Big Cat Rescue Board, Volunteer Committee and Staff
This video is from 2012 so it is a little outdated.
In alphabetical order…updated 4/3/2014.
All members of the Board of Directors are voting members. Independent Directors are identified in the text.
- CAROLE BASKIN
- HOWARD BASKIN
- SUSAN BASS
- CHELSEA FEENY
- DAVID L. GANJE, ESQUIRE
- MARY LOU GEIS
- WILLOW HECHT
- GALE INGHAM
- DARREN KIPNIS
- JEFF KREMER
- KEITH LAWLESS
- JENNIFER LEON
- LYNDA LICHT
- VINCE PAVESE
- KIM MAHONEY
- LA WANNA MITCHELL
- KATIE NIKIC
- EDITH PARKER
- PAM RODRIGUEZ
- VERNON STAIRS
- BARBARA STAIRS
- JAMIE VERONICA
- HONEY WAYTON
- Volunteer Vet Staff
FOUNDER, CEO AND BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Carole Baskin is the founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue. She runs a real estate business and manages 100+ volunteers and interns from around the world and 14 staff. She has run this Tampa based non profit since 1992 and has garnered international attention to the plight of captive big cats on CNN, Animal Planet, Discovery, U.S. News & World Report, People Magazine, The Today Show, Sports Illustrated, all of the local media outlets and many more national and international programs. She is the host of the Cat Chat Show, a weekly, live interview with cat experts from around the world.
She has lectured in Costa Rica, Panama and many cities across the U.S. on cage construction, legislative affairs, and sanctuary standards in Universities, Law Colleges, and in numerous animal association conferences. Her efforts, combined with many others of like mind, have resulted in the 2003 passage of the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act which made it illegal to sell a big cat across state lines as a pet, the 2009 requirement that those in Florida who possess Class I animals must post a $10,000 bond and the reclassification of a cougar to Class I, making it illegal to own as a pet in FL.
As part of the Big Cat Coalition she has worked with The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States, Born Free, the World Wildlife Fund, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Wild Cat Conservation Legal Aid Society, World Council for Animal Rights, the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, Ian Somerhalder Foundation, and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Together they represent more than 18 million supporters.
The coalition formed in 2011 and decided on a three prong approach to ending the abuse of tigers including; Closing the generic tiger loophole at the USFWS, Asking USDA to close the 4 week window of cub petting and a federal bill that ends the breeding and trade in big cats outside of AZA zoos. By 2013 the USFWS and the USDA had put the group’s suggestions on the Federal Register for public comment and had received nearly 30,000 comments in support. The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, a federal bill to stop public handling of big cats and their cubs and ending the private possession of big cats had 5 Senate cosponsors and 84 cosponsors in the House and is poised for passage.
Carole Baskin’s mission is to end the trade in exotic cats and thus put herself out of business.
SECRETARY, TREASURER, ADVISORY BOARD CHAIRMAN AND BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Howard Baskin is a retired management consultant who worked with early stage and fast growing companies in the areas of strategic planning, finance and operations. He spent 11 years at Citicorp in various assignments, most recently as Director of Strategic Planning for the Commercial Real Estate Division. After leaving Citicorp in 1991 he was an equity participant and general manager in three companies, one of which he co-founded. He now devotes full time to Big Cat Rescue and serves on the Audit Committee.
Other civic activities include serving three years on the Board of Directors of the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and serving as first Chairman of its Performance Oversight and Monitoring Committee and member of it External Relations Committee. He also is a past member of The Rotary Club of Tampa, serving as Chairman of the Community Service Committee and on the Board of Directors.
Howard received his B.S. cum laude from Union College, Schenectady, NY in 1972, his J.D. cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law in 1978 and his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1980.
Listen to a radio interview with Howard Baskin done by one of the Cox Radio stations in 2012.
DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Susan Bass has been the Director of Public Relations at Big Cat Rescue since 2011.
Susan’s primary role is expanding the reach of the sanctuary’s advocacy work and developing strategies and initiatives to bring the issues of big cats in captivity and in the wild to the forefront of the public and media.
Susan has 17 years of public relations experience and has worked at major PR firms in New York City, Miami and Tampa.
Chelsea Feeny first arrived at Big Cat Rescue in early 2009 as an intern. Before the completing of her internship she was hired as Project Manager.
She currently is responsible for database management, donations processing and acknowledgement, and Intern intake/screening. This is no small feat with a support fan base of more than 80,000 people.
She aims to share her passion and excitement for this magnificent sanctuary with all of the guests, donors, and volunteers that help to make Big Cat Rescue what it is today.
DAVID L. GANJE, ESQUIRE
David L. Ganje lives in Florida but maintains a practice in SD and NY where he is a natural resources attorney and commercial law and commercial litigation attorney. David has grounded his legal experience as a practicing attorney, a former commodity arbitrator, a member of the board of directors of an S&L and an adjunct professor to hone his skills in these areas of practice.
