“If God gives you something on this earth, it’s up to you to be responsible for it.”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1995:

SHARON, Wisconsin––The JES Exotics
Sanctuary isn’t a member of the Association of Sanctuaries,
Jill Shumak explains, because after attending one TAOS
meeting as a guest, Jill and her husband E.J. were “not con-
vinced that it had anything to offer us.”
Explains E.J., “They were coming on like another
regulatory body, and we already have regulators up to here,
with the state, county, local, and federal. Any time you
have a sanctuary, you have everybody looking over your
The Shumaks had no objection to the TAOS
accreditation requirements, but they weren’t interested in any
more red tape. They would have been interested, E.J. says,
if TAOS had appeared as if it would develop the clout for
membership and accreditation to be meaningful in reducing
governmental hassles.

“As it is,” he continues, “the regulatory bodies
permit the breeders to keep producing these animals to where
they’re a problem, and then they don’t do anything about the
problem, but if you’re running a shelter or sanctuary and try-
ing to do something about it yourself, they treat you like
you’re the problem.”
E.J. admits he and Jill set out to breed pumas them-
selves, out of ignorance, when they acquired their first pair
in 1973. “Thank God we didn’t,” he goes on. “We thought
there was a need to breed the pumas because they were
endangered, although officially they’re still not endangered
because people want to hunt them. Incredibly,” he adds,
“we were stupid enough to think that exotics were all well
cared for. We of course soon found out that these animals
are bred without regard to their health and without concern
for how they will be used.”
Already involved in animal rescue, as volunteers
with the Hooved Animal Humane Society, the Shumaks
dropped their idea of breeding soon enough that no exotic
animals have ever been conceived at JES––although they
have rescued animals with litters. “Everyone is neutered or
spayed,” Jill assures. “The male African lions have vasec-
tomies, to avoid upsetting their hormonal balance.”
“We soon started getting misfits,” E.J. continues.
“We would hear of a leopard being put to sleep because she
was too old to breed, or a lion being sold to a canned hunt,
or a tiger being beaten and abused.”
“Never in a million years would I have thought that
the abuse we saw on horses would extend into exotics,” adds
Jill. Her awakening came when they acquired Samantha, a
panther who had been “disciplined” repeatedly with a base-
ball bat. Next came a couple of tigers. They now have 30
big cats, including an 1,100-pound “liger,” a lion/tiger
hybrid; three black bears; and about 120 other animals,
including monkeys, foxes, peacocks, and coatimundis.
“When an animal comes to us,” E.J. states, “he
stays here for the rest of his life, and is then buried, whole
and with respect, here on the farm. If God gives you some-
thing on this earth, it’s up to you to be responsible for it.”
At first, JES Exotics was maintained entirely by
Jill and the Shumak sons, financed out of E.J.’s salary as a
police officer. When E.J. retired, however, in 1989, they
incorporated nonprofit and began to seek donations, includ-
ing carcasses of dead livestock brought by nearby farmers.
Many of the animals are sponsored by contributors who
pledge to send a specified amount of money each month for
their support. But many animals are not sponsored.
Although JES Exotics operates on an annual budget
of as little as $35,000, paying no salaries, “We’re always in
the red,” Jill admits. Yet they share food donations with as
many as 15 other Chicago-area shelters and sanctuaries.
The Shumaks host visitors every other Sunday
afternoon, or by appointment. Though holding a USDA
exhibitor’s license, to cover limited use of their animals in
off-site educational programs, they do not charge admission.
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