1 blowgun, 1 pole syringe, 1 dart pistol, 2 dart rifles, 1 12 gauge shotgun, 1 30/30 rifle and net gun. Several staff members are trained and well practiced in the use of these. Kept in locked cabinets in locked rooms of locked buildings.
Transport Cages and Vehicles:
2 rolling circus wagons, ‘2012 Toyota Tundra with A/C topper, ’98 Dodge Ram extended van with two large cages made to fit inside. ’05 Dodge Ram pick up truck 3/4 ton with Reese hitch, custom enclosed trailer that will haul two rolling circus wagons and other smaller cages in climate controlled space, assorted yard trucks, pallet jack, Kobelco tractor (lifts 3,000 lbs) with bucket attachment, dozens of carriers, wire transports and every cat’s cage is equipped with a lock out.
For a site plan of the facility to see buildings, access points, gates and cage layout visit these links:
We conduct random drills to test our staff and volunteers in the event of personal injuries, such as heat stroke, escapes, maulings, fire and hurricanes. Although we cannot simulate a fire or hurricane we have often staged the other disasters so that most of the participants did not know it was a drill. We have been very pleased with the results.
For What Kind of Emergencies Are We Prepared?
Scientist tell us that global warming will continue to disrupt our weather patterns and that we can expect far more powerful hurricanes for many years to come. We have prepared in every way possible and are providing this page as a portal for those who are concerned about us and for those who are trying to find ways to protect their own sanctuaries.
Some disasters cannot be prevented, but others can. Read more about what we are doing to ensure the safety of our cats and the surrounding communities at Big Cat Rescue below.
The lockouts can no longer be removed as easily as back then.
How do you prepare a 55 acre sanctuary housing 100+ big cats for a Hurricane? Since 2004’s episode including 4 major hurricanes in 6 weeks we get asked that question a lot.
The answer isn’t something that can be said in a sound byte though, because it takes months of planning, preparing and training to make sure that when the winds quit howling, the cats don’t start howling from the wrong side of the fence.
It starts with the caging. Our cages are built from galvanized wire panels that are twice what the state standards require for strength. Vern builds them in rounded, peanut styled formations that utilize the strength of the curvature without the necessity of posts. Because there is nothing to catch the wind, which is the major factor in a hurricane, there is nothing to blow away. Almost all of our Cat-A-Tats (our word for cages) have roofs made of the same material so the animal is safely contained on the top, sides and bottom. The only major damage we have had to cages was in the non roofed enclosures.
Anticipating that, we had moved cats living in those enclosures into roofed cages to ride out the storms. As soon as the winds reach 30 MPH all cats in open air enclosures are shut into their smaller, roofed areas until the winds subside.
The non roofed areas all are equipped with two or three strands of hot wire that is solar powered, because in a hurricane, the first thing to go is the power. The solar units we use are very expensive but are reported to last 5 days in the dark. Fortunately we have never had to test that claim; losing only 3 days of power at any given time.
All of our cats have dens to escape the rain. Some of the small cats have igloo type dog houses that are shaped like tree stumps and barrels with one end half cut out up in the trees. Most of the cats have some form of concrete den that is built to accommodate their size. A cougar, for instance, has an underground area (which is actually elevated above the grade to prevent water from pooling inside) that is 8 feet by 12 feet by 2.5 feet high. Over that is a mountain of dirt, plants and grass that provides a cool area in the summer and warmth against the chilling winds in the winter. There isn’t a tree big enough to smash one of these 4 inch thick, rebar reinforced, concrete dens that are buried inside our man made hills.
Most of the other places in Florida housing exotic animals reported losing most of their trees during Charly, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne but we only lost a couple of dead pine trees. As we looked around, and thought about why, we concluded that the same thing that kept our cats from blowing away, kept our trees from toppling as well. Most of them are “caged”. We build our Cat-A-Tats around trees and Vern very cleverly encloses the top into the center of the boughs so that the cats have lots of opportunities to climb and to do the things they would in the wild, like sleep in the trees all day and wait for night. Because all of our best trees are part of enclosures this way, they were anchored to the ground by 1200 square foot cages. The wind just couldn’t get a good enough grip to pull them up from the soggy earth.
Hurricane preparedness has a lot to do with our people.
The chain of command is clear. There is always at least one staff member on property who has taken responsibility for the sanctuary that day. That person in usually the Operations manager, but if it is their day off, someone is always scheduled to be the person in charge in their absence. There are coordinators who have had years of training who then manage all of the 100 or so volunteers. All of the staff have smart phones and all of the volunteers and staff carry 2 way radios.
Long before the first cloud blows in off the bay they have been rehearsing for the worst possible situation. Thanks to the Volunteer Committee, regular drills are performed, documented and analyzed to see where we have come up short and what we can do to make sure that we are ready in the case of a real emergency such as a loose cat, an injured person or a fire. Our President, Jamie Veronica, is always checking the supplies in the Emergency Response Center and the Cat Hospital. These crucial supplies are always being checked, rechecked and restocked as they expire.
Classes are offered weekly to our members in such things as Animal Emergency, Human CPR and how to find the right tools and the right people in the most effective manner. Everyone knows the chain of command and who has access to dart guns, tranquilizers and the expertise to use them. All of our staff, volunteers and interns carry a two way radio with them at all times and do a radio check upon entering the property to be sure they can hear and be heard.
Our people are taught from day one that they have to lay eyes on every cat they care for and to report anything amiss with the animal and to report any threat to the cage that may compromise its ability to contain its inhabitant. Those observations are all logged digitally in a daily record and the Operations Manager, double checks the entries and the cause each day. Her actions are then logged on Big Cat Rescue’s intranet site and reviewed at the weekly staff meetings. All maintenance and preventative maintenance is done immediately.
Gale, Honey, Vern, Barbara and a dozen or more interns live on site and the perimeter fence is walked throughout the day and night daily to inspect for threats to its integrity. During inclement weather all of these processes are stepped up. Thanks to our involvement with Hillsborough County’s Emergency Operations Center we get up to the minute reports on all tropical storms and hurricanes via e-mail, complete with radar photos, tracking projections and information on what is being done across the state to prepare.
The cats are prepared for emergencies as well. Thanks to an awesome Operant Conditioning Program the cats are trained to come into “lockout” on command. Most of our cages are built in at least two sections so that the cat can be shut into one side or the other for cleaning or repair, but in the worst case scenario we are prepared to move the cat completely. The cats are also trained to come to a target if we need to move them from side to side and while we haven’t tried that outside their cage, we are prepared to with our new golf cart gear.
Despite all of the best planning, things go wrong. What if a big cat escapes his enclosure? Then what? Oddly, you can drive right up to a big cat and they don’t even think twice about it, but the minute you step out of the car, you are lunch or you are to be run from. Neither of those options is conducive to a successful recapture. There are some places on the property that you just can’t get to by car but you can access these areas by golf cart. Treats always come on golf carts and so do the Operant Conditioning people, so the cats LOVE golf carts. Vern designed a portable cage that can be dropped down over the frame of a golf cart in a matter of seconds that protects the driver and a “shooter” much like the notion of sending a person in a cage down into a tank of sharks. The golf cart can get within a couple feet of the cat in most cases and lure the cat back to a safe area by way of targeting as we do in Operant Conditioning, or the cat can be darted with a tranquilizer.
In the worst case, where escape from the property is eminent, the cat must be shot with a bullet. Our staff has been trained and practices regularly with dart guns, blow pipes, and rifles and shotguns if there is no other alternative. They have been mentally preparing for the day when they may have to shoot one of their “best friends” to keep the cat from being a danger to society, because avoiding an escape is critical to the continuance of the sanctuary for all of the good that we do for the rest of the animals.
Sheltering in Place
There is no place safer than Big Cat Rescue for the 100 or so big cats who live here. In the event of just about any kind of emergency we are prepared to “shelter in place.” Since we have 10-20 volunteers and staff living on site, there are plenty of people on hand to care for the cats. If we had to move an animal or animals we have a climate controlled trailer, with remote cameras, that is designed to carry our biggest cats in a rolling beast wagon, or crates of our smaller cats.
Most of our cats are micro chipped and if we have to sedate a cat for any reason, we always micro chip them, if they have not been already. All of our cats are in a census with their name, date of birth, date of arrival at the sanctuary, if they have been neutered or spayed, if they were declawed by their owners, and their photographs are all online. All of our documentation is both in paper and paperless forms, kept online and in back hard drives.
Other Types of Emergencies
Only one building on the property houses exotic cats and that is the West Boensch Cat Hospital. There is a working fire extinguisher in the building. The Cool Cat Cave and Intern Housing houses domestic cats and kittens who are being fostered for adoption. The office has an office cat. All of these buildings are equipped with fire and smoke detectors, an alarm system that notifies the Operations Manager, President and Founder / CEO in the event of an emergency. Working fire extinguishers are maintained in each building and there are regular inspections from the fire marshall.
Many of the cages are outfitted with PVC rain makers that can be turned on with the flip of the red levers that are at eye level. Portable generators are by the lake, with fire hoses attached, and can be employed for putting out fires. We are completely surrounded by commercial properties and homes. No wildfire is likely to make it past these highly populated areas to us. The fire department is 1.1 mile away (3 min.) http://goo.gl/maps/TFaLq
We have a propane powered generator that is capable of running our Cat Hospital and Food Prep during an extended power outage. The domestic cats that are housed in Intern housing can be shifted to other buildings that are not on the same power poles, if there is an outage in one area of the property. We have three, or more, portable generators that can be used in an emergency.
Disruption in Clean Water or Food Supply
Our water supply comes from five wells on the property. These can be powered by the many portable generators we own. We can store 17,000 pounds of frozen raw meat and our freezers are positioned next to the huge, propane generator, which was purchased primarily for insuring that we do not lose our food source during the aftermath of a hurricane.
There are three roads into the sanctuary. We have chainsaws and people who know how to use them if trees were to block the roads.
Terrorist Attack on the Sanctuary
No one is allow unescorted on the property. All guests are led by a tour guide and a tour back up. The tour guide and tour back up both carry radios and will alert their coordinator if there is any trouble from a guest. The coordinator knows to call 911 if the guest poses a threat to the animals, others or themselves. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is .7 miles away (3 minutes) Map: http://goo.gl/maps/dBpBV
The only hazardous materials we have been subjected to since 1992 was during the fruit fly outbreak when USDA sprayed Malathion on us from airplanes. A number of animals died during and immediately after the spraying and USDA was notified that their claims of the spray being non lethal to pets was a lie. More information on what we do for poisoning here: http://bigcatrescue.org/poisoning/
None of Big Cat Rescue’s employees are paid to do animal care. We have more than 100 volunteers, who put in at least 4 hours per week, who are happy to make sure the cats are always fed, cleaned, given their meds and given enrichment and operant training. Our paid staff manage these volunteers and do administrative work, so even if all of the 10+ employees were to walk out at the same time, the volunteers would make sure the animals were well cared for.
Death of Founder
Big Cat Rescue is unique in that the death of the Founder and CEO would have very little impact on the sustainability of the sanctuary. The sanctuary has policies, protocols and a set of checks and balances that ensure the long term viability of the sanctuary.
Failure of Heating / Cooling in Cat Hospital
The Cat Hospital is the only building where extremely elderly or sickly cats are brought inside during extreme weather. The cats are monitored on web cams to insure that they are comfortable and the web cams are available to hundreds of our AdvoCats who live all around the world. These people watch diligently for any sign of the cats being stressed or uncomfortable and have the ability to contact the Operations Manager by cell phone. We have generators that can be used if the electricity is out. We used Air O Force to do regular maintenance of our A/C’s and heat pumps.
All of our cats are vaccinated regularly for the typical feline diseases, but some diseases are jumping boundaries between species, such as Canine Parvo and Canine Distemper showing up in cats. In our situation, the likely carriers of these diseases would be native raccoons and foxes. We do not allow dogs on property. We set humane traps daily for vermin to remove them immediately and take precautions to stake wire under fences and trim back trees to prevent intrusion.
