From an Associated Press Story and Photo
By Inaldo Perez
Through the bars of his cage, an African lion named Jupiter stretches his giant paws around the neck of Ana Julia Torres, and plants a huge kiss on her lips.
Could this be a kiss of gratitude?
Since Jupiter was rescued six years ago from a life of abuse and malnutrition in a traveling circus, Ana Julia Torres has fed and nursed him back to health at her Villa Lorena shelter for injured and mistreated animals in Columbia.
"Here we have animals that are lame, missing limbs, blind, cross-eyed, and disabled," said Torres, 47, who relies on donations and her own modest teacher's salary to run the shelter in a poor neighborhood in the southern city of Cali.
"They come to us malnourished, wounded, burned, stabbed, and with gunshot wounds."
Torres said her work rehabilitating animals began more than a decade ago when a friend gave her an owl that had been kept as a pet. Later, when she asked her school students to bring their pets to school, she realized that many families illegally kept wild fauna from Colombia's biologically diverse jungles in their homes.
The number of injured and abused animals under her care soon grew, and today Jupiter is among 800 recovering creatures at Villa Lorena - from burned peacocks and limbless flamingos to blind monkeys and mutilated elephants.
Torres said many of the animals were rejected as infants by their parents in the wild or found abandoned on the streets of Cali, a city of 2 million. Many others were rescued from extremely cruel treatment by their owners.
Torres said that of all the animals she has cared for, she is proudest of having rescued Yeyo, a now-deceased spider monkey who had suffered violent, drunken beatings at the hands of an alcoholic owner.
"The monkey would scream every time it was beaten, until one day the police came and found the wall covered in blood," she said.
Two veterinarians saved Yeyo from death, though it lost an eye and its teeth from the abuse. Yeyo remained terrified of most people, cowering in the corner of his cage at the sound of footsteps, she said.
Torres opposes exhibiting animals in circuses, and has therefore, kept her shelter closed to the public.
"We want the animals here to live in peace," Torres said. "All their life they were shown cruelty - this is a paradise where they can finally rest."
Our world truly needs many more compassionate human beings like Ana Julia Torres.