NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - An online petition on Change.org now has more than 30,000 signatures asking for the release of the Peninsula SPCA's black leopard, Shadow.
Now 17, Shadow has lived at the SPCA since he was only 10 weeks old.
Virginia Beach resident Laura Hill started the petition about two weeks ago after reaching out to the SPCA about her concerns and contacting the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. She says the sanctuary is willing to cover all costs and transportation, but the SPCA will not budge.
"It's not possible to meet the needs of a large carnivore in a tiny cage on a concrete floor in the back of a petting zoo," says Hill. "He's never been able to be a leopard, and I just thought that was heartbreaking."
Peninsula SPCA Executive Director, Ellen Thacker, says the petition has sparked phone calls and e-mails from all over the world, including many that are threatening. She says they now heightened security and called on Newport News Police to make additional patrols.
Thacker says many do not understand that the situation does not have to do what is the best place for a leopard, but what is the best place for Shadow, in what may be the final few years of his life. She says it is something they have discussed with different veterinarians over the years.
"They felt that for the time that he has left in his life it would be better for him to stay here with his familiar surroundings," she says. "That it would be traumatic for him to be pulled away from his home."
The recommendation led to a Board of Directors' vote at their most recent meeting, and they decided to keep Shadow right where he is. The SPCA made an announcement on their Facebook page on Wednesday, and went into detail about the reasoning behind their decision.
Thacker says she hopes the community will understand.
However, Hill says she is hoping the more than 30,000 voices are heard as well.
"it's not too late to do the right thing," she says. "So, I still have hope."