Thanks to the diligence of our volunteers and the daily observation logs on the intranet site, we have been able to diagnose and quarantine cats who show signs of being ill so quickly that there has not been a spread of disease. When a cat is in quarantine we use foot baths going into the areas around their cages, and designate a separate set of cleaning tools, and a designated, certified quarantine trained volunteer for their care.
Drugs and supportive therapy is administered as prescribed by our vets and we have had excellent success in nursing cats back from situations that could easily have claimed their lives.
The generators and fire hoses can pump down areas that flood, into ditches that carry the excess water off to Rocky Creek and out to Tampa Bay.
We haven’t had one yet, but our cages are built in a unique design that is anchored to the ground by the many trees inside them and the foliage that grows up the sides. There is nothing to fall on the cages that would damage them.
All of the same work that we do to prepare for hurricanes would apply to tornadoes. The difference is that a tornado can do a lot more damage, without as much warning. If a cage, or cages, were rendered unsafe, we have 2-3 times as much cage space, if we shut guillotine doors between sections. This gives us plenty of built in caging to use while repairing any tornado damage.
The rain maker PVC systems that we installed for fires can be used just for cooling the cats off, if there were some freakish weather. It’s Florida and it is often hot and humid. Our cats have plenty of natural shade, dens that are 4 inches of reinforced concreate covered in earth and ferns for cooling, access to fresh water at all times and breezes that come up off the lake. Our volunteers note on the observation log and let their coordinators know if they see any signs of heat stress.
All of the lions and tigers and some of the other cats have access to spring fed pools that are recirculated constantly. We have portable pools that could be offered to cats who do not have permanent pools, if they needed to cool off more than their environment would allow. These portable pools have always been used as a form of enrichment rather than for emergency use.
Human First Aid
If you are injured, seek professional, medical help.
Legislation & Advocacy Intern Position Description
The Legislation & Advocacy Intern [LAI] works under the direction of the Director of Outreach, the Founder, and the Operations Manager. As with all other intern paths, the LAI must complete approximately 600 hours of service during the 12-week internship.
This is equivalent to working approximately 50 hours per week. Interns may be required to work more or less hours as needed by the sanctuary.
LAIs must follow the same policies and procedures as Animal Care Interns. More information can be found on our website at:
The objective of the LAI is to support the Director of Outreach in promoting legislation, advocating for the welfare of big cats, and educating the public on the issues facing exotic cats, specifically private ownership and exploitation. Our goal is to end the trade by working with guests, supporters, voters, government agencies, and legislators to pass laws and implement stronger regulations and policies.
The LI will gain invaluable experience in the inner workings of a unique animal welfare nonprofit that not only rescues exotic cats and operates one of the largest accredited sanctuaries of its kind in the world, but also educates and actively works to end to trade of big cats through legislation and policy.
The LAI must be comfortable speaking to guests and meeting new people. They must also work effectively with staff, volunteers, and fellow interns.
LAIs begin in Partner training to learn guest relations and how to guide tours, to better familiarize themselves with the mission of the sanctuary and become familiar with the daily operations of the sanctuary. Much of the initial training consists of the basic knowledge needed to be a valued intern. As a LAI advances through the program they will learn specific skills pertaining to BCR’s advocacy, education, legislative activities.
This internship position does not involve keeper duties (i.e. cat feeding, operant training, cleaning, meds administration). Although you will have the benefit of working at the sanctuary, your work will not directly involve any of our cats.
At this time, we will not consider applicants outside the U.S.
Must be at least 18 years old.
Must be a U.S. citizen.
Possess a valid driver’s license or photo I.D.
Must be fluent in English, both written and verbal. Above average writing skills.
Internet savvy. Proficient in Microsoft Suite applications Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Familiar with Google applications.
Must be comfortable advocating and soliciting support for animal welfare in subject areas that may be controversial or sensitive (e.g. circuses, zoos, ownership of exotic animals, hunting, animals in entertainment, fur, breeding).
Must be professional and polite and retain this manner is potentially stressful or contentious situations.
Capable of lifting and carrying at least 50 lbs., possess vision and hearing at adequate levels, good health and endurance for working outdoors in all types of weather.
Complete disclosure of any prescription drugs, allergies and physical limitations.
Interns must obtain a tetanus vaccination, at their own expense, that will be good for the duration of the internship, prior to participating in the internship program and must submit proof of vaccination.
Able to financially support themselves for the duration of the internship.
Travel may be required to attend meetings, conferences, and events.
Ability to work standing for long periods of time.
JOB DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES
a. Lead actions on-site, at events, and at presentations. BCR is very committed to changing the way society interacts and uses exotic cats. To that end, we are always actively pursuing public action – whether that is asking guests to call their legislators, sign petitions, submit comment, or sign their name to a pledge. There is a special area in our Gift Shop dedicated to these activities, called the “Action Space”. The LAI is responsible for leading the actions under the direction of the Director of Outreach. Similarly, the LAI may be asked to lead an action at events or presentations.
b. Guide group tours, education tours (children & adults), and tours privately scheduled by the Director of Outreach. Unlike our standard group tours, these tours are spoken tours and require knowledge of the cats (history, environment, behavior, adaptations, diet, species), our sanctuary’s evolution and operations, conservation in the wild, and the issues we are working to resolve (private ownership, animal handling, the illegal trade, abuse, poaching).
c. Represent BCR at community events, outreach venues, and educational presentations including meetings and conferences where BCR is an exhibitor, speaker, participant, sponsor, or beneficiary.
d. Successfully complete Legislation & Advocacy Intern training classes in addition to the BCR training classes required by level 1 interns.
e. Presenting to schools, student groups, community groups and organizations.
f. Promote BCR campaigns to guests and public such as the Pledge to Be Circus Free and Big-Cat Friendly Tourist campaign.
g. The LAI may be asked to support the Founder or Director of Outreach with online advocacy activities facilitated through CatLaws.com and our website. This may include emailing actions to supporters, identifying supporters in key congressional districts, or following-up with supporters after they have visited BCR.
h. Additional duties such as writing articles, research, data entry, general office duties, assisting the Founder and Director of Outreach, and providing back-up support to the Operations Manager and Gift Shop staff as needed.
i. Create media and other outreach tools in support of our actions and campaigns.
The preceding position description is designed to indicate the general nature and essential duties and responsibilities of work performed by a Legislation & Advocacy Intern [LAI]. It may not contain a comprehensive inventory of all duties, responsibilities, and qualifications required of Legislation & Advocacy Interns.
FEES & DEPOSITS
A $50 fee is required to be paid upon confirmation of the interview session. This non-refundable fee is for the cost of a criminal background check. A deposit of $300 must be submitted upon acceptance into the program. This deposit holds the internship slot and insures against failure to complete the requirements of the internship or damages to the radio, housings, or Big Cat Rescue property. Upon successful completion of the program, passing inspection of radio and housings, and not having damaged Big Cat Rescue property the intern will receive the deposit back. Fees and deposits are collected via credit card. The $300 deposit will not be returned to you if you; cancel your internship before it has started, do not show up on your scheduled start date, fail to successfully complete the internship, do not pass your housing inspections, do not return the radio in good working order, damage Big Cat Rescue property, leave the internship early, or are terminated from the internship due to breach of the Intern Orientation Contract.
Intern Housing Tiger Tail Lodge at Big Cat Rescue
Intern Housing at Big Cat Rescue provides free intern housing for up to 15 interns. All interns have their own private bedrooms, access to local phone lines, wireless internet, access to a shared computer and shared bathroom, kitchen and T.V. areas. Intern housing is stocked with linens, towels, pots, pans, dishes, etc., cleaning supplies, motion of alcohol or use of illegal drugs is strictly prohibited throughout the duration of the internship.
Special exceptions for drinking alcohol may be made for BCR organized volunteer gatherings only. Specific announcements will be made to the interns in these cases. Smoking areas are provided outside of the housings and at designated areas of the sanctuary.
Staff may reside in Intern Housings. Housings are for staff and interns only; guests are not permitted on the property or within the housings. If an intern is receiving a ride from another volunteer or a guest, that volunteer or guest must wait outside the entrance gate for the intern. They may not drive onto BCR property. Interns are permitted to live off-site in their own accommodations at their own expense.
Personal pets are not permitted in intern housings. See Intern Housing at Big Cat Rescue.
All interns are responsible for the cost of their own transportation, and long distance phone calls. Interns are allowed one vehicle for personal transportation and must be parked in approved intern parking area. Interns with vehicles must assist interns without transportation with grocery store trips and staff with picking up and dropping off interns at the airport. Interns that do not have transportation are encouraged to give a reasonable amount of money to the driver for fuel.
GROCERY REIMBURSEMENTS AND STIPENDS
Each intern will be reimbursed for up to $50 of food costs each week (if receipts are submitted to the Intern Manager in a timely manner). A small stipend is available to help defray the cost of living for interns who are granted the Level 2-4 Internships. Upon acceptance into the Level 2-4 Internships, there may be a two week probationary period during which time a stipend is not offered. Following the probationary period, performance will be assessed by the Operations Manager.
ADDITIONAL POLICIES (General Big Cat Rescue Policies)
Animal Contact: Big Cat Rescue is a strict no contact facility. At no time, under any circumstances, will any part of your person come into direct contact with any animal at Big Cat Rescue. Nor shall you use any object to touch an animal such as a stick or pole etc. (There is a back scratcher program that is available to Senior and Master Keepers, this program is strictly monitored and is for the purpose to assist animals with removing matted fur.)
Animal Care: No animal abuse of any kind will be tolerated, including teasing, and is grounds for immediate dismissal. No food or toys shall be offered to any animal without approval from the Coordinator, Operations Manager, CEO or President. No animal shall ever be removed from its cage or enclosure without the express consent of the CEO or President. Notification of animal issues including veterinary procedures, moving animals and quarantined animals, etc will be posted on the Important Updates.
Security of Animal Information Files: Any printed or digital information about the cats and their health must always be readily available to our staff, vets, and appropriate volunteers. Such information shall not be moved, copied, altered, shared, deleted, or taken off of the property without express permission from the CEO or President.
General Safety: No part of your person shall ever pass through the bars of any enclosure at any time. No person shall run or horseplay on the property. An Emergency Contact, medications, allergies, and medical conditions are listed for each volunteer and intern in their digital Volgistics record which all coordinators have access to. Any person feeling under the weather should contact their coordinator to reschedule their volunteer time. Smoking is permitted in the designated “smoking areas” only. Absolutely no alcohol or drugs are allowed on the property at any time. No person shall enter the premises for eight hours after having consumed any alcoholic beverages or narcotics. Any person believed to be impaired due to alcohol or drugs will be removed from the property.
Entering Enclosures: No person shall enter any enclosure without direct permission from the Volunteer Coordinator, Operations Manager, President or CEO. Prior to entering any enclosure the animal will be safely locked out of the section of the enclosure to be entered. The Operations Manager can “lock out” cats smaller than lynx. The President or CEO must be present to “lock out” cats that are lynx and larger. When an animal is “locked out” it will be moved to another section of its enclosure. The separating guillotine door will be shut, a pole placed over the frame of the guillotine door to prevent its opening, a clip gate installed over the guillotine door and then a pad lock placed on the entrance door for the section housing the animal. When entering any enclosure, the safety door must be closed shut with a minimum of 2 snaps prior to opening the entrance door to the side of the enclosure the animal is locked out of. This entrance door must then also be closed shut with a minimum of 2 snaps. At no time should either door be left open, even if the enclosure is not inhabited by an animal.
Modifying Enclosures: No person shall make modifications to any enclosure without direct instruction from the Volunteer Coordinator, Operations Manager, President or CEO.
Drills: Every month the Volunteer Committee will post an electronic drill in the Volunteer Newsletter. The drill will consist of a scenario such as an injured guest or animal emergency, and course of action options for the intern to select or fill in. Each intern must read the monthly Volunteer Newsletter and mark that they have read it as well as complete the electronic drill. The Volunteer Committee will review the results of the drill and will council any intern that may have answered insufficiently or incorrectly.
First Aid Kits: There are fully stocked be first aid kits in the; Gift Shop, Volunteer Sign In, Food Prep, Cooling Station, Main Office, E-Center, and Party House. All supplies for the First Aid Kits are to be purchased by Big Cat Rescue. Volunteers and interns are not permitted to donate First Aid Supplies nor store their personal medications in the First Aid Kits.
