COLUMBIA — A Barbary lion was often the last thing a Roman gladiator saw in the coliseum.But it was the first thing approximately 500 visitors saw at the D & D Farm and Animal Sanctuary’s summer open house on Sunday.
Aslan, a male Barbary lion, is one of dozens of exotic and native animals that call the sanctuary home. His enclosure sits at the entrance, next to where Faith, a baby African lion, romped with Dale Tolentino, who has owned and operated the sanctuary with his wife, Debbie, since 1992.
“I would have liked to have been Noah,” Tolentino said in an interview, referring to the Biblical boat builders “Wouldn’t that have been fun?”
Feeding and maintaining tigers, cougars, pythons, macaws, and the rest of the animals is expensive, and events like Sunday’s open house help the Tolentinos keep the non profit sanctuary running.
“You put every cent that you make into the animals, and you live poor all the time … and that’s fine with us,” Tolentino said. “Our primary goal in life is to give these animals a safe place to live, and we enjoy sharing it with other people."
Sheila Jones, of Columbia, said that helping the sanctuary raise funds was a big reason she and her granddaughters, Sydney and Brooklyn, came to the open house.
“These people do work very hard at taking care of these animals, and they do need help,” Jones said.
Jones has come out to the sanctuary before and has friends who volunteer there. She said the sanctuary is a peaceful place for people as well as animals.
Doug Richey, of Sturgeon, brought his daughter, Aubrey, because she loves animals. Richey said it was good for her to be outside and around the animals.
Leah Shaw had heard about the sanctuary from some friends who volunteered and wanted to come out and support it. She’d love to come out and volunteer herself, but only if her schedule opens up, she said.
The sanctuary depends on volunteers who help with all the manual labor. One of those volunteers, Russell Boyt, called the sanctuary “Columbia’s best kept secret.”
“Where else can you pet a tortoise, a tiger and a lion at the same time?” Boyt said.
Boyt warns would-be volunteers to be ready to work hard and get dirty. At first, you won’t get to play soccer with wolves like Boyt does, but after proving your dedication and ability, maybe you’ll get some one-on-one time with a coatimundi.
D & D Farm and Animal Sanctuary is located at 6000 N. Creasy Spring Road about 15 minutes from downtown Columbia. More information is available on their Facebook page.