SECRETARY, TREASURER, ADVISORY BOARD CHAIRMAN AND BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Howard Baskin is a retired management consultant who worked with early stage and fast growing companies in the areas of strategic planning, finance and operations. He spent 11 years at Citicorp in various assignments, most recently as Director of Strategic Planning for the Commercial Real Estate Division. After leaving Citicorp in 1991 he was an equity participant and general manager in three companies, one of which he co-founded. He now devotes full time to Big Cat Rescue and serves on the Audit Committee.
Other civic activities include serving three years on the Board of Directors of the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and serving as first Chairman of its Performance Oversight and Monitoring Committee and member of it External Relations Committee. He also is a past member of The Rotary Club of Tampa, serving as Chairman of the Community Service Committee and on the Board of Directors.
Howard received his B.S. cum laude from Union College, Schenectady, NY in 1972, his J.D. cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law in 1978 and his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1980.
Howard Baskin admits that a few homeless cats have won his heart over the years, but saving abandoned and abused lions, lynxes, and leopards was by no means his dream, let alone his passion. When it came to giving to animal causes, he might write a modest check to the Humane Society of the United States. His world was finance and marketing.
Yet there’s no denying that a stroll where he works at the 45-acre Big Cat Rescue, a nonprofit educational sanctuary in Tampa, one of the largest in the world devoted to the big cats, leaves him inspired.
This is where Bengal tigers, African lions, snow leopards, bobcats, and other exotic cats recline gracefully on tree limbs, stretch languidly in their dens, or splash playfully in ponds amid shady oaks and palmettos. In all, there are 140 feline residents with permanent homes here. “Looking at these animals and realizing that I’ve been able to make a difference in the quality of their lives and securing their future is wonderful,” he says.
Baskin, 57, isn’t one of the cats’ caregivers, but he uses his financial acumen to ensure they live a healthful life. With a Harvard M.B.A. and a law degree, he spent the first 11 years of his career at Citicorp, rising to become director of strategic planning for the commercial real-estate division in New York. “Working in a small business had always been my plan, but I kept getting interesting jobs at the bank,” he recalls.
Finally, in 1991, he left Citi to work as a management consultant for a succession of small companies. Eight years later, he opted for a less stressful pace, consulting part time and freeing up time for tennis and leisurely rounds of golf. But something was missing.
And in 2003, just a few years into his semiretired bachelor life, he did an about-face. Before he knew it, he had ramped up to 60-hour workweeks at the sanctuary and agreed to take charge of its finances free. Sure, Baskin is fond of the cats, but it was another love that inspired him. His wife, Carole, whom he met in 2002 and married in 2004, founded the 15-year-old sanctuary and is ceo.
“I kind of married into this transition, although it was of course my choice, not a requirement,” Baskin says. “I fell in love with her. One thing that drew me to her was her passion for the mission and the excitement of working for a cause, not just living.”
Take Nikita, for example. The 6-year-old lioness spent her first year living on a concrete slab, chained to a wall by a drug dealer in Nashville. She was discovered in a raid and arrived at Big Cat five years ago with sores on her elbows the size of tennis balls.
Purrfect fit. Not all of the cats were abused. Some were abandoned by owners who could no longer afford to care for them. Others were retired from circus acts, rescued from fur farms, or obtained from roadside zoos that had fallen on hard times. Baskin came well prepared to bolster the sanctuary’s shaky financial underpinnings. The small firms where he used to work ran the gamut from a bridge builder to a foundry to an audiovisual firm. They were businesses where finances were in disarray when he arrived. Someone had to figure out how to get things organized and create systematic controls.
Visitors who take educational tours of Big Cat have doubled since 2003, to 26,000 last year. Revenues from contributions rose 50 percent in 2006 alone. The annual Fur Ball, the chief fundraiser, brought in an estimated $100,000 in October, up from $17,000 five years ago. Carole has had time to advocate for laws to crack down on illegal animal dealers and implement humane care standards for the cats.
Although Baskin would like to spend a bit more time on the golf course, there’s little other downside. His full-time consulting income, which often topped six figures, had already been trimmed, and he had a thrifty lifestyle, enough savings, and growing retirement funds.
“I don’t take a traditional salary, but, in reality, I get a double payback. I not only get to do something for the cats,” he says as he watches Nikita devour her afternoon “bloodsicle” snack. “I feel like I am contributing to the world. More importantly, I get to make Carole happy. That’s my No. 1 goal.” Spoken like a true newlywed.
