Two North Texas girls who saw an NBC 5 story about big cats that have contracted a potentially fatal disease are raising money to help the wildlife rescue caring for them.
Miriam and Mira Shams-Rainey are reading to raise money for the 22 tigers, lions and leopards at In-Sync Exotics that have been sickened by canine distemper.
"We found out that the cats got sick so we decided to do something to help," 12-year-old Miriam Shams-Rainey said.
The girls have raised more than $600 so far..
"I am really surprised people care that much about it to donate that much money," Miriam said.
"It is amazing, and it has only been a few weeks," 9-year-old Mira Shams-Rainey said. "We can make thousands like this."
While canine distemper is usually associated with dogs, other animals, including tigers, can contract it, too.
In-Sync spokeswoman Lisa Williams said the Wylie wildlife rescue thinks a lion or tiger may have contracted the virus from a raccoon because it is not common in big cats.
The big cats with the virus need about the double their usual care time at night. Every night, volunteers give the sick cats vitamins and medicine to give them the best possible chance at survival.
But during this extremely difficult time, the girls' efforts bring a smile to the caretakers' faces.
"You just know they are going to grow up to be people who are nice to animals, and that is really nice to see," Williams said.
In-Sync Exotics is a nonprofit wildlife rescue that cares for big cats -- including lions, tigers, cougars and leopards -- that have been abused or abandoned.
Its founder, Vicky Keahey, rescued her first cougar in 1991. She added tigers in 1998 and established a nonprofit by 2000.
"This is my life's heart," she told NBC 5 in an interview in 2012.
She said her animals arrive after being rescued from breeding operations or even from drug dealers who use the animals for protection.
Keahey said she is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has a permit from Collin County and is registered with the state of Texas. She is also accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the Animal Sanctuaries Association.
In-Sync Exotics has several fundraisers through the year to pay for the animals' care.