Tippi Hedren (yes, of Hitchcock's The Birds movie star fame) founded a big cat animal rescue sanctuary in 1972, called the Shambala Preserve. I discovered this when doing research for one of my novels. The hero in the novel was a Pro Wrestler known as the Beastmaster, who used a Siberian Tiger as part of his act.
Research is my least favorite thing to do as a writer. However, the tiger was central to the plot, and it had to have a plausible back story. Tippi Hedren personally helped me create that back story. She provides refuge for many exotic wild animals but most notably the big cat species: lions, tigers, leopards, panthers and mixes there of. Yes, Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore. Tigons really do exist.
I wrote Ms. Hedren a letter asking for her help. I included a short synopsis of my book and a one page questionnaire, reasoning that if it only took a few minutes of her time, she might be willing to complete it.
Truly, I believed nothing would come of it. But I had to try because I was in the midst of writing the story and it was turning out to be a great one. My other direct research source, the tiger expert at the Denver Zoo, was providing a general overview of the care and keep of these magnificent animals, but not details about the up-close-and-personal realities of living with them.
Unbelievably, Tippi Hedren called me on the phone, rather than return the questionnaire in the self-addressed, stamped envelope I provided. I was right - she was pressed for time - and she thought it would be quicker if she answered the questions verbally. Who was I to say no?
That's how my half-breed Siberian tiger, Natasha, was born. And I'll let you in on a little secret that might upset my fans. Tasha's the one who is the real beauty in BEAUTY AND THE BEASTMASTER. At the end of the book, my heroine, Amanda Tarkenton, wouldn't have it any other way.
If you'd like to make a donation to help the three hundred or so exotic felines that Tippi Hedren has rescued, please go to: www.shambala.org