Temple of Isis
The “Isis Oasis” is an Egyptian-themed neopagan temple/spiritual retreat which houses a pseudo-“sanctuary” that is home to (as of 2015) 1 bobcat, 3 ocelots, and 3 servals. The cats live in small, concrete and chain-link enclosures with little to no enrichment, and while I couldn’t find any confirmation, some people believe that they’ve been declawed. Guests at the retreat can sometimes enter the enclosures and pet the cats.
The facility was founded by San Francisco artist Loreon Vigné, who had been breeding ocelots for the pet trade since the 1960s (they were a fad pet among the wealthy and eccentric during that decade). Like many private breeders, she believed that her 7th-generation captive ocelots were “domesticated” and that private ownership was “the only way to ensure their continued survival.” in 1978, after San Francisco banned the ownership of exotic cats within city limits, Vigné moved to Geyserville and built the retreat, including enclosures for her cats and other exotic animals.
Vigné, who is described here as having an “ocelot skin padding the grip of her walking stick”, used her newly-created “sanctuary” as a cover to continue selling ocelots to private zoos even after the Endangered Species Act banned the trade. Under the ESA, it became illegal to sell an ocelot in the United States, but there was no law against “donating” them or receiving them as “gifts.” So, Vigné and her new nonprofit organization, the “Isis Society for Inspirational Studies”, simply forged paperwork and sold ocelots to other owners in exchange for thousands of dollars in “donations,” being careful to cover up the transactions.
Of course, as soon as the two years of probation were up, Vigné applied for a new license under a new name (the current! license # is 93-C-1014), and the breeding started up again. This time, instead of breeding purebred ocelots, she started haphazardly crossbreeding different wild and domestic cat species at the Oasis in an attempt to create “new breeds.” One visitor to the Oasis in 2007 got to see how these kittens were created and posted a lengthy Yelp review, excerpted here:
“Here, she indiscriminately breeds the cats, inter and intra species, spends very little time with them herself, allowing a bunch of socially awkward, ill-educated minions to tend to their various needs. The cats are well kept as far as I could tell, they are adored by their care-takers, but she isn’t doing this to perpetuate the cats…. she does it, well, because that’s what she does; it’s frankly thoughtless and she has a license and no [one] apparently checks up. The breeding is done very indiscriminately (by her own admission), and there is little done to preserve the breed(s). She does have bobcats, ocecats, African wild cats… but they’re often thrown together to breed without much thought as what the outcome might be. It’s like her little thoughtless experiment. We bore witness to a lovely scene of wild cat mating, which entailed one female cowering while the male mounted her and bit her until she bled while the other female screeched, fled and hid. I suppose that’s the way it goes, but I’d query: what happens to all those KITTENS???
We got to mingle with the cats, guided by under-educated, socially hapless, and obviously star-struck young woman who should have been overseen by someone knowledgeable.”
Although many of Vigne’s hybrid kittens were stillborn, she managed to create and sell a “bobolot” (Ocelot x Bobcat hybrid), as well as something she called the “Isis Cat”, which came from a jungle cat/domestic/serval hybrid mother and a purebred Serval father. In 2011, Vigne wrote in a newsletter:
“I have created in our cat compound one amazing cat. She is a hybrid, half serval and half chausie , or jungle cat with a small amount of domestic. She bred with a serval cat and had one baby over 5 years ago, and then never had a live cub again. That cat I call Miracle since no other cat is quite like her in the world. I call this hybrid the Isis Cat and was somehow guided by the Goddess to create such a cat. Her mother had other litters both before and after her. I was giving up of ever having any more Isis Cats and believed Miracle would be the only Isis Cat that ever was. Miracle lives in my house and can go out in an enclosure outside my living room at will. She is the most intelligent and beautiful animal anyone could wish to live with. So one day I prayed at my altar to have another baby born that may live. Sure enough the next day, my animal care person called me as I was out to lunch with some friends and said Mirage, Miracles mom, had given birth but was not caring for the kittens. I quickly left my friends and rushed home. Three babies had been born but only one lived and is now 1 month old. He is a darling boy and I call him Magic. I am hoping to get this species approved by the Cat Fanciers, and begin a new species of cat called the Isis Cat making the name of Isis ever more known.”
Vigne passed away in 2014, and I’m uncertain whether or not the breeding business died with her. There are definitely fewer animals there now then there were 10 years ago, but the Oasis website still boasts about their “captive breeding program”, and it’s certainly possible that they’re still, at the very least, allowing their animals to reproduce “naturally”. One Yelp reviewer who visited in 2015 still felt uneasy about the “sanctuary”:
“They have a truck/van that says something like, Donate Money to Us, We Save Ocelots and we have 501c3 status. But they did not rescue these ocelots. They bought or even bred these ocelots and other exotic big cats like Servals. It’s true, the founder used to BREED exotic big cats in San Francisco. They didn’t save them. They brought them into the world to live in a cage! The cats sit all day in these depressing pens with dirt floors and cobwebby covered chain link fences with very little stimulation. And based on the way the cats are walking (gingerly and with a painful limpy gate) it really looks like they’ve been declawed.”
The temple has spent a lot of money to upgrade other areas of the retreat, but the cat enclosures seem to be a second thought.
As a smaller facility, it seems as though Isis Oasis is falling through the cracks. They’re only inspected about once a year, and even when deficiencies are found (last years’ inspection found deteriorating enclosures), there are no follow-up visits done to ensure that they follow! through. Complaints from the public do a lot to put a facility back on the radar, so inspections (and citations) can and do happen as a response to these reports. When filling out the form, be sure to put the licensee name as “Temple of Isis” and the registration number as “93-C-1014”. They are located in the town of Geyserville.