Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News
An unusual outbreak of distemper is threatening the lives of about 20 big cats at In-Sync Exotics, a Collin County wild animal rescue.
Some 22 tigers, lions and leopards at a Wylie wildlife rescue organization have come down with canine distemper, an often-fatal disease more common in dogs.
"They're my children. They're my kids,” said the owner of In-Sync Exotics, Vicky Keahey. "What do I like about them? What's not to like? They are God's most magnificent creatures."
She has rescued big cats and given them a comfortable home for 22 years.
But a few weeks ago, she noticed some of them getting sick. She quickly learned it was distemper.
"I just want to go in there and give them a big hug and tell them they are going to be OK,” she said.
While canine distemper is usually associated with dogs, some other animals including tigers can get it too.
"Tigers are strong. They're strong, fierce animals,” Keahey said. “And to have something as stupid as canine distemper get them down like this and take all their strength away, is crazy."
Keahey isn’t sure how the exotic cats got the virus but speculates they may have been infected by raccoons who live in the nearby woods.
Now, every night, more than a dozen volunteers give the sick cats vitamins and medicine to give them the best chance at survival possible.
"Can't lose any of them,” she said. “Not going to lose any of them."
But she knows there may come a time she may have to make a tough choice.
"I'll know,” she said. “God will tell me."
Putting any of the animals down won't be easy, but if the disease progresses, she knows it may be best for them.
"And then instead of crying myself to sleep, I won't sleep at all."