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NC rescue’s big cats have an ‘Obsession’ with these designer fragrances

A tiger at the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina enjoys a specially scented pumpkin.
A tiger at the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina enjoys a specially scented pumpkin. Carolina Tiger Rescue

Cats have discerning palates, and sometimes catnip just isn’t enough.

Sometimes, only the best will do. For big cats such as tigers, it’s Calvin Klein’s “Obsession” fragrance. It’s like an upscale catnip to the giant felines.

The nonprofit Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina uses different scents as part of enrichment for the colossal kitties it cares for, but the idea isn’t new.

Big cats like musky scents, said Michelle Meyers, spokeswoman for the rescue, and musk makes its way into many fancy perfumes and colognes. Staff at the Bronx Zoo discovered that Calvin Klein’s “Obsession” scent works particularly well with tigers in the early 2000s, Meyers said.

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A tiger at the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina and a collection of specially scented pumpkins. Carolina Tiger Rescue

Obsession, which debuted in 1985, has notes of orange, bergamot, vanilla, jasmine, musk and more and is “often referred to as ‘the 80s in a bottle,’” according to its product description. Some have even considered using the scent to lure animals considered dangerous to humans.

“The musky scents come from extracts in mammals (sorry, ew!) and that’s likely why the animals like them a lot,” Meyers told The News & Observer on Thursday.

Meyers said the Bronx Zoo tried “hundreds of scents to see what would attract wild big cats best.”

For the big cats at the Carolina Tiger Rescue, tastes vary.

Tigers favor “Obsession,” but the ocelots like Axe body spray.

And Anthony the leopard’s favorite scent? Lemon.

In the fall, the rescue sprays the cats’ favorite scents on painted pumpkins, and stuffs the feline-friendly jack o’ lanterns with raw meat.

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A lioness at the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina enjoys a pumpkin carefully scented just for her. Carolina Tiger Rescue

“We leave these in the enclosures for the animals to explore, pounce on, rub on,” Meyers said. “It’s really quite cute to watch them play like housecats would with catnip. They are in absolute heaven.”

Musky scents are usually the favorite, and most of the cats don’t like fruity scents. Anthony being the exception, of course.

“Each animal and species is a bit different in their preferences,” Meyers said. “The animals will cheek-rub, roll and bask for about 15 minutes or so. When we spray an item or the grass, the big cats will catch a whiff and come bounding over. Usually, they drool adorably and rub all over the scent with their faces and roll around in excitement.”

The rescue uses the scents as enrichment for the cats, which allows them “to demonstrate their species-typical behavior, stimulates the senses and enhances their well-being,” Meyes said. “It’s just as essential to animal welfare as proper nutrition and veterinary care.

“You could say enrichment for a human toddler would be finger-painting, noodle art or duck duck goose, if that helps - keeps them active and prevents boredom,” she said.

People can send the rescue clean, uncarved and unpainted pumpkins to donate to the animals through November.

For more information on the rescue or to donate, go to carolinatigerrescue.org.

Three tigers and a lion at Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro got free dental surgery — root canals and extractions — free of charge from the Peter Emily Veterinary Dental Foundation. The big cats had broken and worn teeth.

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