Cage rest sounds pretty peaceful for the cat, but it’s a real challenge for the caregivers.
See 2 playlists of some of our rehab bobcats
While we do bobcat rescue, rehab and release in Florida, we will not relocate bobcats as state law requires that they be released very near where they were captured. They must be released on at least 40 acres and we must get written permission from the owner of the property. They may not be released into state owned parks (strangely) but rather must be released on privately owned land with the land owner’s consent.
Big Cat Rescue has decades of experience rehabbing and releasing bobcats back to the wild where they belong. We provide huge, naturalistic enclosures where these cats can learn or perfect their hunting skills before being released back to the wild. We have trained staff who are experts at capturing an injured bobcat or hand rearing orphaned bobcats until a surrogate can be found.
We go to great lengths to keep these wild cats from imprinting on humans and monitor their care via surveillance cameras to make sure they are thriving. When they are healed, or old enough for release (about 18 months of age) we find the best habitat possible for sustaining them and set them free to live out the life that nature intended.
If you have a bobcat emergency in a state other than Florida, we can help you find a rehabber or will be a resource to wildlife rehabilitators who need help with bobcats, lynx or cougars. When you are searching for a bobcat rehabber ask the following questions:
1. Do they have experience with bobcats?
2. How big are their rehab enclosures? (Ours start at 1200 square feet and some are double that)
3. Do they feed a live diet of prey to insure that the cats will be able to hunt for themselves?
4. Do they keep people, including themselves to the extent possible, away from the bobcat so that they do not imprint on people and end up approaching humans after release?
5. Do they have a vet on staff or on call 24/7 for emergencies?
Rehabbing and releasing bobcats is much more difficult that the rehabilitation of most wildlife. These magnificent little wildcats need every opportunity to fulfill their role in nature and Big Cat Rescue is here to give them that second chance.
We are thinking the bobcat rehab rebuild is going to run about a quarter of a million dollars.
The area that would be most suitable on our property would allow a foot print of about 200 feet by 800 feet and would give us about 1/3 of that in thick woods and 2/3 in grassy runs. The woods are a blessing and a curse when we are talking chain link boxes.
Click map to see larger
The pink areas are our permanent big cat residents. The green shaded area is where we want to move our bobcat rehab facilities. It will be the opposite end of our property from the new hotel that is going in on Easy Street.
The 18 acre lake was dug out by the previous owner and then he was filling it in, starting w/ the green shaded area, with concrete and construction materials from demolition sites. He dug the lake down to 30 feet in places, so we could have that much concrete to drill through.
Wild bobcats DO dig, so we have to have a floor. That’s why I was thinking that a big chain link box, complete with roof and floor, might actually work there. It would have to be 1 in mesh and at least 11.5 gauge to meet state standards and keep their live rats from escaping. We would put dirt, grass and shrubs over the flooring after install.
This year we had 7 bobcats in rehab, which is the most we’ve had at one time, but as our reputation for successful releases grows, more cats seem to end up here, so we need to be ready for that growing demand.
We are confident that we can end the practice of private ownership of big cats, so the wildlife rehab work will expand as the need for big cat sanctuaries decreases with our legislative wins.
We own the three houses and two barns that are south of the green shaded area, so there is water, power and Internet nearby. The main house and the two barns have a life estate by the elderly owner though, so I’d have to build something for indoor care of injured cats, but it wouldn’t have to be huge because of the opportunity to take over the existing structures soon.
Currently the intensive care is done in our on site Cat Hospitals, but it would really be nice to have the wild bobcats totally away from the hubbub of the sanctuary, in their own recovery facilities adjoining the outdoor runs.
What I envision here are 8 long, narrow runs, maybe 20 by 230 each, that could be opened up into 4 that are 20 x 470 when there are 4 or fewer cats. Still puzzling about how to make the space expandable, without shared walls, which are just a tragedy waiting to happen.
Whether a bobcat comes to us injured or orphaned, they usually go through these stages:
1. Inside intensive care
2. Outside, small (low) cages so they don’t climb and fall.
3. 1000 -2500 square feet of space to perfect their hunting, climbing, hiding skills.
Another factor that I haven’t quite figured out yet, is how to mount cameras so that we can make sure the cats are doing well, and to engage the public. Our Bobcat Rehab camera is very popular at http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-bobcat-rehab-and-release and a great way to engage people in caring about wildlife, so I want to build it with a goal of it being a good virtual visual experience.
Each cage will require 27,120 sf of 1 in chain link mesh. Or roughly 64,750 linear feet of 8 foot high chain link mesh. http://www.yourfencestore.com/ lists 10 gauge, 1 inch mesh for 11.14 per linear foot which means a retail cost.
Below are mockups by Kenni Pedersen of what the bobcat rehab runs will look like.
Dr. Justin Boorstein started out at Big Cat Rescue in December 2005 as an Intern who was studying veterinary medicine. He became licensed to practice in Florida in 2012 and Dr. Wynn has been showing him the ropes at the sanctuary.
Dr. Wynn typically visits the sanctuary twice a week and when needed.
Dr. Boorstein has been spending his free time teaching volunteers and interns how to check fecals and has been helpful in our vaccinating schedules as well as emergency care.
