Sandy came to CCF in 2000. She was orphaned at a young age (3 months of age) and grew up with two other orphans, Blondie and Dusty. These three beautiful cheetah cubs were the heart and soul of CCF for many years. They ran regularly and Sandy was always the fastest of all her adopted sisters. Over the past couple years, we lost all three of them one by one. Sandy left us just last week; she was the last of the three.
Sandy had an amazing impact on the people who knew her. In the last month of her life I spent every day with her. I helped ease the pain of her renal failure in the final days and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be with her and say goodbye. One of our cheetah keepers Kate, who recently left CCF to finish an advanced degree, spent a lot of time with Sandy in her last few years of her life and when she heard that Sandy had passed she asked for the opportunity to share her feelings.
As Kate so honestly shared with me: loving an animal is so different from loving a person. But loving a wild animal is another thing altogether. They are their own entity, they don’t need you like a dog would, they are independence embodied. A relationship with a wild animal is one that very few are lucky enough to experience. When they let you into their life, when you can begin to see their personality, it is like nothing else. Being let into a wild animal’s life, it’s something that you can never force. Without any verbal communication, they let you in of their own accord, and that’s where the beauty lies. To gain a wild animal’s trust… there is truly nothing like it. I don’t quite know what it was about Sandy that I was so drawn to, but I do know she had my heart from the moment I saw her.
I think much of my love for her came from witnessing her loyalty to Blondie, her late enclosure-mate. Although they were not sisters, they grew up together from young cubs, but it was so obvious to anyone who saw the two of them and their other ‘sister’ Dusty, that there was an unspoken and deep bond that had maintained over their entire lives. Their loyalty to each other was so obvious in their old age. Sandy, outlived her two ‘sisters’. When Blondie’s health turned, Sandy never left her side as she succumbed to renal failure, the final disease that so many cheetahs succumb to. Sandy was a calming presence, always purring next to Blondie. Sandy embodied the importance of animal friendship, and this Kate and all of us will always remember.
When Blondie was gone, Kate remembers being really worried about Sandy: I watched her walking in her pen alone when Blondie passed. We can learn so much from animals, and we all learned so much from Sandy. Life went on. There was a week without a purr, and then she seemed to enjoy life as she always had. She would sit slightly removed from the other cats in their large enclosure, staring into the distance and purring to herself, seemingly for no reason in particular. Sandy seemed to quietly enjoy the aspects of her life; a nice piece of meat in the shade, her daily run, lopsided and goofy, but always enthusiastic, watching the neighboring cheetahs chase the lure, and of course, snuggling into her pile of hay under her favorite tree.
Kate only knew her for a few years during her golden years, but Kate has said this for all of us as we feel so lucky to have spent the time that we all did with her. Kate’s final words were directly to Sandy: there was not one time I saw you that I did not smile, and while you patiently tolerated all my singing to you of ‘Sandy-themed’ songs, you taught me so much, and brought me, and so many others, so much happiness. Even though I no longer see you every day, you’re everywhere; everyone in my life knows your name, your face looks up at me from my desk while I’m working, your picture is always close by. Even though you’re gone, you continue to make me smile every day. I learned so much from you, and can honestly say that my life has changed for the better because of you. I loved all the cheetahs, but maybe now that you’re gone Sandy, I can finally admit that you were always my favorite, and you always will be.
Sandy, was a very special cheetah. She touched a lot of lives in her 17 years at CCF, and she never even knew it. When she left the world, she took a little of its brightness with her but she has finally been reunited with Blondie and Dusty. Sandy will live on in our memories here at CCF and in the memories of all those who met her. We will miss you, beautiful girl.