Management: The interns and volunteers on property will be directly coordinated by either a Volunteer Coordinator or an Operations Manager. Volunteer Coordinators are staff or volunteers who report to the Operations Manager. The Operations Manager is a staff member who oversees the daily operations of the sanctuary and is the final authority on site operating under the CEO and President. There will always be at a minimum one staff Operations Manager on site each day during the hours that the public and volunteers are on the premises. This Operations Manager will have access to and will be trained in the use of meds, darts, guns, medical, and capture equipment. Volunteer Coordinators coordinating the keeper department must be at least a Green Level Senior Keeper. Volunteer Coordinators coordinating the partner department must be at least a Yellow Level Partner. Operations Managers may be any level deemed appropriate by the CEO and President and will be fully trained in every aspect that the job requires. All coordinators can be reached at one email address: Coordinators@BigCatRescue.org
Volunteer Committee: The primary goal of the Volunteer Committee is to develop and maintain a successful volunteer force to carry out the mission of Big Cat Rescue. Volunteer Committee duties may include; maintaining files on each current volunteer and intern, writing standard operating procedures & volunteer program and class revisions, running monthly hour reports and following up with volunteers regarding their status, promotion applications, discussing issues concerning the volunteers, disciplinary actions, promotions and rewards within the volunteer program, frequently checking and responding to emails to firstname.lastname@example.org, hosting quarterly Volunteer Appreciation Parties, keeping in touch with volunteers, recognizing birthdays, following up if a leave of absence is taken, and fostering relationships between volunteers, attending off-site classes or seminars to further improve operations, and other responsibilities as assigned by the CEO.
Suggestions, ideas, questions, special requests and even grievances should be submitted to the Volunteer Committee via email to Committee @BigCatRescue.org All discussions and decisions by and of the Volunteer Committee will be based on the Code of Honor. There is also an anonymous suggestion box located in the Gift Shop that is checked only by the CEO.
BigCatRescue.me: Big Cat Rescue has an extensive website resource dedicated towards keeping the volunteers, interns, and staff informed of all policies, updates, contact information, and day to day operations of the sanctuary. Each volunteer is assigned a first.lastname @bigcatrescue.org email address and is required to log in to the site regularly to check their emails as well as to read the Important Updates. Access to and participation in the bigcatrescue.me site is for current, active volunteers only. You must choose a password to enter the bigcatrescue.me site when your internship begins. Please choose a password that is meaningful to you, yet hard for someone to guess. Never share your password with others. Don’t forget to sign out! The easiest way for unauthorized persons to access all of Big Cat Rescue’s information is to gain unsupervised access to a computer in which one of our authorized volunteers is signed in to the bigcatrescue.me site but isn’t there. Remember that your Big Cat Rescue e-mail address is like an electronic version of the volunteer logo on your volunteer shirt. When you use it, you are representing Big Cat Rescue, even if you do not mean to. Please make sure that every e-mail you send from this address represents Big Cat Rescue accurately and positively.
Social Networking and BCR Email address Policies: As an intern, posts or communications regarding animal issues using social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube etc. should represent Big Cat Rescue’s mission accurately and positively. Photos and comments encouraging the physical interaction between humans and wild animals are discouraged as this is counter productive to the mission of Big Cat Rescue. Postings regarding the death of an animal at Big Cat Rescue should be made no earlier than one week following the loss. This is to ensure that your fellow Rescuers have the opportunity to read the news via the Important Updates instead of through social media. Emails that an intern sends from their Big Cat Rescue e-mail address should only reflect the mission of Big Cat Rescue and should be courteous and professional in content.
Classes: There are several training classes available for each level of the Intern Program. A list of class teachers can be found on the Class Completion List. A link to this page appears at the top of the Classes and Maps page. Under the heading Training and Docs in the left-hand side bar of the BigCat.me site. On this chart you will find every volunteer listed with the dates that they completed each class. At the bottom of the chart is also a tab titled Teachers. You may contact the teachers and request a specific class to be given. Only approved volunteers can teach classes. When a class is given the most recent version of the class should be printed directly from the BigCat.me site as classes are frequently updated. Two copies should be printed, one for the student and teacher to sign, date, and turn in and a second for the student to keep. The signed copy should be put in Jamie Veronica’s mailbox and any certification sheets should be put in the appropriate binders in the gift shop or in food prep. If there is a video version of the class the video must be played instead of reading the class aloud to the student, however, all class materials must still be filled out and turned in.
Hours: Interns are required to complete 600 hours of volunteer service during their 3 month internship. An account is set up for each intern to log his or her volunteer time via touch screen. These time clock stations are available in the gift shop, food prep, and the main offices. Interns must clock in using their assigned PIN number when they arrive at the sanctuary and must clock out when they leave the sanctuary. Volunteer Coordinators have access to a document that contains every intern’s PIN number should the intern forget their number. If an intern does not complete their 600 hours prior to the end of their internship and they have applied for a next level internship, he or she may be required to complete the 600 hours serving at the previous level’s duties before advancing.
Radios: At time of orientation or on first day a radio will be provided from BCR and must be carried on your person and turned on at all times while on the property. Each intern is responsible for keeping his or her radio in good working order. Batteries for the radios are provided by Big Cat Rescue and can be found in food prep. The radio must be returned to BCR upon completion of the internship. Radio transmissions should be kept to a minimum. Radio transmissions must be monitored by the Volunteer Coordinator or Operations Manager throughout the day for questions or emergencies.
Access to the Property: Interns will not operate the entry gates nor allow access to the property to anyone without proper training. If you do not recognize someone on the property as a volunteer or staff member, politely ask if you can help him or her. Explain that a volunteer or staff member must escort them at all times. Lead them to the Gift Shop and alert a coordinator, staff or committee member. No person shall enter the property without having completed a “Release & Hold Harmless Agreement.” If you have been entrusted with the gate code or keys, do not share these with anyone. Interns have the responsibility of making sure the gate is completely shut behind them as they enter and exit the property. Interns are provided with gate openers for the Lion’s Lair gate. These openers should be returned immediately to their designated space in the intern housing after each use. Easy Street is a privately owned road (not by Big Cat Rescue) and the people that live on the road are not affiliated with Big Cat Rescue. It is very important that we respect these people and drive no faster than 10 mph, as well as yield to on-coming traffic.
Intern Sign In: Before your intern shift begins, the Important Updates section on the BigCatRescue.me site must be checked for important information such as rule changes, cat information, scheduled events, etc. Interns must also verbally check in and out with the coordinator in order to receive work assignments and so that the coordinator can keep track of the Intern’s progress. Hours must be logged on the computer time system daily. These time records will be monitored frequently to assure maintenance of intern responsibilities. The intern must initial next to daily chores as they are completed and check the posted schedule to receive information on cleaning and feeding routes, days off, and radio coverage duties.
Dress Code: Interns must wear a blue intern shirt upon entering and at all times while on the property. Each volunteer must wear a shirt the color designated for his or her level. Intern tank tops are available, but are only to be worn when working on a project (i.e., not when working with guests or guiding tours). Interns are visible to guests at any time while on the property and must look presentable. Interns that are giving tours or assisting with events must wear a clean intern shirt, so it is advised to bring an extra with you each day. Intern shirts are to be worn by interns only. They are not to be given to friends or family nor are they to be donated or sold to the general public. Closed-toe flat shoes must be worn at all times while on the property. Excess jewelry or heavily scented products should not be worn. Long pants are recommenced but shorts will be tolerated if worn at a presentable length. Any clothing including Intern shirts must be in presentable, unaltered condition. Intern sweatshirts are available. Any other sweatshirts, sweaters, or jackets must be worn underneath the intern shirt. Rain gear must be royal blue, the color of the intern shirts. Rain boots are encouraged during the rainy season and high socks are recommended to avoid chaffing when wearing rain boots.
Curfew: There is a 11 PM curfew for interns living in Intern Housing. Interns must be onsite and in their own assigned housing at this time. Interns living in Intern Housings are depended upon for nighttime and during closed hours for emergency situations and are not permitted to spend nights off site for the duration of the internship. Special exemptions to spending a night off property may be requested in advance and should be submitted to the Operations Manager in writing. Requests will be reviewed on a case by case basis.
Cell Phones: Preferably, cell phones are to be left in the intern’s car, bag, or at home; however, if the intern is expecting an urgent call and must carry a cell phone, absolutely no calls will be answered while on the animal side of the barricades.
Personal Tours: All personal tours must be pre-approved by the coordinator in advance and be led by a certified tour guide. Volunteers may use their 10% discount for tour admission or give their guests tour passes that they have acquired through the reward program. Age restrictions apply to all guests on personal tours.
Grounds Maintenance: All interns are responsible for proper disposal of his or her trash as well as that of guests or other interns or volunteers. Recycle containers are provided for drink containers and cardboard, these containers are emptied into the dumpster in the guest parking lot marked recycling. When an intern completes a project, they must clean and put away all tools and excess materials and debris.
Monthly Volunteer Newsletter: A Volunteer Newsletter is published by the Volunteer Committee monthly and posted on the BigCat.me site. The newsletters are located under the heading Volunteer and sub-heading Newsletter on the left side bar of the BigCatRescue.me site as well as posted via a button titled Monthly News on the home page of the BigCat.me site. The Volunteer Newsletter includes safety reminders, requests, announcements, financial updates, and other important information that every intern should be aware of. It is mandatory that all interns read these newsletters and check the box available at the bottom of the newsletter indicating that the newsletter has been read.
Volunteer Appreciation Parties: Volunteer Appreciation Parties are held quarterly. Invitations are posted in the Important Updates, monthly newsletter, as well as emailed to all volunteers. These parties are a social gathering of volunteers to enjoy food, drinks, guest speakers, special announcements, and to celebrate awards and promotions. Interns must RSVP (attending or not attending) to invites so that the Volunteer Committee can be sure to have enough food and drinks for everyone that attends. The attire for the quarterly Volunteer Appreciation Party is casual. Interns do not need to wear their volunteer shirt, unless instructed otherwise (annual group photos). Name badges will be provided for the attendees to wear that state the name, department and level so that new interns and volunteers can become acquainted with senior volunteers. It is highly encouraged to attend these gatherings to promote camaraderie among interns, volunteers, and staff.
Demotions: Any intern who does not meet the requirements or adhere to the policies for their level will be reduced to the level for which requirements are being met. The Volunteer Committee reserves the right to query interns, either in writing or in person, in order to establish whether or not requirements are, or are not, being met as well as policies being followed before making their determination.
Dismissals and Denials: The Volunteer Committee retains the right to permanently excuse anyone from the program or from the property if his or her conduct is deemed unbecoming for an intern representing Big Cat Rescue. The Volunteer Committee may also deny any individual from joining the Intern or Volunteer Program.
CODE OF CONDUCT
Rumor control is everyone’s responsibility. The spreading of inappropriate information to fellow volunteers or to the public will not be tolerated. This includes negatively questioning the judgments or actions of the senior volunteers, Volunteer Committee, staff, or veterinarian care to or in front of volunteers or the public. Any issues, concerns, or grievances with staff or volunteers at any level should be addressed, in writing, to the Volunteer Committee if the issue can not be first be resolved directly with the other party. Every effort will be made to achieve resolution. The party deemed at fault for the grievance will be required to apologize and make every attempt to resolve the conflict with the offended party.
While an intern is on the property or at an event or outreach, he or she is representing Big Cat Rescue. Please dress appropriately and refrain from using offensive language or behavior.
When you send an email from your Big Cat Rescue e-mail address you are representing us. Please be sure that you represent Big Cat Rescue’s philosophy accurately and positively. This also includes postings on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and My Space, etc. While we cannot control what current and former staff and volunteers post to their social networking sites, we would like to reiterate that we would appreciate your attention to the message that your photos and comments on these sites sends about Big Cat Rescue and especially about the animals that we represent.
If you drive your vehicle with Big Cat Rescue signs, bumper stickers, license plates, etc. you are an ambassador for the sanctuary and we ask that you drive and act in a responsible manner.