In his natural resources practice he handles matters related to mineral law, oil and gas law, energy law and water law. In the commercial law and litigation practice, Ganje represents business and individual clients in transactional and business litigation matters as well as acting as local counsel for individuals and institutions. After visiting Big Cat Rescue he wanted to give his time to furthering our mission of caring for big cats and ending the trade.
MARY LOU GEIS
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Mary Lou is an Independent Director and has been a dedicated volunteer since 1997. She holds the record for the volunteer who has sent the most advocacy based letters via our CatLaws.com system.
She has been a donor of both time and money to the sanctuary.
Mary Lou gives of her time and energy and even donated a home to the sanctuary to help us care for the animals at a time when money was really scarce.
Mary Lou is a Green level keeper at Big Cat Rescue.
Willow is the Education Director and manages our Education Department. She has a B.A. in Sociology from Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. Her concentration was in Criminal and Juvenile Justice Studies. She graduated Magna cum laude.
She is a volunteer member of the Bay Area Disaster Animal Response Team, ASPCA Tampa Bay, Largo, Florida.She is an experienced tour guide, trained in FEMA Incident Command System for animals in disasters, is a SSI certified Open Water SCUBA diver and has excellent writing, editing, and proofreading skills. She has used those skills to report on big cat issues such as the following:
April 2010: Article “Big Cat Rescue: Tampa Bay’s Best Kept Secret,” Neighborhood News & Lifestyles, Volume 1, issue 2.
Examiner.com article, February 11, 2010 “Pseudo-sanctuaries.”
Examiner.com article, February 11, 2010 “Where Do Surplus Zoo Animals Go?”
Examiner.com article, February 2, 2010 “R.I. Woman Gives Up 13-year-old Pet Cougar.”
Examiner.com article, January 24, 2010 “Three-legged Serval Found in Arizona
Gale worked her way up to Senior Keeper twice. The first time around she ended up as Den Mother to our interns, but family issues required her to move away for a while. When she returned, she started over again and quickly worked her way back up to Senior Keeper.
Gale is a By-The-Book kind of person and Big Cat Rescue has a LOT of rules on its books that keep our cats well cared for and our people safe. When our Operations Manager, Scott Lope decided to resign in order to pursue his film career Gale was a natural to take his place.
She has done an absolutely awesome job of improving every aspect of animal care at the sanctuary. Because of her attention to detail the cats are getting the very best care and the cages and grounds look better than ever before. Gale never asks the volunteers to do anything that she isn’t doing right along side them. From cleaning out tiger pools to painting cages to mowing to managing the guest parking, Gale will jump right in and get it done.
She is a great example of someone who can see what needs doing and do it without being asked.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Darren is a Vice President & Senior Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch’s Global Private Client Group. He and his partners operate a wealth management practice for the benefit of affluent families and corporations. Our process encompasses Financial management, legacy implementation, estate coordination, retirement management and tax minimization.
He is a Past President of The Rotary Club of Tampa, the area’s oldest and largest Rotary Club, is currently Co-Chair of Major Gift’s for Rotary District 6890, and serves on the Advisory Board of Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education.
Darren serves on our Audit Committee and is an Independent Director.
DIRECTOR OF DONOR APPRECIATION
Jeff Kremer is the Director of Donor Appreciation with Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, the world’s largest accredited rescue facility for exotic cats. Jeff was born and raised in the Tampa Bay area. After spending 21 years working for Honeywell Space Systems in Clearwater, Jeff chose to embark upon a career that focused on his life-long interest in the field of animal welfare.
Big Cat Rescue is accredited by The Global Federation of Sanctuaries (a national accrediting body that is to sanctuaries what the American Zoological Association is to zoos.)
Big Cat Rescue is a member of the International Tiger Coalition, The Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, the Florida Association of the Restoration of Ethics, Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, Tampabay Visitors and Convention Bureau, No More Homeless Pets, and many other animal welfare groups.
Big Cat Rescue assists other accredited rescue facilities by helping them build cages, train their volunteers and they lend their people and resources to help them recover from natural and man-made disasters. Big Cat Rescue is licensed by and in good standing with FWC, USFWS, USDA and is registered with the state of Florida as a charity.
Jeff Kremer is available for college and civic lectures and has given presentations to numerous civic and educational organizations regarding the plight of exotic cats and other species and what the public can do to save them.
Jeff is available to speak regarding such topic as:
The exotic animal crisis in America and around the world.
The differences between sanctuary’s and zoo’s.
Ethical issues involving exotic animals in captivity.
Legislative issues involving the exotic animal trade in America.
The nature of wild cats in captivity and why they don’t belong in cages
The correlation between youth violence against animals and adult violence towards humans.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Keith is Vice President and Market Manager, Cox Media Group Tampa.
