By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Leah and Bobby Aufill are saying goodbye to a dear friend of seven years — their cougar Elvis.
The 13-year-old female cougar died of pancreatic cancer last weekend. It was one of three cougars the Aufills care for at their Perkins home and big cat sanctuary. They also own a Canadian Lynx and a bobcat.
Leah Aufill said after learning the cat was gravely ill, they had only 24 hours before she died. Similar to humans, pancreatic cancer in big cats is often too late to treat once it is advanced enough to be diagnosed.
“Elvis had a lot of passion,” Leah Aufill said, adding that she would miss the cat’s loud, motoring purr.
Although they have a lot of sorrow and grief at losing their longtime pet, the Aufills plan to preserve Elvis’ body to use for education in the community and at area schools. Leah Aufill said there is a lot of fear and misunderstanding surrounding large predators like cougars.
“We would like the public to understand the importance and role of predators and how special they are,” Leah Aufill said.
The Aufills took Elvis into their sanctuary after her previous owner had nearly starved her to death and the state confiscated her. After being nursed back to health by a rehab facility in Shawnee, Elvis came to the Aufills.
The cougars live in a massive domed and double fenced habitat that dominates the Aufill’s backyard with catwalks, platforms and trees for leaping. Over time, Elvis became a mother figure to Zinnia and Simba — two other cougars the Aufill’s care for.
Leah Aufill said Zinnia has been making a lot of noise since Elvis’ death.
She said she fondly remembers how Elvis would jump and hug a tree inside the sanctuary to reach hidden treats.
“We know for seven years she got to eat really healthy, got lots of affection and had a great space,” Leah Aufill said.