If you do not know the answer to a question asked of you, please do not make one up. Tell the person that you will find out for them and then do so. Bad information is worse than none at all and each intern’s words are a reflection of Big Cat Rescue’s mission.
CODE OF HONOR
I will focus on what works best to achieve our mission of caring for cats and ending the trade.
I will speak my truth to the best of my ability and listen attentively as others speak theirs, with an end goal of finding solutions that work for all.
I will support my fellow Rescuers early, often and unconditionally.
I will be truthful and responsible for my actions, accepting my role with grace and performing to the best of my ability.
I will deal with complete transparency and proactively work to resolve any conflicts directly with those involved. I will be sensitive to their feelings and in no way belittle or challenge them in front of others. If no resolution is achieved I will ask that all involved parties meet together with the person(s) who can settle the matter.
If it’s not my story, I won’t tell it.
I will celebrate the good my fellow Rescuers do and show respect by saying please, thank you and job well done.
It is my responsibility to uphold the code and address breaches of the code with my fellow Rescuers directly, privately and respectfully.
I will be mindful of my tone, body language and the fact that we are all on the same path, albeit at different stages, so I will be open and gentle when asked for clarification.
I will trust that my fellow Rescuers share my same good intentions and will give the benefit of the doubt or seek their input in a kind and courteous way.
The Intern Program Orientation Contract applies to all Interns, Volunteers, Staff, and Guests (where applicable) while on the property. Each person is responsible to abide by and enforce these all of the documentation in this contract. Any infraction of this contract should be immediately brought to the violator’s attention as well as to the coordinator and the Volunteer Committee. The Volunteer Coordinator must fill out an Incident Report (available on the BigCat.me site in the Training and Docs section on the left hand side bar). This report should be filled out with the pertinent information and submitted to the Volunteer Committee. The Volunteer Committee will decide the appropriate action or disciplinary measure (demotion, dismissal, etc.). Any infraction of the Intern Program Orientation Contract may result in an Incident Report, which will become a permanent record in the violator’s file or immediate removal from the program.
How to Apply:
APPLICATION FOR LEGISLATIVE INTERNSHIP
This section covers the intern application process only. Please read the entire Intern Orientation Contract (all of the information on this web page) so that you are completely aware of the requirements of the intern program, deposits and fees, work schedule, housing and transportation, and basic rules that apply to all interns, volunteers, and staff.
Big Cat Rescue can only accommodate a limited number of interns at any given time.
Applications are accepted year round.
It is recommended that you apply no later than three months prior to your desired start date, but applications will be accepted at anytime.
Acceptance into the program is on a rolling basis throughout the year and is based on the availability of the applicants and housing.
If you would like to apply for the Big Cat Rescue Internship Program please complete the InternApplication below and submit the below listed required documents. (Email the preferred method for submitting applications)
Your application packet must contain:
Complete the application here:
Please provide all of the requested information in your application packet or your application will not be considered.
APPLICATION REVIEW PROCESS
Within 2 weeks of receiving your application packet the Intern Manager will review it. The best applicants will then be contacted to schedule a series of Skype interviews.
Up to 2 separate Skype interviews will be conducted.
Once an interview session has been scheduled, a non-refundable $50 application fee will then be required to hold your interview session dates and to perform a criminal background check.
NOTIFICATION OF ACCEPTANCE
After completion of your interview sessions a criminal background check will be performed. If you pass the criminal background check, you will hear from us within 3-4 weeks and will be notified as to whether or not you have been accepted. You will then be offer one or more start dates to choose from.
Once you have confirmed your start date with the Intern Manager, the $300 deposit will be required to hold the internship slot and insures against failure to complete the requirements of the internship or damages to the housings. This deposit is taken via credit card.
The entire $300 deposit will be returned you after the successful completion of the internship. To successfully complete the internship you must have met all of the requirements of the internship, returned your radio in good working order, have not damaged any Big Cat Rescue property, and have passed your housing inspections.
The $300 deposit will not be returned to you if you; cancel your internship before it has started, do not show up on your scheduled start date, fail to successfully complete the internship, do not pass your housing inspections, do not return the radio in good working order, damage Big Cat Rescue property, leave the internship early, or are terminated from the internship due to breach of the Intern Orientation Contract.
Submit specific questions regarding the intern program via email to Chelsea Feeny:
Chelsea Feeny, Big Cat Rescue Intern Intake Manager
In brief, this is how we insure the good animal health of our many exotic cats.
When the Keepers clean, if they do not find poop, the cat goes on the ‘check again’ chart. Then a second team goes around and searches for their poop. If none is found the cat is watched closely and checked on frequently and they go on the “No poop today” chart. This chart is looked at by the founder, coordinators and vets. The cat’s medical history is checked and the cats is watched closely. If there is no poop the second day they go on the vets’ ‘needs checked’ list.
The same with meals. If the cat does not seem excited about meal time, it is charted. If a cat does not eat all of their meal it is charted and the cat goes on the ‘observation sheet’ and is checked on frequently. The Operant Conditioning team tries throughout the day to offer food treats to get the cat to sit, lay, show mouth, show paws, and show belly so they can carefully watch how the cat moves and looks. The results are added to the observation chart for the vets.
If cats’ body language, behavior, attitude, appetite, or anything changes from the norm the cat goes on the observation chart. Cats are experts at hiding symptoms so it is crucially important that everyone here is trained to note any changes at all and charts it on the observation charts. Also, after mealtime keepers go back around and check to see if everyone ate all their food and if a cat still seems hungry after eating all their meal it gets noted on the charts as well for the vets to review the cats’ weight, medical history, and dietary needs. Catching problems as early as possible is really important because cats are so good at hiding symptoms by the time you see symptoms they really need quick attention.
Rufus Bobcat Under Vet Care
The Keeper is the first line of defense in caring for the animals in the Refuge. Big Cat Rescue maintains a close relationship with two full-time Veterinarians, and their Lab Technicians. However, the Keeper, being responsible for the daily care of the Refuge’s animals, plays an important part in the Big Cat Rescue’s animal health program. The effectiveness of the Keeper’s role depends on several factors.
Attitude:The Keeper’s attitude and the attitude of the Refuge’s Veterinarian and Management are all important for effective animal care.
Awareness: The keeper should be aware of his/her role in maintaining animal health, the policies and procedures of the animal health care program and the needs of the animals.
Prevention: The Keeper can help prevent problems caused by being uninformed, using poor techniques and practices, poor animal nutrition, improper use of tools and equipment, and substandard husbandry.
Observation: The Keeper must carefully observe the animals and all things in the Refuge which directly or indirectly affect them. Knowledge of an animal’s normal routine, behaviour and appetite is important. N ot all changes in behaviour will be caused by disease.
Communication: Good communications with co-workers and all other Refuge staff at all levels increases a Keeper’s effectiveness. All observations are to be documented immediately on the Observation Chart.
Co-operation: The Keeper is part of a team and should accept the role of others in animal health care, nutrition, etc.; record all information for the use of other staff and for future reference.
Disease is a condition of ill health or malfunctioning in a living organism. There are many forms of diseases which may be manifested by various signs or systems.
SIGNS OF ILLNESS
Wild animals, especially cats, often mask the symptoms of disease, illness or injury until death approaches or the disease has reached an acute stage; this is a matter of survival. The Keeper must be aware enough to detect subtle changes in his animals.
There are 11 signs of disease or change that a Keeper should look for and which may be significant to the Veterinarian or Director. In a specific animal any one of these may be normal by itself, but all of them should be recorded and reported if they occur. In all cases a comparison should be made with known behavior or history of the animals and with other individuals in the group.
Changes in behaviour: A quiet animal becoming aggressive, an active one becoming listless or depressed. A herd animal isolating itself or being ostracized. Evidence of pain, reduced grooming etc.
Changes in defecation: Diarrhea, foul odor, white flecks or blood in the stool, increase or decrease in frequency or amount, straining, presence of foreign objects. N o feces at all.
Changes in urination: Increase or decrease in frequency or amount, absence of urine, discolouration, presence of blood or pus, straining.
Discharges: From the eye, ear, nose, vulva or penis. Amount, colour, consistency and odor are all important.
Coughing, sneezing, gagging: How often and how much.
Limping or refusal to rise: Which leg and severity of lameness.
Change in appetite/water consumption: Eating less or not at all, drinking more or less, etc.
Wounds, sores, lumps: Appearance, size, location, rate of growth.
Change in appearance: Loss of hair, dull or matted coat.
Sudden loss or gain in weight, changes in general carriage, eye shine, etc.
Respiration: Change in depth and frequency of respiration, animal may tire easily.
Regurgitation or vomiting: When does it occur in relation to eating, how much, how often? Presence of foreign bodies, hair balls, parasites or blood.
KINDS OF DISEASE
Diseases can be classified according to the cause or etiology:
Infectious : Caused by lower organisms (virus, bacterium, fungus, internal and external parasites). May or may not be contagious (capable of being transmitted directly from one animal to another).
Nutritional : Caused by a deficiency or excess of any part of the diet (protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals).
Neoplastic (new tissue): Growths or tumors; may be fast or slow growing, malignant or benign.
Metabolic: Disorders of metabolism, eg. diabetes, capture myopathy.
Toxic: Ingestion or absorption of toxic substances.
Psychological: Stress related such as self trauma.
Developmental : Abnormalities of organ growth or development may be hereditary (genetic) and/or congenital (present at birth).
DEGREE OF ILLNESS
Various intrinsic and extrinsic factors will determine the severity of disease:
Species of animal and type of disease: Some species are resistant to certain diseases. Some microorganisms affect animal species, others are quite specific.
Genetic variability: Some strains or individuals are more susceptible, i.e. poor conformation may lead to foot and leg problems.
Age: Old and very young animals are generally more susceptible.
General state of health and nutritional status: Any underlying disease or deficiency can exacerbate disease or affect the immune system.
Stress: From humans, other animals, captivity can directly affect immune system.
Infectious diseases are acquired in various ways: through the skin (cuts, scratches, punctures), orally, into the respiratory system, from the mother utero or by other routes i.e. urogenital system.
Transmission occurs directly by contact through the air or by way of infected feces, saliva or discharges. Indirect transmission may occur via animate carriers (boots, tools, clothing) or through vectors (living disease carriers such as insects, bats or other animals, etc.).
Most diseases caused by microorganisms have direct life cycles. In the case of some parasites the life cycle may be indirect involving one or more intermediate hosts. An animal group or species in which a disease exists permanently is known as a reservoir. (i.e. skunks for rabies).
Knowledge of the methods of disease transmission and parasite life cycles is important in disease prevention.
To prevent disease from occurring in Big Cat Rescue animals we can do a number of things:
Keep groups of animals properly separated: Besides interspecific aggression, some species may act as reservoirs.
Keep all pets outside: Diseases that are mild domestic animals may be lethal to wild animals.
Quarantine all new animals entering the Refuge: Examine, test, treat or even reject them.
Hygiene: Wash hands, tools, boots before going from one area to another. Clean pens, dishes, bowls. Dispose of manure, bedding properly. Avoid conditions suitable for microorganisms such as wet areas.
Parasite control program: Routinely screen all animals and treat as necessary.
Effective pest control program: Including wild birds, rodents, insects and other animals.
Other preventive medicine measures: TB tests, hoof and teeth care, routine health examinations, good nutritional program.
Encourage participation in the Refuge’s Public Health Program.
Other points to consider in animal health care:
The Keeper should always record all changes in physical appearance and behaviour of the animal he or she works with. Do not feel stupid about reporting any small changes in your animals – their lives may be at stake. When reporting on animals’ condition, use the correct anatomical terms.
Quarantines and foot baths help reduce the spread of disease or infection. When finished in an animal area clean tools and maintain separate sets of tools for each animal section.
Never smoke in an animal exhibit or holding area.
Injury or illness in the Refuge may be caused by a number of factors- accidents, fighting among animals, problems with Refuge visitors, sudden stress, mismanagement, escapes, and problems during restraint are some. The Keeper can eliminate many of these problems or minimize the trauma by being alert and prepared. Anticipating certain problems allows the Keeper to prevent their occurrence:
Know your procedures for fire, escape, and dangerous situations.