Dr. Justin Boorstein works at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and rose to international fame as the doctor for the Zombie Cat or Zombie Kitty. Zombie Cat, was a cat named Bart, who had been hit by a car, thought dead, buried and then clawed his way out of the grave to be discovered very much alive 5 days later.
More than 151,000 news reports circled the planet over Zombie Cat’s amazing journey to hell and back.
Purchase this Jumanji Black Leopard pendant to help with his care
It’s Valentine’s Day and my heart is restless with worry. Tomorrow Jumanji, a 20 year old black leopard and Bongo, a nearly 25 year old serval, will have to be sedated for treatment. Since a lot of our cats are over the age of 20, and these species usually don’t live past 10-12 elsewhere, there is always this low level tension tugging at our hearts. We are always watchful for any sign that one of our precious cats is on the decline.
Nature demands survival of the fittest, so cats don’t show their illness, unless they are so sick they just can’t hide it any more. In the wild they would become prey if they didn’t maintain the facade of being the biggest, baddest element in the brush. Even in captivity, they are stoic in their pain and masters of illusion. It usually is something they can’t hide that first gives them away.
Jumanji has had a growth on his face for a while that has concerned us, but sedation is such a dangerous thing for exotic cats, that we have just watched it closely for changes and figured we will get a biopsy of it, or remove it, if he ever had anything else going on that would call for sedation.
Yesterday, (Feb. 13) he left a broken tooth on his feeding platter. My first thought was that he was expecting the tooth fairy, but realized that he must have broken it off while chewing on a bone. He’s always had great teeth, so this was un expected and worrisome enough, considering the exposed root, that we decided to sedate him Monday, Feb. 15.
Purchase this cute serval kitten plushy toy to help provide care to Bongo
No sooner had we made arrangements with the vet, Dr. Justin Boorstein, who is seeing his dentist that same morning, that a radio call came in that Bongo had a swelling on his face, and didn’t want to eat. In more than 20 years of caring for Bongo Serval, I don’t remember anyone ever reporting that he didn’t want to eat.
Jamie Veronica went to take a look at him, and all indications are that he’s got a bad tooth too. “Dr Boorstein; could you make that two patients for dental work, Monday?”
I kid you not, it wasn’t 15 minutes later before there was a radio call saying that Zouletta Serval was doing that weird-serval-neck-arching-thing. We are baffled at this odd phenomenon that only affects servals and seems to be related to a change in the weather. When it’s cold outside one day and then really nice the next day, the arching seems to happen on the nice day. We’ve discussed the condition with experts in serval care across the country and have tried just about everything imaginable, but can’t tell that anything, other than continued warm weather, fixes it.
“Dr Boorstein; could you make that three patients for Monday?”
If you picture those horses that are trained to step high and arch their necks, that is what it looks like. There are variations on it where the cat’s forehead seems to be glued to the ground. Those cases get brought inside immediately. The cats are usually very wobbly in their gait and will fall over. It doesn’t usually affect their appetite though.
We were trying to decide if Zouletta should go into the West Boensch Cat Hospital for a few days, but by the afternoon she was feeling a lot better and thankfully, today, shows no sign of affliction. I’m crossing my fingers that it stays that way for her. Thor Bobcat really doesn’t want neighbors in the hospital and two cats in surgery are about all I can stand.
I don’t know what time Jumanji and Bongo will be coming into surgery, but you can watch it LIVE at http://explore.org/live-cams/player/big-cat-rescue-windsong-memorial-cat-hospital There is a discussion board at the bottom of that page where we can do Q and A with you, but the microphones are great, so you will be able to hear the vets and they often will speak directly to the camera to keep you informed.
As always, your gifts are tax deductible and much appreciated.
Cheetaro arrived at Big Cat Rescue in November 2003 from a roadside zoo. Cheetaro was confined to a corn crib with his mate and bred constantly so that his cubs could be sold. They braved the New England winters together where a chill factor of -18 degrees wasn’t unusual. They had no way to escape the sleet and snow. They had only the shelter of the corn crib’s tin roof and a box. They had no choice but to survive by enduring their fate together. When the roadside zoo closed in 2003, Cheetaro’s mate was sold off and Cheetaro, being male and of no value, was sent to Big Cat Rescue. Here he lays lazily in the sun on top of his den, or can hang out on his platform, but he has forever been separated from the mate he loved.
One of the wiliest cats at the sanctuary, he spends hours stalking visitors from his shaded cat-a-tat. Like all leopards, he excels at sneaking up on people when their backs are turned. The keepers are always very aware of where Cheetaro happens to be whenever they clean his area or prepare his food.
We can never make up for the previous life he had to endure, but we try every day to make life as enriching as we possibly can for him.
Cheetaro Leopard Has a Seizure
February 24, 2015 Gale reports that Cheetaro Leopard is “down” in his cage (meaning unresponsive) and the vets are called. Dr. Boorstein heads in from across town at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay where he works, and Carole and Jamie come in to help Gale and Jarred give Cheetaro fluids and to keep him near the side of his cage, where the vet can get to him when he arrives.
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.