PRESIDENT, VOLUNTEER COMMITTEE, BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Jamie Veronica is President of Big Cat Rescue, a member of the Board of Directors, and Chair of the Volunteer Committee. She has served in these capacities for well over ten years. She spent many years developing a sponsorship program whose financial success continues to contribute largely toward meeting our annual budget.
Jamie runs everything involved with the administrative side of the volunteer program including processing promotion applications, running hour reports, follow up with volunteers regarding their hours or classes, keeping the coordinators up to date on volunteers in need of training, keeping our policies and training classes up to date so that our people and animals are safe, coordinates rescues, runs our online gift shop and eBay store, manages the foster kitten program, including scheduling veterinary care, manages enclosure maintenance, coordinates our fundraising events and special online efforts.
An award-winning photographer, Jamie is the staff photographer and publishes our quarterly Big Cat Times newspaper, distributed to over 80,000 readers. She creates all of our print and web advertisements, billboards, brochures, books, donor plaques and signage. She manages all of the discount offers and reciprocal agreements with other attractions. She designed and initially implemented the sanctuary’s worldwide Internship Program.
Jamie is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and manages the sanctuary’s bobcat rehab program. She has successfully raised, rehabilitated and released many wild Florida bobcats and leads expeditions into the release sites to track and camera trap wild bobcat populations. She oversees and handles all rescues, veterinary procedures, transfer of animals on the property, and regulatory compliance issues. Jamie Carole’s daughter, Vernon and Barbara’s grand daughter and is married to Dr. Justin Boorstein, DVM.
See Jamie and Dr. Justin’s wild life here: https://vimeo.com/41566377
Bred for profit, the animals are often cruelly deformed by inbreeding.
July 28, 2010
by Ravi SomaiyaAlmost all of America’s 7,000 tigers are born and raised here. Reports from tiger farms suggest there are many unscrupulous breeders, and activists allege that the trade is cruel. What’s clear is that tigers are often kept in small pens, people die when safety is lax, and the cats are hideously inbred to produce valuable white cubs.The trade is not illegal, though a recent law bans the sale or trade of big cats across state lines for the pet trade. But breeders exploit a patchwork of state-by-state rules, and loopholes, to continue to sell cubs. People who rescue unwanted or mistreated tigers estimate that the number of breeders might be in the hundreds. Several alleged traders contacted by NEWSWEEK refused to be interviewed, perhaps because in recent years many operations have been shut down by authorities.
One of the biggest, Savage Kingdom, in Florida, was closed by the Department of Agriculture in 2006. Several accidents had occurred there. In 2001 a handyman named Vincent Lowe went into a cage to repair a dangerously worn-down gate. Colleagues had to watch as a 318-pound male tiger, Tijik, “ripped out [his] throat,” according to the USDA report. They could not rescue him for fear of being attacked themselves.
The tiger was eventually shot by Savage Kingdom’s octogenarian owner, Robert Baudy, who had been in the tiger trade for many decades—he’d even been on The Ed Sullivan Show promoting his animals. “He was from an era before animal welfare,” says Jamie Veronica, who is with the charity Big Cat Rescue and went into the farm after it was closed to try to remove and resettle dozens of tigers (all were eventually moved safely). “When he started out, people just saw animals as a commodity, a way to make money.” The USDA report blamed Baudy for safety failures that led to Lowe’s death. He could not be reached for comment at a number listed for him.Baudy specialized in white tigers, which sell for up to $20,000 per cub. But white tigers are rare genetic mutations, not a different species. According to the San Diego Zoo, every American white tiger is descended from a single father. New cubs must be inbred further. For every healthy, valuable cub, it is thought that many are born with ailments like shortened tendons, club foot, kidney problems, malformed backbones, contorted necks, and twisted faces.
Emily McCormack, a zoologist at Turpentine Creek, a refuge in Arkansas that rescues unwanted or abused big cats, has taken in several deformed cubs. “People don’t want these tigers because they don’t look perfect,” she says. “Who’s to say how many have been born with deformities that have been killed instead of rescued?” Activists also campaign against so-called white-tiger-conservation programs, whose very descriptions, says McCormack, are misleading: “They will never be returned to the wild. They don’t really exist in the wild.”
