Carole Baskin is the founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue. She runs a real estate business and manages 100+ volunteers and interns from around the world and 20 staff and contractors. She has run this Tampa based non profit since 1992 and has garnered international attention to the plight of captive big cats on CNN, Animal Planet, Discovery, U.S. News & World Report, People Magazine, The Today Show, Sports Illustrated, all of the local media outlets and many more national and international programs. She is the host of the Cat Chat Show, a weekly, live interview with cat experts from around the world.
She has lectured in Costa Rica, Panama and many cities across the U.S. on legislative affairs, and sanctuary standards in Universities, Law Colleges, and in numerous animal association conferences. Her efforts, combined with many others of like mind, have resulted in the 2003 passage of the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act which made it illegal to sell a big cat across state lines as a pet, the 2009 requirement that those in Florida who possess Class I animals must post a $10,000 bond and the reclassification of a cougar to Class I, making it illegal to own as a pet in FL.
As part of the Big Cat Coalition she has worked with The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States, Born Free, the World Wildlife Fund, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Wild Cat Conservation Legal Aid Society, World Council for Animal Rights, the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, Ian Somerhalder Foundation, and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Together they represent more than 18 million supporters.
The coalition formed in 2011 and decided on a three prong approach to ending the abuse of tigers including; Closing the generic tiger loophole at the USFWS, Asking USDA to close the 4 week window of cub petting and a federal bill that ends the breeding and trade in big cats outside of AZA zoos. By 2013 the USFWS and the USDA had put the group’s suggestions on the Federal Register for public comment and had received nearly 30,000 comments in support. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, a federal bill to stop public handling of big cats and their cubs and ending the private possession of big cats is gaining momentum and is poised for passage.
Carole Baskin’s mission is to end the trade in exotic cats and thus put herself out of business.
Carole Baskin is the founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, the world’s largest accredited rescue facility for exotic cats. She and her family volunteer for Big Cat Rescue as unpaid staff and have 100+ volunteers and a dozen interns from around the world. She has run this Tampa based non profit since 1992 and you may have seen Big Cat Rescue on CNN, Animal Planet, Discovery, People Magazine, The Today Show, Sports Illustrated, all of the local media outlets and many more national and international programs. She has been asked to provide lectures in Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Brazil, and Australia, as well as countless cities across the U.S. She has lectured on cage construction, legislative affairs, and sanctuary standards in Universities, Law Colleges, and in numerous animal association conferences.
She has successfully rehabbed and released a number of bobcats and other native animals. Big Cat Rescue is accredited by The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and Carole Baskin served as a past President of, The Association of Sanctuaries (a national accrediting body that later folded into GFAS and is to sanctuaries what the American Zoological Association is to zoos.
She previously served on the board of the Humane USA PAC and had been the legislative liaison to the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, and was responsible for representing The Association of Sanctuaries at their meetings. She supplies CWAPC with all of the current data on exotic cat issues, including the numbers being displaced, the maulings, escapes and killings of both the public and the cats involved. She scans the media daily for news regarding exotic cats and reports to some 300 people of three different groups with the daily headlines.
In 2005 she was appointed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair as a member of the Animal Advisory Committee to assist Animal Services in their service to the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners and was unanimously elected as Chairperson the following year. Big Cat Rescue is a member of the International Tiger Coalition, Florida Association of the Restoration of Ethics, a member of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, The Tampabay Visitors and Convention Bureau, and many other animal welfare groups.
Big Cat Rescue assists other accredited sanctuaries by helping them build cages, train their volunteers and they lend their people and resources to help them recover from natural and man made disasters. Big Cat Rescue is licensed by and in good standing with FWC, USFWS, USDA and is registered with the state of Florida as a charity.
Big Cat Rescue’s founder, Carole Baskin, with members of the Humane USA’s staff and board of directors.
Current USDA Regulations and Enforcement Fails Animals and Public
Many facilities hide behind their USDA license as if it were a badge of honor, but this slide show will show you why USDA cannot possibly enforce the Animal Welfare Act and why it is a conflict of interest for them to be licensing the use of animals if they are also responsible for making sure animals are not abused. Breeding and dealing in captive wild animals is abusive and some other government agency, such as the Justice Department should regulate the care of wild animals if USDA is going to continue allowing wild animals to be used.
Find out more at FreeTony.com
Tigers in the U.S.