Know your equipment, its location and how to use it; keep all your equipment in good condition.
Know your animal’s behaviour; be aware of problems, such as increasing stress, and try to remove the cause of the problem.
Never close a shift door unless the animal is in full view (all limbs and tail). Always check the ropes and snaps to be sure they won’t slip after you have secured them.
Keep a look out for toxic material-plastic, plants, wire, etc.
Protect animals from each other and the public-rectify any unsafe situations.
Try to take precautions before problems occur, not afterwards.
Think before you move animals; prepare in advance for their arrival or departure.
Prepare pens in advance with the needs of the animal taken into consideration. N ew animals in multi-use holdings can be injured by lights ( deer that bounce off walls) or limbs and heads can become trapped in wire fences (servals and goats).
Because animal catch-ups or knockdowns are not part of the daily routine more diligence is required to check animal areas after these events. Ropes, pens, darts, needles and other veterinary tools may be left behind or become covered with sand.
The cool weather substitution of heat lamps for regular lights may cause serious problems. Water from rain or hoses will cause infra-red lights to explode. Fixtures used for regular spot lights may not be designed to withstand the heat provided by infra-red lamps. Wood used near lights can easily catch fire with the heat provided from infra-red lights. If water is used in an area for the first time ensure that electrical outlets are designed for use in moist surroundings and have suitable covers or grounds.
When the Keeper enters a cage for any reason he should always use the following checklist to ensure that the area is safe for the animals.
Look for sharp objects such as glass, nails, screws and wire projections.
Look for flaking paint.
Make sure there are not any cleaning agents or chemicals in proximity to the animal cage, or within sight to tempt the animal to reach for them.
Look for holes in the floor, walls and ceiling in fences, wood and mesh, etc.
Check that the water supply is clean and unobstructed, and that the cat can reach it.
Check that the food and water is properly positioned where the animal will not walk, defecate or urinate in it.
Check that there are no sharp point on the cage that the cat can injure itself on.
Check that all temperature, lighting and humidity controls are functioning correctly.
Check ventilation and electrical systems.
In good animal husbandry, prevention of disease, illness and injury is a prime task of the Keeper. The prevention of disease through proper care, feeding and vaccination is better than having to treat a diseased animal.
CONSTRUCTION – PROBLEMS & DANGERS
New construction or repair and upgrading of existing facilities is a common occurrence at Big Cat Rescue. This presents the potential for a) animal contact with hazardous materials, b) the accidental (wind) or intentional introduction of hazardous materials into animal exhibits from construction areas.
Keepers should always be on the lookout for litter of any kind even if it is outside the cage. If construction material must be stored near animal areas arrange for barriers to be installed around the construction area.
Hardware disease is caused when a foreign object, usually metal, punctures the reticulurn of the ruminant stomach, The reticulum (or honeycomb) is one of the compartments of the four-chambered ruminant stomach and often retains heavy foreign objects swallowed by the animal. Problems may not occur unless the object is sharp (such as a nail or piece of wire), and punctures the stomach wall during that organ’s muscular contractions. The object may then puncture the liver or the diaphragm; in the latter case it may pass into the chest cavity and puncture the lungs or heart, causing death.
This is not a rare problem, because in general ruminants are indiscriminate feeders and will eat wire, plastic, rope, nails, etc. along with a mouthful of hay. They may even seek out certain objects if their diet is deficient. Cats will swallow anything they can get into their mouths.
Knowledge of these habits and close supervision of work in his area helps the Keeper to avoid problems. Scrutinize the exhibit before allowing animals into it; use the magnet to find small metal objects. Make sure your inspections are persistent and relentless, and remember that fill may also be contaminated, and requires continual inspection.
OTHER ASPECTS OF ANIMALS HEALTH
Other aspects of animal health care include feces, fecal samples, prescriptions, the necropsy and handling carcasses.
Feces are a very interesting material and any good Keeper over a period of time becomes a connoisseur of texture, colour, smell and amounts of fecal material. Every Keeper should be aware of feces as an indicator of the animal’s condition; feces are a source of much information about an animal and a good Keeper can extract much of this information.
The terms feces, stool, dung and excreta are all interchangeable. The Keeper should learn what normal feces are for a particular species, for only by knowing what normal stool is can he be aware of abnormalities or problems.
The first thing a Keeper considers is, are there any feces? Lack of fecal matter can indicate a serious problem. Feces begin as food in the mouth of the animal and shows up at the rectum after enzymatic, bacterial, protozoal and chemical actions have occurred. If an animal stops eating, a similar reduction in stool production will occur; the time between the animal stopping eating and when if stops defecating depends on the species. It can range from a few hours in small cats to weeks for larger felids.
When determining normal feces for a particular animal, consider the following:
Feces should appear at regular intervals and be of about the same type each time it is observed. The nature of the animal will dictate the type of feces seen. Obviously excreta from a lemur will be different from a cat or bearcat. These differences are due to different foodstuffs being consumed, different types of digestive systems, and different modes of digestion. Each animal has a complex relationship with its total environment and if the animal’s state changes it may be reflected in the feces. A Keeper, when checking feces, looks for changes in consistency (diarrhea, looseness), foul odor, an increase or decrease in the amount and frequency of defecation, parasite eggs or worms, blood, mucus or foreign objects.
The Keeper should know that many animals can produce diarrhea at will, especially when under stress, such as mating or fighting, or during catch-up.
Anal glands may pass a secretion out with the stool and provide a characteristic odor.
Certain abnormalities visible in feces may indicate specific problems:
PARASITES: Tapeworms, roundworms and other worms are sometimes seen in feces. Feces should be broken up so that the insides can be checked for parasites. Parasite eggs can be seen microscopically.
MUCUS: Mucus-covered feces may mean an inflammation or irritation in the intestine, a serious problem, and may indicate bacterial or protozal infection of the gut.
BLOOD: Tarry, black stool may mean bleeding in the upper digestive tract. The blood (a protein) is digested by enzymes and the pigment seen at defecation is black. It may indicate a serious problem, intestinal parasite or foreign bodies. Carnivores consuming blood in their food (meat) tend to produce a dark, tarry stool, depending on the amount of blood in the food; this does not indicate a problem. Blood or blood flecks in the stool can indicate an inflammation of the colon or caecum, caused by both infectious agents and non-infectious processes.
Whenever parasites, mucus or blood appears in the stool, or even if you are not satisfied that the stool is normal, take a sample of feces containing the abnormality. Always wear rubber gloves; never handle fecal matter with naked hands. When reporting, describe whether the blood is throughout the feces (inflammation of the colon or caecum) or only on the outside (indicates difficulty in passing stool – straining, possible constipation; may need oil or diet change). Label the sample clearly and precisely and indicate whether any previous behaviour may account for the condition of the feces.
Fecal examination in the laboratory takes place on a regular basis to prevent parasite build-up in the host animal. When parasites are detected, treatment should be carried out according to the Veterinarian’s specific instructions, with repeat doses administered on schedule to complete the worming process. The Keeper will probably administer the worming medication, and should observe the feces and, if necessary, collect further samples for prompt delivery to the laboratory.
When describing feces in daily reports and other records the following standard descriptions should be followed to avoid confusion.
NORMAL : Regular for that species or individual in all respects.
SOFT/UNFORMED: Softer than the consistency normal for the species or individual, but still has “body” .
LOOSE: Feces with the consistency of pancake batter.
DIARRHEA: Watery stool – a sample should be taken with a syringe or spatula.
Additional descriptions can provide other data, such as foul smell, mucoid, tarry, watery, etc.
Antibiotic treatment of an infection may kill off an animal’s gut fauna; it may be necessary to re-introduce bacteria into the animal’s gut as replacements. Remember that feces can tell you a lot by their presence or absence, whether the animal is in good health or whether it has parasites, has swallowed a foreign body, or how well it is digesting and absorbing food.
Don’t just throw feces in the garbage – have a look at them first to see what you can learn.
Animal fecal samples are routinely submitted several times a year to the laboratory as a part of the Refuge’s animal health program. Other reasons for fecals to be collected include testing new arrivals at the Refuge, animals transferred within the Refuge and clinical cases, where there is diarrhea or persistent loose stool, for example. Submit as early in the day as possible for quick examination.
When submitting fecal samples the stool must be fresh, in a sealed, plastic bag, and properly identified; the animal’s species, sex, I.D., area, whether routine (R) or clinical (C), and the reason for submission if clinical, as well as the date are written on a tag attached to the plastic bag.
If the feces are from a group, try to identify the individuals. Use full species name and identification. For instance we have a Serval, a Cougar and a Bobcat, all named Cleo.
From time to time the Keeper will have the responsibility of administering certain prescribed medicines or treatments for his or her animals. Expired drugs are not allowed; read expired drugs
If you are not sure what the chart means, don’t guess, ask.
Report the treatment’s effectiveness, dates administered and when finished on the required Medication Chart and turn in to Coordinator when done.
Feed back to the Veterinary Department any suggestions you have for more effective presentation of medication (i.e. offering the Rx in a particular preferred food). Return any unused medication as soon as possible.
Necropsy means, simply, examining the dead. When an animal dies, decomposition (autolysis) begins immediately in cases where the animal is under heat or stress. This means that bodies must be submitted for post-mortern as soon as possible after death. Specimens should be refrigerated (not frozen, which destroys tissue) immediately and taken to the Veterinarian as soon as practicable.
The body is usually collected and bagged (if its size allows) by the Keeper. A tag is attached to the bag or animal, stating the date, time found, the animal’s identification, and the Refuge area. The animal’s medical history should accompany the animal to the Vet.
Be sure that information you record on the tag and form is accurate, (especially the animal’s identification), and as full as possible. Information from the necropsy may save other lives in the Refuge by telling the Veterinarian what killed the animal, its parasite load (in relation to Refuge worming procedures), its general state of health before death (in relation to nutrition and diet), and its reproductive state. The data supplied by the Keeper may be important in the final diagnosis of the cause of death.
Disposable gloves must always be worn.
If the animal is a rabies suspect or a wild animal, place the carcass in double plastic bags.
Handle the carcass as little as possible; use a branch or tool to push it into the bag.
Make sure the carcass is transported immediately to the Veterinarian.
Report the death and animal I.D. on your Observation Chart .
KEEPER’S READING LIST
The following books and journals are recommended reading for Keepers wishing to gain more insight into, or a more detailed understanding of some of the topics covered in this manual.
– Management of Wild Animals in Captivity
– A Zoo Man’s Notebook
– The Carnivores
– Restraint and Handling of Domestic and Wild Animals.
– Man and Animal In the Zoo
– Psychology and Behaviour of Wild Animals in Zoos and Circuses
– Wild Animals in Captivity
– A Safety Manual for Keepers (Animal Restraint)
Young, E. (Editor)
– Capture and Care of Wild Animals
Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia
International Zoo Yearbooks
(Vols. 1-21) EXCELLENT SOURCE
Mammals of the World
( Walker, 3rd Edition)
American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums – Conference Proceedings Animal Keeper’s Forum (journal of the A.A.Z.K.) – a wealth of articles. Ratel (journal of the Association of British Wild Animal Keepers – ABWAK).
Big Cat Rescue PUBLICATIONS
Animal Fact Sheets – ZooKeeper Taraining, Volunteer Guides, Big Cat Rescue – background information (Education Department) Standard Operating Procedures – all staff Emergency Instructions, The Safari Guide Book and Free Spirits in Captive Cats.
There are many other publications – books, magazines, articles and journals in the Refuge Library, many dealing in detail with specific subjects. Keepers are urged to use their Refuge Library and to become familiar with the various sources of information.
SOURCE LIST – BIBLIOGRAPHY
American Association of Keepers – Animal Keeper’s Forum Vols. 1975-1982
American Refuge & Aquarium Association
– Keeper Training Manual 1968
– Animal Husbandry Training Manual 1981
– National and Regional Conference Proceedings
Association of British Wild Animal Keepers
(ABWAK Journal) – (RATEL) Feb.1981
– RATEL vol.7, no.1
– ABWAK N ewsletter
Association of Zoo Directors of Australia and N ew Zealand
– Bulletin of Zoo Management, Oct. 1981
Buchsbaum, Ralph & Milne, Lorus J.