Siegfried & Roy, the illusionist duo, are famous for their white tigers. They claim on their Web site that they have 38. “For more than 20 years,” they say, “we have been entrusted with the care and preservation of the Royal White Tigers.” A spokesperson for the two did not return calls for comment about their breeding program. A statement from the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which houses many of Siegfried & Roy’s white tigers in an attraction called the Secret Garden, did not directly address the possibility that the program may have bred deformed cubs. It did say that “breeding is done responsibly under strict genetic management.” The Mirage did not respond to NEWSWEEK’s request for more information.
Cameron the lion and Zabu the white tiger are Big Cat Rescue’s odd couple. They were both born at a run down roadside zoo in 2000 and were rescued in 2004.
At the New Hampshire zoo, Cameron had been raised with Zabu, the white tigress, with the hopes of cross breeding them and selling the resulting liger cubs.
People often hybridize lions and tigers because they are either trying to create a novelty that people will pay to come see or trying to avoid the law. Until recently, some state’s laws did not recognize a 500-pound cross between a lion and tiger to be either. Therefore, people would buy them and claim that laws against owning a lion or tiger did not apply to them. We were told that prior to Cameron’s rescue he had lost over 200 lbs. It was up to us to help turn his life around.
Since Cameron and Zabu were true companions, we had to do whatever we could to make a long life together possible for them. The first step was to build a very large enclosure fit for the two energetic big cats.
Next we spayed Zabu so they would not breed and produce any more cats for life in cages.
Over the years Cameron became more and more possessive of Zabu and would not allow keepers near the enclosure to clean or feed. Because Cameron’s behaviors were testosterone driven we had only two choices; separate him from Zabu forever or neuter him. The decision was easy, Cameron was neutered.
Several months later he lost his mane as a result. It does not seem to bother him though. Cameron’s mood has mellowed dramatically and he seems much more comfortable in the hot Florida summers without the extra 15 pounds of fur around his neck. He has even become much more playful since he no longer worries about everything that is going on around his enclosure. His favorite toy is a big yellow ring which he bats and pushes around his enclosure in the early morning and late afternoon. While it was sad to see Cameron lose his mane, it was completely worth it so that he could continue to live with his best friend Zabu.
While Cameron tries to sleep most of the day away (as lions do in the wild), Zabu is extremely energetic and is always pestering him to play. She’ll often give up on him and just run and jump and play with her big red Planet Ball. Of course, that’s after she’s tired of playfully stalking her keepers or trying to spray the groups of visitors that stop by everyday.
Here are some more pages you can find information, photos, videos, and stories about Cameron:
Sassy and Rusty share a large cat-a-tat and can usually be found napping nestled together. Rusty tends to over groom Sassy, so she ends up looking like she’s wearing a band of short fur around her neck.
Though Sassy is the smaller one of the two, she certainly calls the shots at feeding time. Despite living among cat-a-tats of lions, tigers, and leopards, the feeders always make sure Sassy is fed first or she will cause quite a ruckus.
The saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” certainly applies to this little spitfire at feeding time. She is as feisty as they come.
Who took a car to the face and lived to tell about it!
Update April 28, 2016
On Sunday Thor will be returned to his rightful place in the wild. Be sure that you are a fan of ours on Facebook.com/BigCatRescue and that you have your settings to include us first in the posts you see, so that you don’t miss the LIVE broadcast of his release. Meanwhile, you can read Thor’s miraculous story here: http://BigCatRescue.org/Thor and you can help fund bobcat rescue, rehab and release by purchasing Thor themed tees, totes, mugs, pillows, hoodies, phone cases and more here:
This morning, at 1:15 AM Jamie and Carole responded to a call in Brandon about a bobcat being hit by a car. Dr Justin Boorstein came in and they did Xrays to see what could be done.
Jamie recalls the event:
I got a call at 1:15 AM and it’s a man saying that his wife has found an injured bobcat in the middle of the highway in Brandon. Most people have no idea what a bobcat looks like, so I ask him to have his wife text me a photo. Dang! It’s a bobcat! Now I’m awake.
I call my mom to ask if she has a net and carrier at her house next door, so that I can save time getting to the scene, but she doesn’t. She gets out of bed and says she’ll go with me. As I hop into her truck she says, “Do you have a coat?” It’s in the 50’s, which is freezing to us Floridians, and I say, “I’m in my pajamas! No, I didn’t bring a coat!” Turns out she’s barely dressed and forgot hers too. Thankfully there are blankets in the truck.