Carole Baskin, Founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, the world’s largest accredited sanctuary, that is devoted entirely to exotic cats speaks out about:
1. Where do big cats go when they are no longer profitable cubs?
2. If the good sanctuaries are full, where do the big cats go?
3. Should we be building bigger and more sanctuaries for the unwanted cats?
4. What is the best way to prevent the abuse of lions, tigers and other big cats?
5. Does banning private possession of exotics work?
6. Who tracks maulings, killings and escapes by tigers and other big cat species?
7. Do USDA and state inspections make sure breeders and dealers are being humane?
8. When did the big cat crisis in America start?
9. Are there laws to prevent exotic cats from being traded for their meat, skin and bones?
10. How is the public to blame for the worst acts toward tigers and their cubs?
11. What happens to breeders, dealers and other wild animal exploiters when they run out of money?
12. What are some of the most lax states when it comes to wildcat standards and enforcement?
13. Why doesn’t the government do something about all of the abuse of tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars & other big cats?
14. Are there illegal activities operating in the shadow of legal uses of tigers?
15. What kind of tracking is done and what needs to be done to end the abuse of exotic wild cats?
In 1996, at four weeks of age, Auroara was the 3rd tiger to come to Wildlife on Easy Street.
She died of cancer in 2008 and it has taken me this long to be able to talk about her again. (This article first appeared in 2011)
I think it is because of the guilt I’ve carried for some of the ignorant things I did all those years ago.
I say ignorant because I didn’t see the big picture yet. Jeff was telling me about some tour guests this week that kind of reminded me of that time. They LOVE big cats and were all a-blather about how much they enjoyed petting them at some other facility. People like this, are people like I was, who have been misled and lied to and they haven’t yet figured out that all those things they think are so cool are the reason that big cats languish in cages all around the country.
They have an enormous passion for animals and just don’t know how their actions are causing harm. Once they know better they are the most persistent of voices for the animals, and maybe it has something to do with the guilt.
In the case of Auroara the guilt didn’t fade for decades. It wasn’t suppressed by giving her a good home. It didn’t begin to diminish until the wrong was set right, or nearly so anyway.
In 1996 my late husband Don and I went to a place called Predators Plus. They were in the edu-tainment business and used to take tigers to schools, fairs and parking lots.
At that time they were the most professional looking outfit we had ever seen. Fancy trailers, transport cages that would still make us drool for use around here, and of course, magnificent looking tigers. But those were just the ones they showed.
As they toured us through their facility I was horrified to see the tigers behind the scenes. Because the big money makers were white tigers they were inbreeding like mad to improve their ratio of white to golden cubs. Back then we didn’t know that is how white tigers were developed and they didn’t admit to it, but seeing first hand all of the abnormalities got me to wondering why.
Don was telling them about some Serval kittens we had and again; back then we had been told that Servals didn’t breed well in zoos and that their only chance for survival was in being bred by the private sector. We later learned that was a lie and that none of the cats bred by the private sector could ever be part of any conservation breeding program. The owners of Predators Plus said they had always wanted an exotic cat that they could keep inside as a pet and tigers outgrew that role by the time they were just a few months old.
She said they had a litter of tiger cubs and one that they couldn’t “use” because she was lame and cross eyed and asked if we would trade her a Serval kitten.
If you knew Auroara you know that she was cross eyed and lame and had some serious mental issues as well, but that just made her all the more adorable to those of us who loved her. She typified a “throw away tiger” as that would have been her fate. Because she was so small she wouldn’t have been a tiger that any breeder would have kept around to use as a cub-mill and because she wasn’t white none of the breeders, dealers or animal exploiters would want her.
Often cubs like her, who prove to be imperfect, are drowned or incinerated, so there is no doubt that Auroara was rescued, but here is where the guilt sets in;
I enabled the trade by giving them an outlet for getting rid of a tiger cub they didn’t want and I sent a Serval into a pet home. I don’t know what ever became of the Serval and haven’t been able to track down this outfit. Back then we believed that some of the smaller cats could be good pets and should be bred to protect their numbers and believing that bred and sold a small number of smaller cats.
In my own defense, I took back every cat who “didn’t work out” so some of the cats at Big Cat Rescue were born here, sold as pets and then came back when they grew up and began to spray and bite. It was when the Servals and Bobcats began to come back that I came to realize that people just were not willing to make a life time commitment to the cats. When I lost Don in 1997 we stopped both breeding and selling and began frantically building new cages to separate cats and neutering and spaying as fast as funds would allow.
