Justin, the cross-eyed lion who faced eviction from his Loudoun County farm, died Sunday in Northern Pennsylvania.
Swaddled in a blue and white flannel blanket, the 4-year-old, 530-pound lion was put to sleep on the floor of a rented van that was supposed to have taken it to a new home.
Jane Elvin, the lion's 63-year-old owner, said yesterday she had no other choice. She had been given until Sunday to move from her rented farm near Hillsboro, and she had to find a place for her pet lion.
Hundreds of people called offering help after the animal's plight was made public by the media. A woman from Spotsylvania County offered to share her home with Elvin and her back yard with Justin. A man from North Carolinia offered his horse corral. As Justin's veterinarian, Lydia Donaldson, said: "Many kind people led her down paths that they couldn't follow up or that just weren't suitable."
Finally, Elvin believed she had found a home for Justin in Northern Pennsylvania, at a location she declined to disclose. Elvin rented the van, had Donaldson drug Justin with a shot from an air-powered dart pistol, and drove the seven hours to what they hoped would be Justin's new home.
When they arrived, they found only a 4-by-4 foot dog kennel. Justin, who is 10-feet long "couldn't have moved in there," Elvin said. "When the people saw Justin, they dropped their jaws. I guess they didn't know how big a lion was," said Donaldson.
It was then that a decision had to be made. Justin already had been tranquilized for more than seven hours. Much longer and pneumonia and kidney complications would have developed, Donaldson said. Justin's pen back in Northern Virginia was, at that moment, being torn down.
Donaldson said Elvin walked behind a building in a nearby pet cemetery to think. She returned a few minutes later, her gray hair dripping rainwater that mixed with tears. She stepped up into the van and bent down to Justin, kissed him on the head.
Then she turned to Lydia Donaldson, took a breath.
"Just go ahead," Elvin said. "Just do it."
After the drug took effect, Elvin drove back to Hillsboro, where Justin was buried on a neighboring farm, on a hill under a maple, facing the Blue Ridge Mountains.