know what you are doing,” said Lorenza.
Lorenza would like to see stricter exotic animal ownership laws. He is licensed by USDA, U.S. Department of Interior, and the Ohio Division of Wildlife. He is inspected about every six months for the health of animals, the safety of the cages, proper fencing, etc.
There are also regulations exhibitors must follow as to the size of transportation and display cages. Lorenza’s veterinarian also fills out a yearly report.
Most of his animals have been part of his rescue mission, although some are retired from a zoo or from Hollywood. He says many people buy the animals as babies and then can’t care for them once they’re grown. Most times, the animals are worth more dead than alive.
“Too many of these animals end up at the taxidermist. There’s no money in selling the animals, so if people don’t want to take care of them, they have them put down and sell their coat or have them mounted,” said Lorenza. “I get calls from all over the country wanting me to take their unwanted animals.”
Lorenza currently has 43 big cats, including cougars, tigers, lions, leopards, lynx, bobcats, and jaguars; 14 bears; an alligator; a badger; and a fox.
“These animals are a lot of hard work. They take a lot of care,” said Lorenza. “Anyone who thinks he is going to get into this for money is out of his mind.”
The animals earn their keep through exhibits at fairs, schools, flea markets and festivals. L&L is not open to the public at this time, so it relies on its traveling education exhibit. On occasion, Lorenza sells cubs to area zoos and other licensed owners to help support the refuge and procreate certain species.
He relies heavily on donated materials. L&L Exotic Animal Farm is always looking for donations and volunteers to make more rescues possible. It is always in need of building supplies and cleaning supplies. Volunteers are needed for feeding, cleaning, building and working exhibits.
He offers a livestock removal service to area farmers.
“I almost never have to buy meat. A farmer would rather call me to come pick up the animal rather than pay to have it hauled away,” said Lorenza.
He usually feeds the carnivores the equivalent of two cows a day. Each animal gets about a five-gallon bucket of meat. He supplements their diet with vitamins and dry dog food.
“The moral of the story is don’t get an animal like this unless you know what you are getting yourself into. Look out for the welfare of yourself, others and the animal,” said Lorenza. “I do this because I love animals. I love helping these animals, and I love teaching other people about these animals.
For more information on L&L Exotic Animal Farm visit the Web site at members.nbci.com/Cybersherrie/page5.html. To volunteer or to schedule an exhibit, e-mail Exotic-Animal-Refuge@Juno.com, or call 330-745-1786.