Yet still, even with coming to face my own ignorance and all of the work we have done here to educate the public about why they shouldn’t pay to play with cubs and why they shouldn’t pay to see tigers in performing acts, or pay to see the latest cub at the zoo, or go to movies that use big cats as props, I still carry a tremendous load of guilt for having had ANY part in the trade.
It is only now that I am starting to see real change take place that I can speak about Auroara because I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I spent 3 hours with one of our new AdvoCats. She had been volunteering at a big cat sanctuary and was proud of it until she came for a tour of Big Cat Rescue. She was on the 1:30 tour and said that their cages, their tours and their interaction policies are very similar to ours but what just blew her away was that the tour guide wasn’t just telling people about where the cats came from but was giving the guests specific steps they could take to end the trade.
In all of her time volunteering at the other facility no one ever spoke to her about how to end the trade. As she would tell her friends and work collegues about the place they would often comment that it just sounded like a bandaid on the problem and that got her to wondering what she could do to be a part of the solution.
That is why she came here from Ohio and when she saw what Big Cat Rescuers are doing in educating the public and getting them to sign the letters in the gift shop and sending them to the CatLaws.com site, she knew she had found her calling. One of the things that helps our cause the most is engaging people in the conversation about white tigers, circus cats, zoos and the exotic pet trade. We do that well with people who come to us, but we need to take the conversation to where it is happening.
I asked her to sign up for google alerts on keywords like tigers, circus, fur, etc. and then log in to each article and post comments about what people can do to end the trade and suffering.
This brings me back to the light at the end of the tunnel. As I read these posts online, I see the trends shifting and see more people opposing the abuse. We are reaching critical mass in the way people are thinking about wild cats and the way they are treating them. It takes a long time and many of you have been especially helpful in this arena.
Thanks to all of the letters that you have written and those you have encouraged our guests to write, the USFWS took public comment in June 2010 to rescind the “generic tiger” exemption. Big Cat Rescuers have been the force that has caused them to reconsider this and will be the force that gets enough people to write the USFWS to get them rescind the exemption. More than 15,000 of you did, and yet today, in 2015, the USFWS still hasn’t implemented the final rule to end the rampant breeding of inbred and cross bred tigers.
When they do it will stop all of the backyard breeding of tigers. The wrong has nearly been set right. When that happens Auroara and all of the other tigers who have passed can truly rest in peace. We are getting so close to the finish line and it is because we are all working together, overlooking each others shortcomings and focusing on each others strengths that we can end the trade once and for all.
By: Carole Baskin, Founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue
Animal Advisory Committee Resignation by Carole Baskin
Summary of recent events leading to AAC resignation
Recently you may have seen reports on the resignation of Big Cat Rescue founder and CEO Carole Baskin as chairperson of the County’s Animal Advisory Committee. First, we would like to thank the many of you who have emailed and called to express support.
The resignation was requested by Commissioner Blair, who had appointed her and at whose discretion she served. The article says Mr. Blair had “received an abnormal amount of questions and concerns from citizens and the media” about her. It references a thick file containing allegations that of misrepresenting how we obtained our cats.
What it does not fully point out is that these “questions and concerns” were an organized effort by exotic animal owners and breeders whose activities lead to the abuse and abandonment of the cats. Some of these abuses were documented in a recent API undercover study showing the horrible conditions in which these alleged exotic animal lovers keep their animals.
Big Cat Rescue and the limited number of other genuine sanctuaries around the country can only save a limited number of cats each year, and this is only after the cats have been abused or abandoned. The way to STOP the abuse and abandonment is by changing our laws to prevent it in the first place. Within the last two years Carole has become increasingly active in Tallahassee and Washington in trying to do this.
There is a national trend toward stronger laws to protect the exotic animals. The proponents of breeding, selling and owning these animals as pets have no real arguments to support their position except selfishness and greed. They know the general population does not support the “right” to have a tiger in a back yard. So, the only way they can try to deter the legislation Carole is advocating is to try to discredit her.
This effort began a few months ago as her role in assisting with the Python Bill in Florida became prominent. Websites have been set up with false information about Big Cat Rescue, efforts have been made to generate press activity, and email campaigns have been organized by these people. Emails forwarded to us indicate that among them are a man in St. Petersburg who believes that it is appropriate to ride around town with a tiger in the back of his pickup truck, and a woman in North Carolina who has a criminal record for fraud and operates under multiple aliases and particular multiple email addresses so she can make it appear that many people are involved.
With respect to the background of Big Cat Rescue, we have always been very open about the fact that the sanctuary did not begin with the philosophies and protocols we have today; they evolved over time with experience. This is laid out very clearly on our website in the “About Us” section. We have always acknowledged that prior to 1997 cats were purchased and a limited number were intentionally bred, all of which stopped in that year.
