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Big-cat facility cited: USDA inspector finds supervision inadequate after Meeker incident

By Tim Damos, Capital Newspapers | Posted: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 6:55 pm

Standing outside his Baraboo home Saturday, Jon Meeker, 38, joins his wife, Emily, as he describes an incident in which a 600-pound Siberian tiger playfully pulled his arm through a cage and bit down at the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center in Rock Springs. Tim Damos / Capital Newspapers

* Related: Victim says he’ll volunteer again

ROCK SPRINGS – A federal inspector has cited the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center for inadequate training and supervision after volunteer Jon Meeker was bitten by a Siberian tiger on Oct. 22.

“They were given a handling citation,” U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman Dave Sacks said. “All volunteers and employees of USDA-licensed facilities must be adequately trained and supervised to ensure their personal safety and the safety of the animals.”

The center must comply immediately with supervision and training requirements, Sacks said.

The organization has until Nov. 19 to appeal the citation. The USDA will not release the inspector’s report until after the deadline passes.

The rescue center’s founder, Jeff Kozlowski, said there are no federal regulations mandating the type or amount of training for volunteers.

“I asked,‘when does he have enough training?’ And he didn’t have an answer,” Kozlowski said.

Kozlowski said the facility will change its practices to keep cats away from the cage edges when volunteers water them, as Meeker was doing when the incident occurred.

USDA inspection reports from the previous three years give the rescue center a clean bill of health.

“These are wild animals, so it’s not like their behavior is totally predictable,” Sacks said. “Regardless of whether it was an attack or just something playful, the bottom line is that a person was injured. These animals, with the strength they have, if they grab a hold of you, there’s going to be some damage.”

bigcatrescue.org