The six area Cox Radio stations have provided enormous support to Big Cat Rescue in the form of public service radio spots featuring our events, tours of the sanctuary, and messages about the issues surrounding private ownership of big cats.
Keith Lawless always has some creative idea up his sleeve.
DIRECTOR OF OUTREACH
Jennifer manages the Education and Legislation Departments, which seek to raise awareness about the plight of captive big cats through community outreach, advocacy, and research. She has two undergraduate degrees and her MPA from the University of South Florida with a focus in public policy.
Over the past decade Jennifer has volunteered for local and national animal welfare organizations including various Tampa Bay area rescue groups, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Best Friends, and Friends of Hillsborough County Animal Services.
Jennifer has served on the board of two local non-profits and has successfully advocated for animal welfare at all levels of government.
Lynda began volunteering at Big Cat Rescue in April 2010 and is now a Senior Keeper and Volunteer Coordinator on the weekends. She serves on the volunteer committee as well as assisting with new volunteer orientation.
She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Boston University with a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. She was a licensed Certified Public Accountant in New Jersey, working for both large and small public accounting firms for 15 years, even after moving to Tampa in 1991. She is currently the Chief Financial and Chief Human Resources Officer for a national specialty construction company.
She has served as President of the Tampa chapters of Sertoma and Construction Financial Managers Association. Before BCR, Lynda was a dedicated volunteer at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Aside from her volunteer activities, she enjoys sports and is a loyal Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lightning fan, when she’s not busy teaching line dancing.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
In his capacity as COO of North America Card payments business for FIS, Vince oversees the day to day operations.Previously, he was Executive Vice President – International for Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), a Fortune 500 company with over $6 billion in revenue. Earlier experience included roles at Certigy as Senior Vice President and Group Executive – International, and serving as Vice President Finance for Equifax Payment Services.
He served on the Board of Trustees for the University of Tampa from 2000-2006 and is now a board member and chairman elect at Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Tampa Bay.
Mr. Pavese earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting in 1977 from the University of Miami and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of South Florida in 1984. He was a 1995 graduate of the Emory Goizueta Business School Executive Development Program.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Kim has been a long time supporter of Big Cat Rescue and her education and credentials include a BSN, Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing at Kent State University. She is the owner and CEO of St. Pete MRI which offers Diagnostic Imaging services: Sleep Lab, High field MRI, Open MRI, Ultrasound, XRay, CT. Special advanced technology with DTI, SWI,CTA, MRA and Breast Imaging. ACR and JCAHO Accredited. http://saintpetemri.com/
LA WANNA MITCHELL
I had spent a couple years traveling various zoos and learning how to make web sites and website goodies, just looking for a way to make a difference for animals; tumbling around trying to find my ‘place in the sun’, my purpose in life. then in July 2004 I found Big Cat Rescue’s web site and offered to make games for them. Carole sent me some photos and the fun began. That progressed into being blessed with getting actually visit Big Cat Rescue for eight heavenly days taking photos in September 2004. If a turning pont in life can be pinpointed, that trip was exactly that for me. My life changed forever right then and there.
After visiting Big Cat Rescue it was quite clear to me that this place was it unlike any other animal facility. I had finally finally found the animal place I wanted to devote my life to thus no longer needed to travel around looking for my place in life. More trips to take photos of the cats at Big Cat Rescue followed in 2005 & 2006. During those visits I became completely hooked for life. For me, building web site goodies for Big Cat Rescue is like breathing itself. If I couldn’t be a part of Big Cat Rescue and part of working toward the goals of their mission, I think my breath would actually stop. I LOVE Big Cat Rescue with my whole heart and my whole being and firmly believe in their mission and goals.
Now, I take great delight in spending my days using those photos to create goodies for their newest website BigCatFun.com. I really enjoy doing tabling events and doing little classroom presentations on saving endangered species by saving their wild habitats. Big Cat Rescue participates in many habitat preservation projects and getting to share those with kids whose minds and hearts are open and full of wonder for wild animals is a truly joyous thing. Currently, there are three passions that rage like wild fires in my heart and working with Big cat Rescue allows me to help make a difference in these three areas. #1 Raising awareness for the need for new laws to keep big cats out of backyards and roadside ‘wannabe’ zoos #2 Raising awareness for saving wild habitats and last but not certainly not least #3 Educating the public on the real truth about white tigers.
Working with Big Cat Rescue is the highlight, the joy, and the purpose of my life. Not to go without mention, working with Big Cat Rescue is the greatest privilege I could ever have imagined receiving in my life. To sum it up, I live and breath Big Cat Rescue and our mission and count it a privilege to do so. I can’t give money, so I give what I can, which it my time and devotion.