The claims made on the various false websites and the emails are not only lies, many are absurd. They provide misinformation about the cats and allege things that do not even make any sense. For instance, they allege that it is a lie that we stopped intentionally breeding in 1997 because three binturongs, who are not cats, were born between 1998 and 1999. Why, during this time when the sanctuary was desperately under funded and struggling to feed the cats and build new cages to separate them so there could be no breeding, would we have “intentionally” bred binturongs who would simply be more mouths to feed and completely off purpose for a cat sanctuary? The young binturongs were born to a pair of binturongs who had lived together for years without breeding, were believed to be too old to breed, and surprisingly managed to do so. The notion that this was intentional is ridiculous. And each of the other “allegations” are either totally fabricated, or, like the binturongs, based on something that is then presented in a totally untruthful manner.
Unfortunately, the work we do pits us against a rough crowd who benefit from the activities that generate the abuse and abandonment of the cats that we are trying to prevent. It is a shame that a handful of them setting up bogus websites and emailing lies can influence a public official and get attention in the press. But, it is a fact of life we have to deal with, and it makes our resolve stronger to end the trade in exotic cats.
Again, many thanks to those of you who have expressed support and confidence in our work and whose efforts, visits and donations make it possible.
The following are the series of events leading up to the resignation:
Commissioner Blair’s letter dated May 22, 2006
(Carole didn’t get it until the last week in May. The following has been retyped, word for word, from the original hard copy received)
Dear Carole Baskin,
I wanted to take a moment and thank you for all of your hard work over the past year in service on the Animal Advisory Board. This community needs volunteers that are willing to serve on the various Boards and Councils to advise the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners on important decisions for this community. I am thankful for your many hours of dedication and service.
However, over the past few months I have received an abnormal amount questions and concerns from citizens and media regarding the eligibility of your participation on the Animal Advisory Board. I researched some information and although I did not find anything that would exclude you from eligibility of service the constant media contact regarding past history that involved your facility is too much for our staff to continue to handle.
Please know that this is a very difficult situation that I am in. I am going to have to ask you to resign from your position on the Animal Advisory Board immediately. I appreciate your understanding in this matter.
Again, I wanted to thank you for your time of service and all that you have done for the Animal Advisory Board.
I immediately called his office trying to set up a time to discuss this in person and was told I might be able to get 15 minutes with him between appointments on Monday June 5th at 11:30. I sent the following letter just to give him some back ground for the meeting and on Monday morning his office faxed me saying said he would not be able to speak with me by phone or in person and that I should contact them for a later appointment.
Carole Baskin’s letter dated June 4, 2006 to Commissioner Blair:
June 4, 2006
Commissioner Brian Blair
County Center 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., 2nd Floor Tampa, FL 33602 Phone: 272-5730 Fax 272-7053 BlairB@HillsboroughCounty.org
As the sanctuary has become better known and more financially stable, it has allowed me to become more active in what can really end the flow of abused and abandoned big cats, i.e. passing legislation that would end the activities that create that horrible flow.
The forces that oppose such legislation are largely people who want to own these animals as pets or use them to make a living. A recent undercover report by API shows how these people circumvent the current laws and shows the abusive conditions in which these alleged “exotic animal lovers” keep their “pets.” This can be viewed at www.api4animals.org/a3b_exotic_pets.php.
My role in promoting legislation to end this abuse has grown dramatically within the last year. Representative Poppell specifically asked me to appear with him and his cosponsor Senator Posey at the press conference announcing what became known as the “Python Bill” this past session. The bill was directed at the horrible situation in the Everglades where pet pythons released into the area are taking over and wiping out the native wildlife at an alarming rate.
The request that was made to me by both legislators was to draft amendments that would expand the bill to include all dangerous exotic wildlife. The bill made it through 4 committees and just fell short of reaching the floor this year. I testified before a number of the committees and have been told by various members that they were strongly in support and could be counted on to help when we try again next year, and chances are strong for passage next year.
The majority of our population oppose exotic animal ownership and exploitation. The small number of people who are breeders, exotic animal owners and exhibitors who are threatened by the legislation know they do not have the support of the voters, and have no good arguments in support of their position since it is based on selfishness. So, as I have become a visible leader in support of these laws, their approach has been to try to discredit me and Big Cat Rescue. Since there is no basis for that, they can only do it with lies.
