SANDSTONE (WCCO) — The cats at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn. got a special treat when they met one of their strongest champions.

Though most know Tippi Hedren for her work in Hitchcock films and being mom to actress Melanie Griffith and mother-in-law to actor Antonio Banderas, those who love exotic cats know her best for her groundbreaking rescue work she started over 30 years ago.

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As founder of Shambala Preserve and the ROAR Foundation and president of the American Sanctuary Association (ASA), Hedren has spent a great deal of her life lobbying hard on behalf of wild cats and legislation to protect them. She might be tiny physically, but she’s a mighty warrior for big cats.

Born in Minnesota, she has deep ties to The Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS). Tammy Thies, executive director of TWS, was originally inspired and guided by Hedren to create a sanctuary in the Midwest for abandoned and abused wild cats. Hedren and Tammy served together as fellow board members of the ASA and Hedren continues to be her mentor.

“It was great to have her there and to share the work that we are doing. We have 113 residents so we walked around the sanctuary and hear the lions roar, and it was a great Minnesota sunny day,” Theis said.

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WCCO’s Susie Jones Interviews Theis

Hedren was able to spend the day at TWS thanks to her “Road to Hollywood” classic film tour’s stop in Minneapolis.

“I am amazed and proud to see how the Sanctuary has grown and all that’s been developed since my last visit, especially considering the small budget TWS operates with, compared to much larger organizations,” said Hedren.

Hedren and Thies will see each other again when they testify in Washington to push for passage of the recently introduced federal legislation, HR 4122 Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act. The law will ensure lions, tiger and other dangerous big cats do not threaten public safety or end up living in horrible conditions, leaving them the victims of cruelty and abuse.

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Both ladies hope that, if this bill passes, the endless calls for rescue will begin to diminish – something, obviously, the big cats hope will happen, too.