Katie Nikic formerly worked for the Hillsborough County Sheriff but after marrying she wanted a job that had more flexible hours so that she could care for her family. Katie helps Barbara Stairs manage the real estate holdings for the sanctuary as well as a number of other record keeping duties.
Edith is originally from New Jersey but considers herself a Floridian after being a resident for over thirty years.
She is a retired Executive Secretary in a local company and resides in Lutz.
She has a BS Degree from Nova Southeastern University in business.
Edith enjoys volunteering, besides BCR she does work with Hospice, Salvation Army and Meals on Wheels throughout the year.
Her love for the cats makes BCR a very special place.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Pam is a Green level partner, long time volunteer and generous donor who serves as an Independent Director.
She puts in an enormous amount of time in our gift shop and is known for her wonderful tours given in her sophisticated British accent.
MASTER BUILDER AND RECORDS MANAGER
Vernon Stairs is our Master Builder and works to design, build and maintain all of the cat-a-tats and facilities. He was a business owner until he retired in 1996 and came to Big Cat Rescue to help build a pond. His feats include construction of a three acre tiger marsh, dueling waterfalls and ponds for the fishing cats, an air conditioned rock mountain for the snow leopards, underground dens, overhead sprinklers and so much more for the comfort of the 100 animals living on Easy Street. He is remembered daily by the animals, staff and guests for his work and will be remembered for many years to come in the lasting improvements he has made to the quality of life for each of the animals. Even after having triple bypass heart surgery in August of 2010, he was right back at work as soon as he could get to his feet.
Barbara Stairs has been a volunteer of Big Cat Rescue since 1997 when she took over the record keeping for the sanctuary. She handles all of the banking and credit card reconciliation and manages all of the rental properties that provide income for the cats.
PRESIDENT, VOLUNTEER COMMITTEE, BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Jamie Veronica is President of Big Cat Rescue, a member of the Board of Directors, and Chair of the Volunteer Committee. She has served in these capacities for well over ten years. She spent many years developing a sponsorship program whose financial success continues to contribute largely toward meeting our annual budget.
Jamie runs everything involved with the administrative side of the volunteer program including processing promotion applications, running hour reports, follow up with volunteers regarding their hours or classes, keeping the coordinators up to date on volunteers in need of training, keeping our policies and training classes up to date so that our people and animals are safe, coordinates rescues, runs our online gift shop and eBay store, manages the foster kitten program, including scheduling veterinary care, manages enclosure maintenance, coordinates our fundraising events and special online efforts.
An award-winning photographer, Jamie is the staff photographer and publishes our quarterly Big Cat Times newspaper, distributed to over 80,000 readers. She creates all of our print and web advertisements, billboards, brochures, books, donor plaques and signage. She manages all of the discount offers and reciprocal agreements with other attractions. She designed and initially implemented the sanctuary’s worldwide Internship Program.
Jamie is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and manages the sanctuary’s bobcat rehab program. She has successfully raised, rehabilitated and released many wild Florida bobcats and leads expeditions into the release sites to track and camera trap wild bobcat populations. She oversees and handles all rescues, veterinary procedures, transfer of animals on the property, and regulatory compliance issues.
GIFT SHOP MANAGER
Honey Wayton is responsible for merchandising and maintenance of inventory for our gift shop. On a typical day, you will find her greeting our guests, answering our phones, running our cash register, maintaining the appearance of our gift shop and tour waiting area, and coordinating the responsibilities of our Partner Volunteers in the gift shop.
She also fills orders for our online gift shop and is our onsite intern housing representative. In 2010 Honey’s management of the Gift Shop resulted in over a quarter of a million dollars in sales.
Honey serves on our Fur Ball Committee and our Enrichment Committee and fulfills all the daily responsibilities of a Senior Keeper as well.
Volunteer Vet Staff
Dr. Liz Wynn and Dr. Justin Boorstein are our wonderful, volunteer vets. Between the two of them the cats have a vet on site several days a week. Dr. Liz Wynn began in October of 2003 at Big Cat Rescue as a volunteer, cleaning cages, until we discovered that she was a veterinarian. At the time our primary vet was Dr. Stacie Wadsworth, but she was getting ready to retire so it gave us a wonderful opportunity to have both vets work together for the last couple of years before Dr. Wadsworth moved to N.C.
Dr. Justin Boorstein started out at Big Cat Rescue in December 2005 as an Intern who was studying veterinary medicine. He became licensed to practice in Florida in 2012 and Dr. Wynn has been showing him the ropes at the sanctuary. Dr. Wynn typically visits the sanctuary twice a week and when needed. Dr. Boorstein has been spending his free time teaching volunteers and interns how to check fecals and has been helpful in our vaccinating schedules as well as emergency care.
Big Cat Rescue is blessed to have such a dedicated staff, board, volunteer committee and team of veterinarians to insure the future for these magnificent cats.