Unfortunately, they got the ear of one local reporter some months ago. She made up her mind what her story was going to be before she came to us and demonstrated absolutely no interest in seeking truth, only in confirming what she had already posed. The story was then constructed to create impressions that are absolutely false. That story has then been circulated broadly by those who want to continue to abuse exotic animals.
There were two primary sources for that story that we know of. One was a man in St. Petersburg, Vernon Yates, who believes that riding around town with a tiger in the back of his pickup truck is appropriate behavior because it is, unfortunately, legal. He was sighted by a Pinellas County Commissioner in the Commissioner’s neighborhood in 2004. This lead to an appearance before the Commission where he loudly called the Commissioner a liar. His performance can still be viewed on the County site at http://www.pinellascounty.org/media/bcc022205/Results.htm (Click on #64 at the bottom of the page.) A second source was a woman in North Carolina who is an exotic pet owner who operates under multiple aliases to make it appear that many people are sending emails. She has a criminal record. Below is a copy of an email from this woman bragging about her role in helping Vernon Yates feed misinformation to the reporter. Please note that it specifically states that one purpose of effort with the reporter was to have me removed from the “commission board”, i.e. the Animal Advisory Committee.
“No Vernon didn’t I did… with Vernons information..lol…. and with all the messages we have sent out, (you and me) she is being removed from the commission board and they will be doing a TV expose’ on her next week.. the tv crew is out at Vernons now.. he keeps calling me and having me speak to the reporter on behalf of simply simian… so we are in the forefront anyway” Linda Hunnicutt
As you can see, it has been their plan to use you to remove me from the Advisory Board since back in March when they fed Chris Hawes the misinformation she relied on for her article.
As for the evolution of the practices and philosophy of the sanctuary, we not only have nothing to hide, we lay this out very clearly in the About Us section of our website, which I enclose for your reference. We have always had information about the past on the site and never hidden it. But we made it even more explicit after this story came out to demonstrate clearly that we have nothing to hide. And while I wish I had been quicker to come to the understandings it took some years to realize, the silver lining is that this past has given me greater credibility in the fight to change the laws. I have the advantage of explaining that I started out believing that the activities we are trying to stop, breeding and pet ownership, were appropriate, and learned differently with experience as I saw the abuse and abandonment that followed first hand. The reaction to the news report from people who know our sanctuary has generally been “what in the world is wrong with this reporter?”
In their efforts to discredit me, Mr. Yates and/or other exotic animal owners have filed false charges with TAOS (The Association of Sanctuaries), USDA, and others. Out of close to one million non profits in the country, we are one of only about 80 that meet the strict BBB charity standards. In each of these cases, the organizations involved found that the allegations were without merit. In some cases, their requests for documentation or proof of the charges were not responded to by those making the charges, because there of course was none. But, part of the strategy of the exotic animal owners is just to be an annoyance, as they are being to you. And they hope to impair our relationships with supporters and impair our funding without regard to the impact on the animals in our care.
Below is an email being circulated by these people to generate the emails that you no doubt will have received from this group over the weekend. Since they are urging that they be sent by Sunday June 4, I suspect they somehow know that I have a tentative appointment to see you in a tiny gap that you may have in your schedule, although I understand it may close if you run late.
Below is the email that was circulated to generate emails to you this past weekend:
From: EPOU@yahoogroups.com [mailto:EPOU@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Raven Simons
Sent: Friday, June 02, 2006 5:59 PM
Subject: [EPOU] FW: FL Animal Rights activist removed from Animal Advisory
I am asking an important favor of everyone. Please write a thank you letter to Mr. Brian Blair for removing Carole Lewis Baskin (Big Cat Rescue and Humane USA) from the Hillsborough County Animal Advisory Committee. Carole is having a fit at being removed. Mr. Blair needs to show community support on this decision.
To all the bird people- This is the women that posted our names and address on her Humane USA website.
To all the pet owners- I welcome anyone to attend the meetings with us. This group called the Animal Advisory committee are nuts. They are extreme in their views.
Please feel free to forward this email to supportive individuals. We need as many letters as possible by Sunday 6/4/06. Anyone and everyone can write a letter, not just Hillsborough County people. This effects any animal owner. Counties tend to follow each other’s lead.
Animal rights activist do not have a place on an advisory committee. They have a personal agenda that is not in anyone’s best interest, including the animals.
Mr. Blair can be reached at Blairb@hillsboroughcounty.org . I am including the letter that I sent.
Dear Mr. Blair:
I am writing to thank you for removing Carole Lewis Baskin from the Hillsborough County Animal Advisory Committee.
I have been attending the Animal Advisory meetings. The committee is made up of animal rescue / animal rights individuals and local veterinarians. Ms. Baskin is the Florida director of Humane USA, an animal rights group. I feel there should be individuals representing the pet community (groomers, kennel owners, dog trainers,ect.) on this advisory committee.
The current Animal Advisory committee is outrageous in their proposals. They would like the Hillsborough County ordinances to regulate the pet population and our ownership to an extreme. Without the balance of pet industry individuals, I feel that Hillsborough County will not be a pet friendly place to live. The pet industry provides many jobs in our area and has a multimillion dollar impact on our County. The medical community has also proven that pets improve the quality of our lives.
The story on BayNews 9 about the fraudulent fund raising at Big Cat Rescue, which Ms. Baskin is the CEO, is of concern also. It makes you question her integrity.
Thank you for taking the time to address this issue.
This is also being circulated through the email list of the Phoenix Exotics, a group who promote exotic pet ownership and whose abuse was documented in the API study. Please notice that they view the entire Committee as “nuts” and feel people who are concerned about animal welfare have no place on it. You can review the credentials of the Committee, many of whom are intimately involved in trying to solve the massive problem of stray, feral and abandoned animals being faced by Animal Services and our County. Those writing to you in support of my departure of course would like a committee packed with people who make money from the animals. Will their interests be in solving the problems we are facing? You can also see how they use the Bay News 9 report, and the untrue interpretation of it.
Mr. Blair, you are a fighter both literally and figuratively, the latter in fighting for what you believe is right. And you are no stranger to the controversy that the fight generates. Your office has to deal with people calling in on both sides of issues all the time. And whatever proposals are made by the Animal Advisory Board will be no different. No matter which direction they take, they will be controversial and generate public comment. That will happen whether I am there or not.
I am sorry that my appointment has motivated these people to harass you in this way. But there is absolutely nothing in the history of the sanctuary that should create any awkwardness unless you are being lied to, which unfortunately is the modus operandi of the people who oppose the legislative work I am doing. If you were the recipient of the letter you sent me, I think the first thing you would say to whomever sent it was that one of the most basic founding principles of our nation is the right to face your accuser. You would feel you had a right to at least understand in person what is being alleged and by whom. And you would be correct. That is how I feel.
The impact on me of resigning is that these people learn that their efforts pay off and it will only encourage them to do more. And not only would that resignation not solve the problem of your receiving inquiries, it is likely exacerbate it. 1600 people wrote to the County Commission to support the relatively unemotional issue of our recent rezoning and 100 took the day off to show support. How will our thousands of supporters, the majority of whom are local, react if I resign? I cannot lie and say “personal reasons” because everyone would know it was not true. That would only support the untrue allegations about our honesty.
As noted, there are many controversial issues you have to deal with and hear from people about. Not just to be fair to me, but to be fair to you, I think it is important that we get to speak in person as soon as possible so you can decide what is the “right” side of this issue to be on. I honestly do not believe it will serve you well to become known as the Commissioner who caved in to a group of people who want to own and exploit exotic animals. I think that is likely to create far more “awkwardness” than you are experiencing now.
I will not take any action on your request until we have spoken and will continue to try to get on your calendar. I hope to do that so you have an opportunity to review this before it gets more media attention. And for your reference, I am not “having a fit”. I have not even spoken to anyone but my husband and your aide about this because I am hoping to avoid an embarrassment for you. But I am sure you can imagine my disappointment at receiving your letter. I look forward to a chance to make sure you at least understand the other and true side of whatever you are hearing.
Founder and CEO
Late on Monday June 5th Commissioner Blair spoke to me by phone but already had his mind made up and didn’t want the facts. He went so far as to say, “It doesn’t matter if you are innocent or not. It’s not about you. I just don’t want to have to deal with the controversy.”
The following is Carole’s letter of resignation dated June 6, 2006
Big Cat Rescue
12802 Easy Street
Tampa, FL 33625
June 6, 2006
Commissioner Brian Blair
County Center 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., 2nd Floor Tampa, FL 33602 Phone: 272-5730 Fax 272-7053 BlairB@HillsboroughCounty.org
Since I serve on the Animal Advisory Committee at your discretion and you have asked for my resignation, it is only proper that I respond by resigning, which I hereby do.
With respect to your letter requesting this action, and our subsequent conversation, I would like to make the following comments.
First, there is absolutely nothing about my background or that of Big Cat Rescue that would be “awkward” for you if you had taken time to determine the facts. What kind of “investigation” does not include a chance for input from the person who is the subject of it?
Your comments about my good service ring hollow when that service did not even in your mind earn me the right to be contacted for input before you made your decision. And your subsequent refusal even to tell me who has made what statements about me or the sanctuary that you claim resulted in this decision violates one of the most basic principles on which our democracy was founded, the right to face your accuser. Perhaps you live in a different America than I do.
Were the situation reversed, I would never have considered treating you with this level of discourtesy. Think about it, is this how you would want to have been treated?
At a recent hearing you made the distinction between a statesman and a politician. This is certainly not the behavior of a statesman, and even a politician treats an appointee with more courtesy than you have shown me. You could have obtained the same result with dignity for both of us by simply giving me the chance to respond to whatever rumor and innuendo you relied on for your decision before you made it. I hope if a situation like this arises for you in the future you will handle it differently.
“Will anyone give me $200 for this fine breeding age puma?” the auctioneer’s voice blasts over the loud speakers in the livestock barn during an animal auction in Louisiana. A red neck raises his number, thinking to himself, that he can mount her head and that of the male cougar he just bought over the T. V. in his trailer. The gavel slams down and Sophia’s life has just taken a perilous change for the worse. She and her mate had been ripped from their mothers when they were cubs, declawed and bottle raised to be used as ego props. When they were little they could be used for photo opportunities and could be walked about on leashes as mini trophies. Now they were too big for that and their owner had crated them into tiny cages and consigned them over to a live animal auction.
These auctions are legal in the US and all manner of exotic animals, many of them endangered species, are sold to anyone who has the cash. To qualify as a buyer is pretty straightforward; if you are buying an endangered species, like a tiger, you have to have proof that you live in the state and if you are buying any non endangered animal, all you have to do is prove that you don’t live in the state. Once you leave the state, no one in the selling state cares who you are or what you do. If you are buying within your own state lines, then your state may or may not have some regulations. One thing is true everywhere and that is that even states with regulations never have the money or resources to properly enforce them. 7 states have no rules so anything goes. Want to walk your tiger through a nursing home or a grade school? “No problem” say a lot of states, including Florida, where we have repeatedly documented that very issue.
Sophia’s new owner loads her and the male cougar into a truck and heads to a taxidermist he knows in Laronger, Louisiana named Joe. The story, as relayed to me by Joe, was that the owner pulled up and promptly shot the male cougar, announcing that he wanted the cat stuffed and mounted. Hearing the gun shot, Joe’s wife Mary came running out of the house, just in time to see the gun leveled as the trembling female cougar in the tiny crate. Mary yelled out, “Don’t shoot the cougar! Oh please! Don’t kill the cat!”
Joe described himself to me as a wildlife sculptor, but when pressed for details of his art, he lowered his gaze and said, “My sculptures are cast into molds that are then sold to taxidermists.” When animals are skinned and mounted, their skins are stretched over these plastic reproductions. Joe is famous for how lifelike his reproductions are and he credits that to studying the live animals. His acreage is divided into pastures full of caged animals who are often killed for sport.
The redneck advises the couple that he paid good money for these cats so he could mount them on his wall. He looks to Joe to explain to the missus that she needs to mind her own business. Joe has done well for himself. The large, fenced track of land sports a very large home, with high glass windows out onto Joe’s world, and a wrap around deck so that he can sculpt with unobstructed views, all of the creatures who are posing for the lifeless bodies of countless others of their kind. There is a barn the size of an airline hangar that houses row upon row, floor to ceiling, of the plastic reproductions of his art. His business is primarily selling to taxidermists.
Joe startles the red neck by asking, “How much for her?” The gun’s barrel drops earthward as the killer reckons that he paid $200 for her and it cost him $50 to get her here, or in other words, he wants a $50 profit. Mountain lions are cheap. He can buy another one. Joe agrees and moves Sophia into a chicken coop.
That was 13 years ago and what looked like a chicken coop to me was probably used for housing fancy pheasants who were used as models for the stuffed bodies of exotic birds that are killed for fun. When Maria Davidson of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries called and asked me if we could rescue a cougar, she had told me that the cat was in a concrete floored cage that was made of chain link. She said the cage was roughly 6 feet by 8 feet by 6 or 8 feet high. A tip had resulted in the department’s seizure of the cougar, but they had been told it was a cub, so when law enforcement arrived to take the cub to a willing new owner, they discovered an aged cougar instead. The person they had found, who would have been happy to rescue a cub, had no use for an adult and refused to take the cat, so Maria called Big Cat Rescue.