– The Lower Animals-Living Invertebrates of the World
(Double Day & Company, Inc. Garden City, N .Y. 1967)
– The Zoo
– The Management of Wild Animals in Captivity
( University of Chicago Press, Chicago)
– Zoo Man’s N otebook
( Univ. of Chicago Press)
– The Carnivores
(Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N ew York 1973)
– 1978 The Restraint and Handling of Wild & Domestic
( Iowa State University Press, Ames , Iowa )
– 1986 Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine
(W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia )
– 1981 Marine Mammal Care
(O.V.C. University of Guelph , Ontario )
– The Dictionary of the Biological Sciences
(Van N ostrand Rheinhold)
– 1977 Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia
(Van Nostrand Rheinhold , N ew York , 13 volumes)
– Man and Animal in the zoo : Refuge Biology
(Routledge and Kegan Paul, London )
– The Psychology and Behaviour of Animal in Zoos and Circuses
( Dover Publications, N ew York )
– Wild Animals in Captivity
( Dover Publications, N ew York )
– Ethological Dictionary
(Garland Publishing, Inc., N ew York )
Hickman, Cleveland, P.
– Integrated Principles of Zoology 4th Edition
(C.V. Mosley Co., St. Louis, 1970)
International Union for the Conversation of N ature and N atural Resources
– Red Book on Rare and Endangered Species
( Gland , Switzerland )
International Species Inventory System
– Manuals and Codebooks
( ISIS , Apple Valley , Minnesota )
– A Source Book of Biological N ames and Terms
(Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, Springfield , Illinois )
Jennings , J.B.
– Feeding Digestion & Assimilation in Animals
(Macmillan, St. Martin ‘s Press 2nd Edition)
– Calgary Refuge In-Service Training Program for Refuge
(City of Calgary , Calgary , Alberta )
– 1974 Safety Manual for Keepers (Animal
Larousse Encyclopedia of Animal Life
(1967 Hamlyn Publishing Group)
– Zoo Animals, People, Places
Pettingill, Jnr., O.S.
– 1970 Ornithology in Lab and Field
(Burgess Publishing Co.)
Sheridan College Keeper I Course N otes 1981/82
Schwabe, Calvin S.
– 1969 2nd Edit. Veterinary Medicine & Human Health
(Williams & Wilkins Company, Baltimore)
Taylor, S. and Bietz A.
– 1979 Infant Diet/Care N otebook
(A.A.Z.P.A. Wheeling , West Virginia )
– What’s for Lunch – Animal Feeding at the N .Z.P.
Van Tyne,J.& Berger, A.J.
– 1976 Fundamentals of Ornithology (Dover Publishing, Inc.)
Walker , E.P.
– 1975 Mammals of the World (Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore , Maryland ,
3rd Edition, 2 volumes)
– Ecology and Evolution of Animal Behaviour
(Goodyear Publishing Co. California , 2nd Edition)
– The Life of Birds (W.B. Saunders, Co., 2nd Edition)
– Deer of the World (Constable, London , England )
Big Cat Rescue had 89 volunteers at the end of 2014 who clocked in 40,547 man-power hours, in addition to 54 interns who clocked 32,400 man-power hours, plus 4,793 Volunteer Committee member hours. In total this amounted to 77,740 man-power hours provided roughly the equivalent workforce of 37 more full time staff. Between paid staff, part time staff, contractors and volunteers we averaged the equivalent of 52 full time staff.
This section will be for gathering assets to be translated into Spanish for use in creating sanctuaries for big cats in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries.
Esta sección será para la recopilación de los activos para ser traducido al español para su uso en la creación de santuarios para grandes felinos en México y otros países de habla hispana. Algunos de los artículos son un poco anticuado, pero estoy vinculándolos aquí para actualizar y traducir.
What Happens to All the Circus Animals?
Banning the cruel use of wild animals in circus acts is happening all around the world. At those bans begin to be enforced there is concern that the circuses will let the animals starve to death. Governments and animal rescue groups are working together to provide humane solutions that will enable the animals to live out the rest of their lives in sanctuaries. A well run sanctuary can provide the best possible animal care and can support itself, if careful planning goes into the creation and running of the refuge.
Big Cat Rescue has been around since 1992 but it didn’t get the fundraising part right until 2003. Now we generate about half a million dollars over our expenses annually that we put into major improvements of the grounds and into an endowment fund to insure the long term care of our cats. Some of the following are the tips we have learned to being financially successful.
Do it right.
If you do it right the first time, you save money and time. Whether it is building the cages, or the infrastructure, or training the staff and volunteers, or doing the fundraising, it will always work out better in the end if you do it right from the beginning. You only get one chance to to make a good impression. Your reputation will be the most important factor in the success of the endeavor and it only takes one bad act to lose respect.
The very first thing that should be done is to neuter all of the males and implant females to prevent further adding to the number of lions and tigers in cages. None of these privately held animals serve any conservation purpose and should never be bred for life in a cage. In the case of Mexico’s ban on the use of wild animals in circus acts, it would immensely help limit the future costs if the government were to seize the animals in place, to neuter and implant them, before actual confiscation. This would limit the sales of these animals into inappropriate situations and would help stop the cub handling industry.
Even if you are doing everything right, you need to be transparent, so that your supporters know. Some ways to be transparent are to be open to the public so they can see everything that happens. Other ways are to share the animal care via photos and videos online or web cams.
Your finances should be just as open to the public. People want to know where and how their donations or tax dollars are being spent and being open about it encourages more public support and limits corruption. Having outside auditors come in, at least once a year to inspect finances and animal care, lets the public know they can trust you.
Build it right.
This video shows how we build our 2.5 acre vacation rotation enclosure, the feeding lockouts, bowl holders, guillotine doors, the safety entrances and our roofed cages. We have a lot of species of wild cats, so most of our cages have roofs, but if you are only housing lions and tigers, you can build them with no roof using the instructions in the video below:
Big cats will be much more relaxed and easier to deal with if they have a lot of space. We have found the MINIMUM amount of space for each cat should be about 1200 square feet (112 square meters).
Cats are solitary and even though they may be forced to live in groups where they are currently, they will fight, steal food from each other and cause medical emergencies. Unless the cats REALLY love each other, they should be housed separately. Even if they do love each other, there must be a way to separate them at feeding time.
Shared walls are just asking for trouble because anything that fits through can get chewed off, like ears, tails and paws. It is also an invitation to fight, so we never have shared walls. We use 4 inch by 4 inch welded wire fence panels that are 5 feet tall and 15 feet long. They are double galvanized to prevent rust. Most of our sanctuary was built with single galvanized panels, which were cheaper but require painting every 6 years or so with Rustoleum.
Tigers and neutered / spayed lions don’t dig, so there is no reason to put a floor in the cage if it is at least 1200 square feet per cat. They prefer the soft earth, grass and bushes to concrete or rocks; which can be debilitating for their joints.
Each cage should have a feeding lockout for each cat in the cage. The feeding lockout only needs to be big enough for the cat to walk in and turn around and only slightly taller than the cat. The feeding lockout should be attached to the cage with a guillotine door. The guillotine door should be shut before feeding so the keeper can safely put the food in, then open the door. The guillotine doors should be shut when keepers are cleaning the lockout and water bowls so the cats can’t sneak up on them. Making this space small makes it easier for the vet to assess a cat, to administer shots and conditions the cat for easy transport.
A 1200 square foot cage costs us about $7500 to build (115019 pesos)
All of the lions and tigers should be tested for contagious diseases upon arrival and vaccinate. They should be kept separate and not use the shared rotation area, for the first 30 days to insure there is no disease transmission.
Feed them well.
Feeding a good diet and being safe at feeding time is important.
We prefer to feed our cats an expensive prepared diet made in Colorado by Triple A Brand but most facilities feed the Wal-Mart Diet. Wal-Mart offers sanctuaries their expired meats for free. In the U.S. this is managed by Quest Recycling. The down side of using this meat is that it is not a balanced diet and those who do use it report that about 80% of what they get is too bad to feed, so there is some cost in disposing of the bad meat and wrapping.
Keep it clean.
Taking care of one lion or tiger is hard work, but when there are 100-300 of them, it is a job for a team of well trained individuals. There is no reason to spend donor dollars nor tax dollars on salaries for keepers because people love working with big cats so much they will do it for free. The only paid positions should be those that volunteers don’t like to do, like managing the volunteers, keeping the records, doing the fundraising, taking care of the website and social sites and outreach educational programs.
The key to making sure the lions and tigers get the very best care is training the volunteers how to do things right and be safe while doing it. Big Cat Rescue has an annual budget of 2.7 million dollars and only 14 paid staff. None of the paid staff do animal care work. Even our vets donate their services. We have about 100 large exotic cats and 88 volunteers and 12-22 interns at any given time. They do all of the cleaning, feeding, medicating, and much of the grounds work and maintenance. They also guide all of the tours.
We always have more applicants for our intern program than we have space. If you can provide housing and food for interns, you can keep full time help on site at all times. Our interns work 5-6 days a week and volunteers must donate at least 4 hours of time each week to stay in the program.
Engage the public.
When laying out the facility, consider public viewing as well, so that you have plenty of room for paths to get trucks to each enclosure, walkways for groups of 20 people at a time to walk, and at least 5 feet from the side walls of the cages to a 4 foot high barricade. The barricade should not obstruct the visitor’s view, but should keep them from going over or under it to get too close to the lions and tigers.
We only allow guided tours of Big Cat Rescue, in groups of up to 20 at a time, but if you can completely cage in the public, like a cage wire tunnel, then you could allow people to roam at their own pace as long as you have sufficient security to keep them from harassing the animals or throwing anything in the cages that might be dangerous if eaten.
We offer high price specialty tours and find that we have to raise our prices for all of our tours every couple of years because we want to maintain the peace and tranquility of our sanctuary. As of 2015 these are the prices we charge for our tours, and we use an outside agency to sell the tickets, answer all the questions callers have and make the reservations. They send us an email 2 hours before each tour that tells us how many people are coming so that we have enough tour guides.
We are able to charge these kinds of prices because we are only 15 minutes from Tampa International Airport. Acreage here costs $100,000 an acre (3,796,120 pesos) but it is because of our close proximity to the city and airport that we have so many visitors. The videos below were from 6 years ago, but show you what a visitor sees on a feeding tour and a keeper tour.
Good walls make good neighbors. The entire facility should be enclosed by a wall. We prefer a wall that you cannot see through, so that there is less chance of someone shooting at the cats, but whatever it is made of, it should be sufficient to keep vandals and other wildlife out.
Natural shade is much better than man made shade, so if possible the cages should be built in areas with lots of trees or trees should be planted now. They grow quickly and will provide much better cooling for the cats. Lions and tigers are not good climbers, so if they are fed every day, they rarely have a reason to climb, but trees should be positioned in such a way that cats cannot use them to escape. In some places that don’t have enough trees, road culverts can be buried in earth to create a cool place for the cats.
Keep good records and make sure your staff are informed.
Archivos: http://bigcatrescue.org/records/ Mantener un buen registro es importante para la buena salud de los animales. Utilizamos los sitios de Google creado con la plantilla de Santuario que hicimos al alcance de todos en la sección Temas más cuando se va a crear un sitio . Este tema tiene todas las herramientas de gestión de voluntarios y de formación que utilizamos , así como las formas y gráficos que utilizamos para alimentar a los gatos , reportando su comida dejó más o heces y observaciones acerca de su condición médica. Usted puede crear un sitio web gratuito con este tema para rastrear todo su cuidado de los animales y la capacitación del personal. Debe tener una cuenta de Google para usarlo. https://sites.google.com/site/santuariomexicano/
Some things happen EVERY day, some things happen a few times a week, some things happen once a month and some things happen once a year. The problem with all of this structured order is that EVERY day there is some chaos introduced, so it is always a balancing act to take care of both the critically important, and the things that have to get done every day.
To Set the Stage
There are 80+ exotic cats on 67 acres and about 80-100 volunteers and staff to care for them. Some cats have more than one cage, or Cat-a-Tat, as we call them, so there are 110 cages and most are the size of a person’s home, up to half acre – 2.5 acres in size.
