Animal refuge in need of funding
By Jenny Ragan
The Daily Times-Call
Pat Craig strides across a wooden-planked walkway and stops, standing close to the edge while peering down at a black leopard napping in the snowy grass below.
“Hi, Eddie,” he coos down at the large cat as a look of compassion fills his wide, denim blue eyes to the brim.
Eddie replies with a simple half-meow, half-clicking noise, which Craig, executive director of Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center, mimics back perfectly.
“That’s Eddie,” Craig said. “He was born here after we rescued his mother while she was pregnant.”
Craig continues walking forward, pointing out more of the 155 rescued animals at the sanctuary, which occupies more than 140 acres in Keenesburg. These exotic creatures include tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars, mountain lions, bears and wolves.
RMWCC, started by Craig in 1980 on his family’s farm in Lyons, is a nonprofit sanctuary that receives no government funding. Animals come here after they have been rescued from private residences or turned away from zoos, Craig said.
More than 90 percent of the animals at the center came from private owners across the country. Many of these animals were rescued from basements, attics, garages and crawl spaces, Craig said.
There are approximately 70 accredited sanctuaries in the United States. However, only 15 of those take in large exotic felines or bears.
All the money donated to the sanctuary goes directly toward paying expenses to keep the animals, such as meat, electricity and heat. Craig said the center costs $750,000 a year to keep running.
But after recent natural disasters, such as the tsunami during Christmas 2004 and Hurricane Katrina, the center’s usual donors stopped writing checks to RMWCC and went to organizations, such as the Red Cross, instead, Craig said.
“We realized in late November that we had to raise $150,000 within 30 days to pay our bills or be shut down and have to euthanize the animals,” he said.
“When our donors went away, it put us in a world of hurt.”
Craig has been able to raise $120,000 since November, which he said has caught them up mostly on the bills.
“We were really that close to losing everything,” Craig said.
“It was out of our hands, that’s how scary it was. But the donations turned it around.”
One problem the center is facing with donations, Craig said, is donors who give once and think the problem will be solved.
“We have money coming in, but it’s not a one time fix,” he said.
“It’s something we need to have people doing constantly, monthly, even if it is just a little amount at a time.”
Craig said the sanctuary’s motto is never to diminish the animal’s quality of life and habitat, even during a time of financial troubles.
“We want people to keep in mind that these animals are not just stuck in cages. We never cut back on their surroundings because we are having a hard time.”
While the sanctuary is still waiting for their regular donors to return from giving to other causes, Craig said he understands why they gave money elsewhere.
“They were giving their money to people who needed it, and I made donations to the Hurricane Katrina victims too,” he explained.
“But we’ve continued to send them our newsletters and calling on the phone just to remind them we’re still here.”
Educating the public about the center and illegal animals as pets is one of the most important topics on Craig’s agenda.
“We’ve been educating people, especially kids, for all the 26 years we’ve been open,” he said.
“Once people learn what’s going on, they become real active and we’re starting to see that level of consciousness come around.”
The center will keep operating under their limited funds, Craig said, through March when he will re-evaluate where they stand financially.
“We are very thankful to people who did help out,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here today without them.”
For more information, contact the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center by visiting its Website at http://www.wildlife-sanctuary.org or call 303-536-0118.
Jenny Ragan can be reached at 303-684-5336, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 150 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.920.4130 fax 885.4457 cell 493.4564
Meet our recent mountain lion cub rescues: