Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Forever Love

In everyone's life time there is someone—whether it be a person or animal—that impacts one’s life so profoundly and in such a way that it could only be described as “forever life changing.”   For Vicky Keahey, the being that made a tremendous impact on her life was a little tiny screaming five week old tiger cub named “Kenya.” 

Kenya was born April 28, 1998 at an exotic-animal menagerie, petting zoo, and wildlife drive-through, located near the Central Texas town of Bastrop (the facility eventually closed in the early 2000s due to its troubling past).   Vicky often checked on the animals living there as she was concerned for their health and welfare.

When Vicky first saw the little tiny cub at three weeks of age, she screamed on the top of her lungs in distress and had begun to lose her hair. For two weeks, Vicky looked for ways to help the small, tiger cub, but to no avail. 

When Vicky laid eyes on a little tiny screaming baby cub described as “ugly” by the wildlife manager a second time two weeks later, she just knew she had to save her—this poor tiger’s health was getting worse, not better.  As Vicky examined the tiny cub, the manager said with disgust in her voice, “No one is going to buy this baby cub because she is so ugly—I don’t know what to do with her.” After looking over the screaming almost hairless cub Vicky responded “I’ll take her—I’ll fix her up.”  So Vicky bought the tiny “ugly” cub from the wildlife facility and proceeded to drive home with her new little charge.

At this time, In-Sync Exotics didn’t even exist and Vicky had no experience with wildlife facilities or sanctuaries.  She just knew, as she drove away from the wildlife facility, that she could do much better at rescuing animals than the place she just left.  It was during the ride home, Vicky seriously considered starting her own wildlife sanctuary—a place where animals like the “little ugly cub” could find solace and healing.

The idea of starting a sanctuary was very appealing, but first, it would need a name—what to call this new sanctuary?  Vicky wanted the sanctuary to be harmonious and safe place for animals in need, but what name could appropriately describe this new sanctuary?  As she was pondering over what to call the new sanctuary, she happened to see a manufacturing warehouse on the left side of the road with the word “InSync” emblazed on the side of the building.  That’s when it hit her – “I’ll call it In-Sync Exotics!  That’s what I want—that sounds like a good name for the new sanctuary!”

Now what to name the cub?  Well, as it turned out, Vicky planned to go to Africa to observe wild cats in their natural environment.  Needless to say, with a very sick baby cub covered in fleas needing constant care, her plans to visit Africa were cancelled. “Kenya” needed her more.  For the next three months, Vicky tended to a cub that was infected with parasites, worms, and suffered from various stomach ailments.  Kenya constantly screamed in discomfort until the medicine finally got rid of the parasites and worms; and she was able to hold food down.  Vicky worked tireless with Kenya to get her to eat her food, often resorting to spoon feeding before the stubborn little girl finally learned to eat and hold food down on her own. 

It wasn’t long before Vicky had a little “shadow” following her wherever she went.  Kenya didn’t like to have Vicky out of her sight for very long as she had built a strong bond with Vicky, and vice versa.  As this little cub grew, Vicky learned very quickly that Kenya loved to play with water.  She was fascinated with the water coming out of the hose—trying to “bite” the water as it shot out of the hose!  Little Kenya was growing up so fast that Vicky new it was almost time for her to live outdoors. 

When Kenya turned seven months old Vicky decided it was time for the little cub to live outside by herself.  So a new enclosure was built and the tigress moved into her new home.  As you can imagine, Kenya, living outside, was hard on both girls.  On the cub’s first overnight, Vicky stayed with her, providing comfort to Kenya until she finally fell asleep.  Eventually, both tiger and human adjusted to their new living arrangements.

It was about that time when Vicky learned Kenya was allergic to concrete!  Her tiny little paw pads would break out in rashes every time she walked on the concrete floor within her enclosure.  After giving it some thought, Vicky decided that Kenya’s floor needed to be covered with thick straw.  So every week five fresh compacted bales of straw were brought in and every week 23 wheelbarrow trips were made removing the spent straw.  It was a lot of hard work, but Vicky saw it as a labor of love. 

Kenya and Vicky were almost inseparable.  All throughout the day and night, Kenya and Vicky “chuffed” to one another.  With Kenya in her enclosure and Vicky on the outside, they played hide and seek, tiger-style. Kenya would chase Vicky, jump in her pool and splash her.  Kenya loved all the toys Vicky provided her.  She would entertain Vicky by playing with her toys. Kenya had a funny way of hugging her tree and turning somersaults when she wanted to show off. Sometimes, Vicky would sing to Kenya or just sit with her, admiring her beauty. At night, Vicky would sit with Kenya while she ate because Kenya hated eating alone.

For the next two years, Vicky established “In-Sync Exotics,” taking in animals needing help from the same wildlife facility where Kenya was born.  Like Kenya,  they too required a safe place to heal and grow.  But the newcomers could not hold a candle to precious Kenya as she held a very special place in Vicky’s heart.  Kenya was growing up so fast into a beautiful 283 pound tigeress.

Tragically, Kenya’s life was cut short.  A few weeks before her third birthday, on February 13, 2001, Kenya passed away on her veterinarian’s surgical table during a routine spay surgery.  

Kenya brightened the lives of all that met her during her short life, and her spirit and legacy live on as the inspiration for In-Sync Exotics.  

As we celebrate her life today, Vicky knows that Kenya is sitting in Heaven with our Lord, watching and guiding the staff and volunteers in the right direction.   Looking back at Kenya’s life, Vicky simply stated, “Everything I do now, I know Kenya is looking down on me—I will always do my best for God and for Kenya.  She was bigger than life -- she was the love of my life."

Beautiful Memories of Kenya

Baby Kenya loved the water!
Young Kenya playing!
Vicky with a yawning Kenya

28-month old Kenya grooming herself

Kenya's stinky face!

Kenya playing with her stuffed tiger toy!

Kenya enjoying a summer breeze

Beautiful Kenya!

On Kenya's Day, we celebrate her life, and the lives of the cats that passed away after her, by releasing mylar and one special teddy bear balloons, just for Kenya, into the sky. 

You'll Be In My Heart
Lyrics: Phil Collins
Come stop your crying
It will be all right
Just take my hand
Hold it tight

I will protect you
from all around you
I will be here
Don't you cry

For one so small,
you seem so strong
My arms will hold you,
keep you safe and warm
This bond between us
can't be broken
I will be here
Don't you cry

'Cause you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more
You'll be in my heart
No matter what they say
You'll be here
in my heart always


  1. Kenya,

    I never knew you personally but I'm glad to know you through your mom's legacy. I'm honored to help her carry it on for you and I will do my best to take care of all the animals like you who need someone to care and love them. Thank-you for changing the lives of some many through your beautiful spirit.

    I love you Kenya.

  2. I wish that I could have known Kenya. She was loved so very much and will always be in the hearts of everyone who was honored to know her.


  3. Thank you, Vicky, for you passion, hard work, and devotion to these amazing animals. My friend is one of your volunteers. She has introduced In-Sync to me, my family, and friends. In memory of Kenya and all the others that have gone on, I know without a doubt, they lived a wonderful life because of your dedication to their welfare. Looking forward to a visit soon.

  4. How bittersweet to have your dad and brother with you. You are all missed terribly but I know heaven must've thundered when you were reunited. Never forgotten- Kshama's momma