SARASOTA -- Someone sticking his arm in a lion's mouth isn't what most people picture when they think of charity, but the Big Cat Habitat got creative.
"Handsome" is a lion most famous recently for his scene in "Wolf of Wall Street," where he briefly struts through an office building. Clayton Rosaire, Handsome's teacher, kept an eye on him in the background for that mov
ie, but stood front and center with Handsome to tape a public service announcement Wednesday morning.
The PSA drew attention to a June 21 event at Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota -- a fundraiser for the All Faiths Food Bank's Campaign Against Summer Hunger called "Jam Out Hunger." It will feature live music from noon to 5 p.m. and free admission to anyone who donates to the cause. During taping, Handsome swatted at Rosaire playfully with his massive paws and let Rosaire put his hands in his mouth and on his teeth.
"It's always an experience. I mean he's a wild animal, and we always have to be prepared being animal handlers because there's always different situations or different things that can come up, or they could just be really playful that day," Rosaire said. "We'll watch them ahead of time to see how they're acting. We use toys and different things to interact with them so that they're not jumping on us, they're jumping on a ball instead."
The way Rosaire interacted with Handsome was similar to how most people treat their pet dogs -- only Handsome is much larger and more dangerous. Rosaire would tease the lion, tell him to jump up on a stool, command him to sit and feed him treats.
Handsome is 6 years old and has been with Rosaire for about five years. Rosaire said going on the "Wolf of Wall Street" set was definitely one of his favorite experiences with Handsome.
"We had to go through a small elevator up to the third floor, just me and Handsome. It was only big enough for us, so we had a nice talk on the way up," Rosaire said. "I pictured the crappy elevator music playing and me and the lion just looking at each other the whole way up."
Handsome was distracted during part of filming Wednesday, refusing to look at the camera and instead looking outside. Danielle Rosaire, Clayton's wife, remarked he had heard his girlfriend.
"She's a liger named Mia. She's a little rascal," Danielle said, as they tried to coax Handsome to look back at the camera. "They do everything together." Handsome isn't a part of Big Cat Habitat, but part of the Rosaires' company called Rosaire Productions, where they train animals given to them for shows and productions such as the PSA. Kay Rosaire, Clayton's mother and the owner of Big Cat Habitat, said they started rescuing animals about 20 years ago when a man asked them to watch a tiger for him while he got paperwork to take the animal to another country.
"Well, he never got the paperwork and he never came back to pick up the tiger, so (the tiger) lived his whole life here with us," Kay said. "And that was our first rescue."