We noticed upon arrival that law enforcement officers were wearing flack jackets. Scott Lope, Chris Poole and I had not gotten THAT memo! I had overheard some of the officers talking about an infamous case involving the stealing of a 17 point buck and selling him for $3000 to a breeder in Louisiana (after the TX buyer defaulted on paying a promised $8000 for the deer when he heard it was hot property.) The lucrative trade in wild animals is only second to the illegal trade in drugs. It is rife with criminals and people who have little or no regard for life.
Maria suggested that only a small crew go around the house to the coop so that the cougar would not be stressed by new faces. I already liked Maria, because of all she is doing to end the abuse of wild animals in Louisiana, but this appreciation for how the cat was feeling just strengthened that good impression. She took her vet, Dr. Lacour, Scott and Chris down to assess the situation so we could decide which of the three types of transports we brought would be the safest and easiest way to move her. What they discovered was that the cat was in what appeared to be the final stages of renal failure and she could not walk. 17 is old for a mountain lion and renal failure is common in cats because their diet is high in protein. Cats only live 10 or 12 years in the wild, so their parts aren’t designed to last this long.
If Sophia could not stand, there was no way she could be coaxed into walking into the transport. With ears flattened back she didn’t trust humans and her hissing punctuated the unspoken threat to bite anyone who came near her. These situations are never black and white and this one presented a dilemma as well. On the one hand, this cat had lived in this chicken coop for 13 years and maybe it would be kinder to just let her live out her last few days here.
On the other hand, she had only a tattered tarp tied to the west wall of her cage, probably more for shade than to break the cold, damp northern winds. She had a concrete floor and a low concrete bench because the owner said that made it easier to clean. Even if we were to give him the hay that we had brought for her ride, there was no reason to believe that he would use it. In another Louisiana case, with the help of Sky Williamson, we had made sure that Tony the tiger got hay, but the Tiger Truck Stop had refused to give it to him. It is messy and these animals were not beloved pets who could impose on their owners’ desire to make things easy on themselves.
We decided that even if Sophia only had a few days left to live, they should be in comfort and as much as we hate to tranquilize a cat, the only way she was going into her hay filled transport cage was if she were sound asleep. While she was sleeping Dr. Lacour did an exam and drew blood so that our vet, Dr. Wynn, would have a good idea of how progressed her situation was so that we could treat her accordingly.
Scott, Maria, Dr. Lacour and Guy the law enforcement officer who told me this was his first “cat call” in 18 years on the force, made a sling from a blanket and used it to carry Sophia out of her tiny, barren prison cell and into the next stage of her pitiful life.
We loaded her transport into the van so that we could keep an eye on her and better regulate the temperature to keep her warm. It would be a 12 hour ride back to Tampa and silence in the van allowed her to sleep most of the way. As long as the van was rhythmically rocking down the road she slept or laid quietly on the only softness she has known in more than a decade. (Was that a purr?) Since it was cold in Tampa when we arrived at 1 am we decided to move her transport into the cat hospital for the night.
The next day she still was having a very hard time moving about, so we decided to keep her inside on her fluffy hay palette until the weather breaks. It has been in the 60’s during the day but has dropped into the high 30’s and 40’s at night. Meanwhile her new Cat-a-tat, which is 1,200 square feet of space, is being modified a bit more to accommodate her disability. I called Mary to let her know that Sophia had arrived at Big Cat Rescue safely. I was appalled at the way the cougar was kept all these years, but if not for Mary pleading for her life, Sophia would be just another nameless animal head on a wall.
Late on the 24th we hooked the hay filled transport cage to the front of Sophia’s new enclosure. We set up her water near her as her eyesight is very limited. She ate well last night and sleeps a lot. Just the quick move from the West Boensch Cat Hospital on site to her new home near the other cougars seemed to wear her out, even though she was just being carried like royalty in her cat version of a rickshaw. The volunteers had prepared her new digs by converting every step over door into an ADA ramp. The also piled boughs of Christmas trees in her cave and about her enclosure so she could sniff her way along the scented path to all the best features of her new home.
We don’t know how long Sophia may have in this world, but thanks to all of our supporters, staff and volunteers, she will have the best life possible from now until then.
All photos were shot at Big Cat Rescue on the day Sophia was moved from the cat hospital to her new Cat-a-tat. To see a slide show of photos click HERE
Tribute to Sophia the Cougar: https://sites.google.com/site/bigcattributes/home/sophia-cougar