The good news about early morning bobcat calls is that there is no one on the streets so we get to the sanctuary (4 miles away) in record time and exchange her pickup truck for the Tundra with a topper that we won in a Facebook contest a few years ago. (Thank you everyone who voted for us!) We had just released Rain and Dancer the 9 month old rehab bobcats the day before, so there are still nets and gloves in the back. We grab a big carrier out of the Emergency Response Center and are on our way.
Meanwhile the Good Samaritan who had called in the accident is frantic because the police have shown up on the scene and told her she can’t stay in the middle of the highway. She puts the officer in charge, in touch with me by phone and he’s saying he doesn’t think the bobcat is going to make it and maybe should be put out of his misery. I tell him that a bobcat in shock can look quite dead, but can regain consciousness very quickly and that they have an amazing ability to heal. I don’t want him to shoot the cat in the head, so I tell him that my husband is a veterinarian and standing by to humanely euthanize him, if that is what has to be done. He asks how long before we will be there, and by now we are about 20 minutes away.
More calls and texts back and forth and the woman who originally called us seems sure the police sent her away so they could dispose of the cat. We are driving as fast as we can, but it’s a long way from Citrus Park to the Brandon mall and we aren’t allowed to use flashing lights and sirens in order to save wildlife. Maybe we need a law that would allow rehabbers the same use as ambulance drivers.
The policeman contact me again and he sounds like he’s ready to call it quits because the bobcat looks so bad. He says that he doesn’t think the cat is going to make it, and that he’s bleeding from the nose and his eyes look bad, and even thinks he can be picked up by hand. By now we are 5 minutes out and ask him to wait. He agrees.
Carole recalls what happened next:
As WAZE is telling us that we are arriving at the location, I see the flashing lights of a patrol car and start to pull up behind it, but then notice there are patrol cars, lights flashing, at every corner of the huge intersection. My first concern is which one should I pull up next to, in order to have our tools closest to the cat, but then my heart leaps with joy to realize that the agency has cordoned off the entire road to insure that no one runs over the bobcat who is crouched in the middle of the road. I’ve never seen the police be so concerned about an injured animal before and it makes me grateful beyond belief.
In the center of all the chaos, I can see him and he looks HUGE. He’s in pain, so he’s all puffed up, but the lights from angle, highlight a halo in his fur tips that make him seem enormous. I wonder to myself if I brought a big enough carrier. Jamie and the officer she had been speaking with grab the nets and I grab the carrier out of the back of the Tundra and head toward the bobcat. As we approach Jamie asks how close the officer has been to the cat so she can assess his fight or flight distance. The officer says he’s been right up on him, but that the cat seems to be recovering. He suggests that perhaps, “His bell has been un-rung” meaning that he thinks the bobcat might be coming to his senses, and may be more likely to bolt.
Artfully Jamie breaks away from the cat’s view of me with a carrier and the police man with a net coming at his face, and sneaks around behind the bobcat. Sure enough, when we are about 10 feet out the bobcat decides that he isn’t going to be taken alive and he uses the last of what he has in him to leap to our left. Jamie comes in like a Ninja with one downward sweep of the net over him as he leaps!
It is a righteous netting (as we call it around Big Cat Rescue) because not only is the net over the cat, but the forward movement of his leap against the netting has landed him over the outside ring of the net’s neck. It is that configuration that allows us to lift a bobcat securely, because they can just hop right out of a net if it doesn’t fold over the edge. My heart swelled with pride that Jamie had shown such proficiency under such pressure. The officer showed some pretty amazing skill as he leapt right into the fray and put his net down over the top of Jamie’s. That little bit of extra security can make the difference between keeping a bobcat in a net and having them break free.
I put the carrier in front of Jamie’s net and ask the officer to trade spots with me. Jamie and I have moved countless cats from nets into carriers over the years and it isn’t easy. One wrong move and the cat is free. In cases like this, where the cats legs were not injured, he could definitely outrun us and get lost in the underbrush before we would be able to catch up. His facial injuries would then cause him to die a long and painful death. We couldn’t risk it.