70 of our cats are already past 15 years old, which is very old for these cats. (In human terms, it’s like being over 100) Right now, 30 of our cats are over the age of 20, which is practically unheard of elsewhere. Because we are dealing with so many old age issues we have a LOT of cats who get medications twice a day, EVERY day. If you have ever tried to pill a cat, you can appreciate the lengths our Keepers have to go through to get a cat to take their meds.
Our cats eat every day. Most zoos fast several days a week, but our cats are old and no one likes to go hungry, so 7 days a week the cats are fed by a cadre of volunteers. The food is taken from the freezers to the cooler a day or two in advance to thaw, and then each day special diets have to be made up for a huge number of our cats, because of medical issues they have, and all of the cats are fed. We feed whole prey rats and rabbits two days a week, which arrive frozen, and the rest of the week it is a combination of a ground beef diet, that has their vitamins and minerals pre mixed in, and chicken and beef chunks.
This is the happiest time of the day for the cats. A couple hours before feeding they all start pacing around and calling out to the Keepers when they hear the wagons hauling the buckets, full of food, coming down the path. Keepers shut the most dangerous cats out of the feeding lockouts before feeding time, so they can safely drop the food in on the platters. Then the cats are let in to feast!
All the buckets and utensils have to be washed, floors in food prep mopped and food set out for the next day to thaw.
Another thing that gets done every single day is the Cat-a-Tats all get cleaned. That’s like cleaning 110 homes a day where the inhabitants poop all over the place and try to hide it.
Each Cat-a-Tat has one to three bowls for water and a platter for food. Every single day the water is dumped out, the bowls are scrubbed and refilled, and the platters are sanitized and washed down.
If the cats dragged their food into the cage, the Keepers have to spot it and pull it out using long, L shaped scraper rakes to get the stuff to the side and tongs to pull it out through the side of the cage.
This is probably why no one comes to our barbecues.
A lot of things are going on while the cats are being fed and cleaned as well. All Keepers are looking for changes in the cats’ condition, behavior, food left behind and what the cats’ scat looks like. They are looking for cage and grounds maintenance issues as well. As soon as they finish feeding and cleaning they log into the computers and record their observations. Those observations immediately generate emails to the vet group for animal health issues, and to the maintenance people for the cage and grounds work. The Operations Manger, the CEO and the President are copied on all of these observations in real time so we all know what is happening.
Any of our volunteers or staff can subscribe to these alerts if they want to be informed and they all have access to our BigCat.me Intranet site where these issues are reported. The Operations Manager then has to check off the Observation, once she has taken a look at the issue, so that everyone knows that someone in charge has double checked the situation. All of the health related issues become a permanent part of each cat’s record.
We are closed to the public on Thursdays, but every other day of the week we have guided tours. All tours are led by a tour guide, with a back up to keep everyone together. They are done in groups of 22 or less, so everyone can hear as the guide shares the stories of the cats and what people can do to protect them in the wild and from captivity.
We have a tour every week day at 3 PM (except Thursdays) We also often will have busloads of children from schools, scouts, summer camps, etc. and busloads of cruise ship guests. We offer private tours throughout the day, as we have volunteers available to give them, so there are often small groups of people learning about the cats and their issues.
We have the large guided tours three times each weekend day, as we have many more of our volunteers available on week ends than on week days.
We also have Feeding Tours, where guests watch the Keepers feed and learn about what cats eat in the wild and at Big Cat Rescue. We have Keeper Tours where guests learn how to make enrichment for the cats and then go with the Keepers to see it handed out. Once a month we offer a Night Tour. Sometimes we have really special, special tours; like this week a Keeper from Spain, where we are helping a sanctuary build a facility for rescued circus cats, is coming for a week, so she will be shadowing our people in every aspect of what we do. Many of our private tours are for VIPs, large donors, other rescue groups, and those who pay extra for them.
Training the Volunteers
All of our animal care is done by volunteers. We can do that because of the intense training our volunteers get. Every day volunteers are taking classes, from other volunteers, and are getting their certifications. A certification is a sign off they get from a coordinator (the person in charge that day) saying they are proficient at the task. There are always at least 3 sign offs needed for each certification to be complete. So the way training works is:
1. The volunteer takes the class by watching a video or being read to by another volunteer.
2. They take and pass a test.
3. They go out and watch someone do it right 3 times.
4. They go out and do it, while being watched by a coordinator 3 times, to be sure they got it right.
5. They are certified as competent for the task.
6. Later in their career they can apply to be a teacher or coordinator to help train and lead others.
There are 30 or more of these classes they have to progress through, in a particular order for them to be able to proceed up the ranks of Red, to Yellow, to Green to Navy Blue. We use shirt colors to show a person’s level of expertise and time spent with us. Red is first 6 months and requires 4 hours a week, Yellow is next year and a half and requires 6 hours a week, Green is after 2 years and requires 8 hours a week. Keepers have to be Green to feed or clean the lions, tigers, or leopards. Navy is after 4 years and requires 16 hours a week of volunteerism.
Our interns train 6 days a week, daylight to dark, so they fast track through these levels. They live onsite and come from all around the world because this kind of training isn’t available any where else.
Training the Cats
Every day the Keepers do Operant Conditioning with the cats. This is training the cats to do things we need for administering their vet care, by using positive rewards (meat on a stick) to get them to do things like, show us their paws, open their mouths, let us give shots or draw blood from their tails. We never with hold food and never punish a cat in any way, so it is fun for them.
Cats are so smart that keeping them entertained is one of our toughest jobs. Operant Conditioning is a great way to alleviate their boredom. In addition to training the cats, the Keepers are constantly being trained and certified.
Enrichment is made on Wednesday nights by a dedicated group of volunteers who come to the sanctuary after work. In order to have enough enrichment to hand out every day, it takes them hours to stock the freezers with blood cicles and tuna pops. The volunteers make daily enrichment items that are small, easy to hand out and enough of them for 100 cats to get something new every day.
These creatives also manufacture, from all safe materials, some pretty spectacular mock ups of rhinos, giraffes, mice, Pinatas, Valentine’s day items, etc. Some just for the fun of it and others for filming for our holiday themed videos or for special occasions. Watching the cats tear these toys apart is a lot of fun because the cats show such gusto for it.
The cats get other seasonal enrichment items such as pumpkins for Halloween, turkeys for Thanksgiving, Christmas trees, and watermelons in the summer.
The Stores Support the Cats
The Gift Shop is open every day but Thursday, so there is always a lot going on in there. Our online and gift shop sales generate a lot of money for the cats so Partners (our non Keeper volunteers) are always busy fulfilling orders and shipping them, answering phone calls that range from: “Where are you located?” To “I have a lion I want to get rid of.” Got two of those calls last week.
Whenever you’re talking retail, you have a lot of decisions to make as to what will sell, labeling, organizing the shelves and the storage areas, seasonal decorations, and the dreaded annual inventory, which is an event of epic proportions, including a buffet to help everyone get through it.
Partners are trained to be nice to guests, to be able to answer questions or find someone who can, to keep the Gift Shop looking spiffy, to manage the huge groups of people (sometimes a few hundred at a time) who are all piling into our store before their tour. Our store is about 1000 square feet, so it’s crowded in there, but we don’t have room to expand it any further. We play our videos, via our Roku channel on a T.V. in the store and one in the back yard waiting area, so guests can get a preview of what we do while they are waiting. We are very strict about how people are to behave around the cats so we have a video they watch on our rules right before the tours.
We have had to raise our tour prices every few years because we have become too popular and can’t handle the crowds and still maintain the tranquility of a sanctuary. We use a ticketing agency called Zerve to handle our tickets and scheduling, which has increased revenues considerably and it tells us an hour in advance how many people are coming. We still have to scramble to find tour guides and back ups, and there is a considerable amount of cross scheduling, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, when you are dealing with about 30,000 guests each year.
Our tours have 3 different ways of being done. Very small tours will be a guide just talking with the guests as they walk around the property spotting cats. Large tours usually have the guide wearing a transmitter and the guests each wearing a receiver with a headset, so they can hear. What they hear will either be the guide talking or we have an iPhone / Android app called Big Cat Rescue, where guides can play the stories of the cats. We prefer this method as it insures the guest gets an accurate message. Memorizing 100 cat stories has proven difficult for the best of tour guides.
At the end of the tour, people are asked to contact their lawmakers to ask for laws that ban the private possession of big cats, and to end the cub handling that causes all of the surplus big cats to be bred, used and discarded. They are greeted by one of our Legislative Interns who helps them place the call or write the letter on the spot.
People tell us all the time how surprised they were to get a thank you from us. We make it a habit to send a written thank you note to every donation over $25. When you consider our income is close to two million dollars a year, that’s a LOT of thank you notes.
It seems like there are a steady parade of trucks delivering piles of mail (that has to be sorted out to the right staff), supplies, water, soft drinks and the MEAT TRUCK. When the meat truck arrives it is all hands on deck to quickly transfer thousands and thousands of pounds of cat food into the freezers. We can store about 20,000 pounds of meat in our two freezers and the cats consume about 500 pounds a day.
Big Cat Rescue keeps all of its fundraising and admin costs under 20% (35% is considered the industry goal) by only paying staff to manage people and having all animal care done by volunteers. Because of the way we manage the sanctuary and our finances we have one of the highest charity ratings given at Charity Navigator. Even though we are closed to the public on Thursdays, we still have to manage volunteers 7 days a week.
That includes making sure they know they are appreciated by sending the birthday cards, anniversary (of joining Big Cat Rescue) cards, get well cards, condolence cards and showing our appreciation through recognition on our Intranet site. It means making sure they have clean conditions to work in and an environment where we all adhere to a Code of Conduct that encourages respect.
Taking care of our staff and volunteers means making sure their equipment and software is working, up to date, virus free and a lot of trouble shooting with computers, routers, Vox boxes, Internet connections, the registers, Roku, a stack of iPads and iPhones, that are used for tours and caring for the cats.
Intern Housing Tiger Tail Lodge at Big Cat Rescue
Every day there are intern issues to deal with from screening and interviewing new ones, arranging their flights, visas, airport pickup and trips out for groceries, if they don’t have cars, to training them, to doing house inspections to make sure they are caring for their foster kittens properly and keeping the houses clean.
Interns move on site for 3 months at a time and for many of them it is the first time they have ever been away from home. We give a crash course in how to get along with others (up to four others in their house) and how to take care of themselves, domestic kittens and, of course, all of our big cats.
All volunteers and interns clock in and out on a Volgistics time clock. We have to monitor that everyone is putting in sufficient hours for their color level and we reward those who are over achievers. Every class and certification has to be documented in every volunteer’s file, and when they seek a promotion, all of their coordinators have to be consulted to vote on the promotion.
If there are any conflicts the Volunteer Committee sits down with both parties to hash it out in an environment that ensures privacy and a resolution that works for everyone.
We are a NO TOUCH facility! Anyone caught touching an exotic cat is thrown off the property and never allowed back in. As you can imagine, our people LOVE cats and really, really, really want to touch them so we partnered with the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and Fostering is Cool to help save kittens and their moms from being killed in county run shelters.
We take the moms with kittens, or the orphaned kittens who are too young to adopt, and bottle raise them until they reach 2 pounds. They are then returned to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay to be altered and adopted. Many kittens come to us so young they have to be bottle fed every 4 hours around the clock. The interns keep the kittens in their houses at night, and bring them to the Kitten Cabana during the day, so they can continue their care.
When the kittens are weaned and get their shots, the other volunteers can play with them in the Kitten Cabana. It’s great therapy for our cat loving crew and the kittens are so loving and trusting, after all the handling, that they are adopted right away.
We are a news distribution service for anything exotic cat related. We have google alerts set for most species of wild cat and other terms such as zoos, sanctuary, etc. We curate the news daily via Spundge and then broadcast it out to the key word specific pages of our website and to our social sites. We also comment on the most pertinent stories, to educate reporters and readers about the truth of the matter and give links, documents and statistics to back it up. We are changing the conversation out there from, “Oh, how cute it is to pet a tiger cub!” to “Where is that cub’s mother and where will that cub go when it gets too big to pet next month?”
