The Almquist family of Phelan has only missed one episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition since the show premiered in 2003. It's a good bet they didn't miss Sunday's episode.

They were the stars of Sunday's two-hour episode. The six-member family, which runs the Forever Wild Exotic Animal Shelter, takes care of rescued tigers, snapping turtles, black leopards and poisonous snakes. And until recently, they lived in a doublewide trailer with holes in the floor.

After a week of work by an army of volunteers, creating a design by Hesperia architect Tom Steeno and directed by Hesperia's Murphy Home Construction, the Almquists moved into a new house in February.

The Almquists didn't submit their name to the reality show. They didn't need to.

"I think there were over 200 nominations for us," mother Chemaine Almquist said on Thursday. The family was first told about the possibility of being chosen in November, but were told they were one of 100 candidates. On February 1, there was the knock on the door they'd seen countless times on television, and host Ty Pennington waiting to deliver the news that they had been selected.

"You really want it to be you, but then your stomach drops," said Chemaine. "It's really happening."

While the volunteers tore down the trailer and got to work building them a new home -- the animals were temporarily moved to another site -- the Almquists were flown to Costa Rica, where they met with conservation and animal welfare groups.

The house

At the end of the week, they were back in Southern California, driving home inside a limousine with blacked-out windows and wearing blindfolds, just in case.

"You start to hear the people screaming and it was unreal," said father Joel Almquist.

"You just don't know what to expect," said Chemaine. "It's a blessing and a miracle."

When the big black and white bus was rolled aside, the Almquists saw a new 3,300 square foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom house that Steeno describes as "contemporary tribal ranch."

The Almquists' house has a definite animal motif, from the bird wallpaper in the master bedroom and the forest and undersea motifs in two of the children's bedrooms.

Sixteen year old Patrisha, who had slept on the floor of her two younger sisters' bedroom in the trailer, got her very own crime-themed bedroom, fitting for a Summit Leadership Academy student who hopes to one day go into law enforcement.

"When I walked in my bedroom," Patrisha said, "I was like 'Yeah! It's mine!'"

As with most houses built for the show, the Almquists' new house is centered on a great room that combines a living room, dining room and state of the art kitchen. And in the case of the Almquists' house, it's a room with a view.

"I love how open it is," said Joel, "And how you can see the cats back there."

Just outside the window of the great room are the cages for some of the 10 tigers that live on the property.

A trio of massive logs looms over the front door, drawing the eye up toward the 17-foot-high ceilings.

"This is my favorite thing here," said Joel, looking up. "I walked in here and was like 'wow.'"

The three bathrooms are lavish, including a large shower, huge bathtub and a high-tech toilet in the master bathroom. And best of all, there are intact floors.

"My old bathroom, I had a piece of plywood because I came out [of the shower] and my foot went right through the floor," said Joel. And no more "fear of the black mold in the bathroom."

The animals also got some upgrades, include a caged exercise area. Forever Wild now also has a visitor's center suitable for field trips, once San Bernardino County approves the proper permits.

After the show

The Almquists have run the shelter since 1998, but while Chemaine works at the shelter all day, Joel still works as an independent contractor to pay the bills.

"It's been hard. It hasn't all been rainbows," said Chemaine. "There's been a lot of food bank runs and welfare."

And the economic downturn has meant donations have dwindled.

But the new house won't mean bigger utility bills. The solar panels on the new house and visitor's center would have covered the Almquists' electric bills in their old home, and the electric bill the Almquists have now is lower than what they used to pay.

There's no question that their property tax will be much higher, though, as their property has shot up in value.

"Not that we are ungrateful in the least bit," said Chemaine. "[But] there's a concern there, yeah."

The Almquists' dream is that they'll one day be able to devote all their time to the shelter.

"Hopefully, the donations will come in and Joel and I will have a very moderate income and can do this full time," said Chemaine.

For more information about Forever Wild, call (760) 868-2755 or visit

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at