The officer (rather expertly, I might add) put one foot behind the carrier to brace it. Sometimes an animal goes in so fast that they are able to push the carrier away from the nets and then can turn on a dime to escape through the crack. Jamie lined her net up to the open door and I used mine to push his tail end through the opening. The officer or Jamie, slammed the door shut, while retrieving the netting, but it happened so fast, I’m not sure whose hands were where, but the bobcat was safely secured.
We shouted our thanks out to the officers who were guarding the intersection and gave the officer in charge our brochure to share in case they get more bobcat injury calls. Jamie called her husband, Dr. Justin Boorstein and told him we were successful and on our way to the Windsong Memorial Hospital. He met us there around 2:45 am.
Emergency Diagnostics at the Windsong Memorial Hospital
X-rays showed that all of the damage is to his face. His jaw is fractured both top and bottom and will require very delicate surgery and lots of cage rest. His eye socket is crushed around his left eye and the impact and broken bones are putting pressure on his brain and his eye, which is unresponsive. One canine was broken off, but the other three are in good shape. His breathing sounds horrible but we think it is because of the damage to the nasal cavity and the swelling. It looked like there could be some tearing to the trachea, but no way to tell with just X-ray. We really need a sonogram machine.
Thor is in critical shape, but we don’t have all of the extensive bone plates, screws and drill necessary to fix his shattered jaw, so it will be later today before he can be sedated again at another hospital that is better equipped for car strike type injuries.
Since it is now 4:20 am, the vet wants to wait until tomorrow afternoon to sedate him again, as doing so too soon could kill him.
We will post updates as we get them below.
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Thor was fed chopped meats during the time that his jaw was healing, but it’s done healing now and he isn’t wanting to kill or eat rats. We found the beak of a bird in his cage, so we presumed that one had managed to get in and get caught by Thor, so we tried him with quail. Ms Claws caught her quail very quickly, but it took Thor longer than we would have liked. We will be counting on our explore.org viewers, who provided these lovely photos, to let us know how his hunting goes.
He may just need more time to rebuild the muscle mass he’s lost while on cage rest for his broken shoulder blade.
Thor ate 17 ounces of food for breakfast. He’s taking his meds (with a lot of insistence by Jamie) and grooming, but still doesn’t seem to have figured out the water issue. We are still working on ideas. Maybe pond water?
Update Feb 11, 2016
Thor ate 15 ounces of food off a plate, without having to be fed on a stick, but he’s still not drinking. We bought him one of those $100 water fountains, and he’s figured out it is water, because he’s using it as a self flushing toilet. Cats pee in streams and ponds so that others don’t know they are in the area. Now we just have to figure out how to get him to drink out of it, AND elevate it so he can’t pee in it.
Update Feb 10, 2016
Jamie Relays Thor’s Rescue Story to Ops Mgr Gale
Update Feb 6, 2016 Thor Reaches Out
The Eye Drops Seem To Be Working
Update Feb 6, 2016 Thor Lives!
The day after Thor’s surgery to repair his jaw I woke up and raced to my computer to see if he had survived the night on our Arlo cams. Jamie and Gale help me monitor those live webcams, but they don’t offer a public link, like the explore.org/bigcatrescue live webcams do.
Update Feb 5, 2016 4PM
Thor the bobcat is back from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay where Dr. Justin Boorstein repaired his jaw. We are waiting on deciding if the non working eye and broken canine should be removed. We will consult with experts on both to see if either can be saved.
Thor is recovering in the West Boensch Cat Hospital on site and will soon be moved outside.
Thor’s care instructions to the Bobcat Rehab Team
Thor had surgery to repair his lower broken jaw. The break in his upper jaw was not misaligned, and so it will be left to heal on its own. This means that we need to be very careful about spooking him. We do not want him banging up his face when it is in this fragile state. He gets scared very easy, so walk slowly around him and be very quiet.
We are consulting with Dr. Miller with regards to how we can try to save his left eye. He is currently not blinking, and so we may need to try eye drops until the swelling goes down and he is able to blink. Justin and I will try this tomorrow and see how it goes.
For now he is not on any meds, we wanted to see if he would eat tonight before starting them. I will feed and clean him in the morning tomorrow. After that I will update you all on what medications he will need to be on.
We want to keep his meals small the first few days or so. He can only have soft food, so we are going to feed him a tennis ball of mush in the AM and another in the PM.