Disseminating our message; which is that big cats don’t belong in captivity, is done daily via our website which gets upwards of 2.5 million unique visitors a day, on our Facebook page that has more than one million fans and often has weeks where our reach has extended past 10 million people, our YouTube channel which has had more than 100 million views, and a plethora of other social sites like Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus and others. We can’t just post our position and walk away. We have to engage in two way conversations with hundreds of thousands of people in order to help them understand the big picture when it comes to cats in cages.
Managing Real Estate
The founder donated many real estate parcels to the sanctuary over the years to create an income stream for the cats that was not tied to tourism or donations. This means there are daily issues of renting properties, evicting non paying squatters, marketing and selling homes, developing vacant lots and selling them, paying taxes, doing site inspections, dealing with county employees who drag their feet in permitting, trying to find new ways to keep tenants from stealing all of the appliances when they leave in the middle of the night, getting people to pay their mortgages, paying lawyers and grounds keeping on empty parcels.
So Far This Has Been the Daily Grind!
Three times a week we are performing K-Laser therapy on several of our cats in an experiment to cure hot spots, lameness and arthritis. So far the lameness in a bobcat, caused by a blood clot, has resolved, but we are still working on the others. We hold a blood ‘cicle or tuna pop on a stick through the side of the cage so the cat comes up close enough for the laser.
Some things only happen once a week, like going to the big box store and stocking up on snacks for the volunteers, cutting the grass, and big projects like painting a cage, or landscaping. Thursdays are usually set aside for doing big projects because we don’t have to break at 3 pm to do tours.
The vets are both volunteers and each of them comes out twice a week. They have a list, from the Observation Charts, and go out to check on cats and make recommendations for their care. They may decide to bring a cat into our onsite hospital, or to their clinic. Last year we had nearly 90 vet procedures which was up from only 20 the year before. As our cats continue to age, we expect those procedures to continue to escalate.
Laying out the medications for the cats is a weekly task for someone on our vet care team. They have to count out all of the pills, delete them from our inventory, put them in bags, labeled for the right cat and the right instructions, and these are kept under lock an key.
About once a week we will be asked to host some sort of corporate, church, school or other team building event where non volunteers come for a day and do something for the cats. Since we can’t let untrained people near the cats, these projects are usually grounds maintenance.
Once or twice a week we field calls from the press about some situation in the news. Today it was all about the Tiger Temple bust, and Tony the truckstop tiger being in Discovery Magazine. Yesterday is was a production crew pitching a story idea. Last week it was because of the release of a new book about saving tigers. These are excellent opportunities to reach far beyond our own fan base with our message. They suck up a lot of time, but it’s worth every minute.
Every week we are contacting and educating lawmakers, influencers and decision makers so they choose animal friendly options. This is done via email, phone calls, in person visits and hand written cards and letters.
About once a month, or every other month we are called on to rescue a cat. If it is a native bobcat that has been hit by a car or injured by a hunter then there is usually a death defying chase involved and it always seems to end up in a lake or river. There is then all of the emergency care for the bobcat and then weeks of rehab.
If the call is about a captive cat then we have to get the owner to contract with us to never own another exotic cat. We won’t let people dump adult cats on us just so they can try out a new baby. If they agree then we have to coordinate with their vet, or a vet in their area to issue a health certificate and we have to get an import permit from the Florida Wildlife Commission. In most cases we have to go get the cat and that could be anywhere in the U.S. The kind of people who have wild animals as pets are usually a crazy lot and dealing with them makes you want to pull your hair out.
They usually talk in manic circles as if they are on crack, they don’t return calls, they keep putting off the vet visit or the rescue, they give you false information, they don’t want you to tell anyone about what they did, they don’t show up the day you arrive to get their “pet” and they are just generally unreliable.
Sometimes it is a governmental seizure, so we can’t tell anyone where we are going or what we are doing until we have the cat safely in the vehicle and are heading back to Tampa. In most cases either the agencies, or the owner won’t allow any filming, so the most exciting work we do, is usually not something we can show. The shortened time for letting supporters know about the rescue is also a choke hold on donations.
The time leading up to and during a rescue is when people are most likely to donate. Once the cat is safely within our gates, most are off to the next exciting rescue and don’t think about the fact that we have just made a lifetime commitment to caring for the cat we just rescued. One tiger will cost us 10,000 a year for every year the cat lives with us. Last year a tiger was 25 when he died, so in a case like that, if he were rescued at the age of 10, he would typically cost us 150,000 over his lifetime.
The cats are de-wormed and de-flea’d once a month. It’s no easy task either because they don’t like the taste of the wormer and if you ever tried to put Advantage or Revolution on your own cat, you know they smell that coming a mile off and run under the bed. Same here, but their beds are big concrete cave dens. We have to get more clever all the time.
Golf carts need battery maintenance and washing. A/C filters have to be replaced. Sheds are reorganized. The vehicles may need oil changes, washing, tires checked, etc.
The Holleys are a couple of volunteers who come in a couple times a month to build platforms and “ADA” ramps for our old cats.
We send out a monthly newsletter called the AdvoCat to 82,000 people on our email list. Each e-zine typically has 10 or more stories including updating our supporters on cats rescued, cats who are ailing, cats who have died, holiday goodies for them from our BigCatFun.com site, exciting news in the cat world, progress on legislation to ban the private possession of big cats, and 3-5 of the most shocking examples of exotic cat exploitation and a call to action for people to speak up for the cats.
We try to get out a weekly podcast, called the Cat Chat Show, where cat experts are interviewed online, but that has dropped back to about once a month lately.
The Big Cat Times is a printed newsletter that we write, publish and distribute quarterly. We try to reach as many people as possible via email, but some of our audience still prefer the printed version. This has the top stories from the AdvoCat newsletters and breaking news, along with a couple of pages of mail order gifts that support the cats.
We host Volunteer Appreciation parties that can range from having a cat expert come and speak to the volunteers, to staff dunk tanks and lawn games at a pot luck lunch, to taking them out to see a big cat presentation at the theater, to costume parties, jewelry making parties, karaoke and anything else we can think of, to show these wonderful people who donate so much of their time, how much we love them.
About once a quarter we will have to put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being in close proximity to those who abuse big cats for profit and see us as one of the primary threats to their activities. It may be a stake holder meeting by the state’s wildlife department, or a town hall meeting, or a congressional meeting, where we have to go to make sure the only people the decision makers hear from are not just the industry, that profits from using the big cats as pets and props and for their parts. The kind of people who breed tigers, rip the cubs away from their moms and then use them as pay to play money makers are a nasty bunch of people and will try to bully us out of the venue. This has resulted in being physically attacked, vehicles damaged and having insults hurled at us for speaking up for the animals.
The cats have to be vaccinated. Operant Conditioning helps a lot, but nobody likes getting stuck with a needle; much less with two. The cats get the same vaccines as your domestic cats (but a killed virus) and a rabies shot. We have 70 cats who are due for their boosters soon.
We became famous for a black tie event called The Fur Ball and won a number of awards for this gala that attracts up to 800 guests. It took a year of preparation though and we stopped doing the Fur Ball 4 years ago to focus more intently on legislation to end the trade in wild cats. Our supporters beg us, all the time, to do it again, so maybe next year. What made the Fur Ball such a hot ticket was that it was all about having fun whereas most fundraisers are all about patting yourself on the back and thanking sponsors.
We attend Taking Action for Animals and have been the largest sponsor of the event for the past two conferences. We often present at this event. We attend Animal Sheltering Expo and other cat related conferences and workshops that are annual events. We host an onsite event called the March for Lions, or something similar that will attract up to 500 guests. We donate to conservation projects every year around the world.
Annual events include our state and federal inspections. The breeders, dealers and animal exploiters make a career out of filing false complaints, so we have to deal with such inspections a lot more frequently than annual because the bad guys include OSHA, the EPC and many other government agencies on their speed dial list of ways to harass us.
These agencies have been forced to come out here on bogus complaints so many times that they are usually embarrassed to do so, and the complaints never amount to anything.
We have to renew licenses, permits, Combined Federal Campaign applications, solicitation permits in all of the states, and contracts for printing and distribution of our brochures.
Emergencies are pretty frequent, given the age of our cats and the number of things that can go wrong. Some of our cats are prone to seizures, and there isn’t much you can do for a big cat who is having a seizure, but it usually means someone stays with the cat and the vet is called if they don’t recover right away. To us it is an emergency if a cat doesn’t eat for two or three days in a row. Cats hide their illnesses well because in the wild, it is survival of the fittest.
If a cat stops eating then we either hand feed the cat so we know exactly what is going in and what is coming out, or we may have to move them inside the Cat Hospital to monitor that. That is especially true if the cat is weak, unresponsive to their environment, or it is cold or rainy. The vets will be alerted and the first one with an opening in their schedule will see the cat, either on site or at their own clinics. This all sounds pretty easy, but getting a sick cat into a transport cage is no easy matter.
It usually takes 4-6 people and we start the easy way and work our way up to the hard way as methods fail. We always try to get the cat to load themselves. This would be to shut the cat in half of their cage and put a transport in the other side of the cage, covered with a blanket to be a nice dark spot, at the guillotine door. We open the guillotine door and try to surround the side of the cage the cat is in, so they will want to walk away from us into the box. If that doesn’t work, we try to lure them into their feeding lockout, but that’s hard to do if they aren’t eating well to begin with. If we can lock them in that area, then we move the transport box up to that guillotine door and try to shoo the cat over.
If that doesn’t work and the cat is smaller than a cougar, we may have to suit up with boots, gloves and nets and go catch the cat. The cat is then shifted from the net to the transport box. If that isn’t an option, because the cat is a cougar or bigger, or because the cat is too aggressive and dangerous, then we have to resort to darting the cat. That is always a last ditch effort because sedation is very hard on the cats and if they are sick, doubly so. Any time a cat is sedated there are hours of sitting with them to make sure they wake up.
Thankfully, except for medical emergencies, most of the day to day emergencies are relatively minor, like a hose bib busts and there’s water spraying everywhere until we shut down the well pumps. Then there’s no water for cleaning cages, toilets, etc. while we scurry to replace the pipes and fixtures. A cat catches a possum and we have to rescue the “sleeping” critter. The front end loader breaks down and we put it back together with bailing wire and duct tape. A rabid raccoon starts threatening the cats and has to be caught and sent for testing. (that’s happened twice) A tree falls down, or is about to, and we have to become lumber jacks. The road washes out from heavy rains and we have to have tons of rock delivered and then have to spread it over the quarter mile road that leads to our front gate.
If we are known for anything, it is probably for being innovative in our approach. We are always looking for a better way to do our work. This includes major undertakings, such as building up an endowment to make sure we can always provide for the cats we have rescued. It includes automating our tours, our training, our observations and management of the cats, using ZIMS for our medical records, installing solar panels to provide clean energy and just yesterday we took Big Cat Rescue completely off the grid by partnering with Arcadia Power to ensure that ALL of our energy comes from wind, solar and other totally earth friendly sources. We use Melaleuca cleaning supplies because they are non toxic and do not test on animals. We built a Vacation Rotation area that is 2.5 acres so that all of our big cats get two 2 week vacations in the area each year.
It is easy to fall into a rut of responding to one crisis after another and never taking the time to think about the future. Instead we take a strategic approach to make sure the cats we have already rescued will have optimal care until they die of old age. This business like approach enables us to do the things necessary to provide that care. Our donors are kept abreast of everything we do and jump in to help.
Just recently a couple donated a much needed X-ray machine, which meant we had to build the new Windsong Memorial Hospital to house it. They helped with that and other donors, large and small, began chipping in to buy a surgery table, a dental wet table, autoclave, monitors and just about everything necessary to completely outfit the new hospital. We built the Windsong Memorial Hospital with a viewing theater that has a glass floor, so our volunteers can learn from the medical procedures without being in the room. We were able to take one generous donation of the machine and leverage it into creating a much needed facility that will mean no travel time for our cats to go to outside clinics and a much improved learning center for volunteers who are studying to be vets and vet techs.
We help other sanctuaries and rescue groups do the same by sharing our resources at workshops, conferences and one on one. We are always looking for a way to do things better and make the world a better place for cats… and people.