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Today at Big Cat Rescue May 9 Columbus Ohio

A Big Woo Hoo (Bobcat style) Shout Out

to Those Who Testified in Support of SB 310-HR-483

 

Yesterday Patty Finch, Cathy Cowan and Carole Baskin made the rounds at the Ohio Representatives’ offices meeting with the lawmakers and their awesome aids to let them know that SB-310 / HR-483 is a great bill and will save human and wild animal lives.

 

It was obvious that the flood of calls and visits they had gotten from the snake dealers, cougar owners and backyard breeders had given them a lot of misinformation, so I was glad that we got these 45 minute to one hour times with each of them to show them the truth about the situation.

 

Servals, like Cleo Cat Tra have become the next biggest cat people buy since they cannot trade in great cats and cougars as pets across state lines

Servals, like Cleo Cat Tra have become the next biggest cat people buy since they cannot trade in great cats and cougars as pets across state lines

Testimony before the Agricultural Committee began around 4pm and went past 10:30 pm when we got tired of hearing the crazies shout their nonsense into the microphone.  We are VERY glad they came and showed how illiterate, delusional and just plain hateful they are.  Anyone sitting on the committee would have to be wondering why on earth they should continue to allow the private possession of wild animals by this bunch.

 

Marie Collart joined us that evening and she, Karen Minton, Mr. and Mrs. Becker, Patty Finch and I all testified and answered questions the committee had.  The mother of a young boy who was mauled to death by a bear at Sam Mazzola’s back yard breeding compound gave riveting testimony about how her son had been savaged to death and how Mazzola had lied to the press and down played the incident.  She noted that her son’s body had been completely drained of all blood in what Mazzola told the 911 dispatcher was a minor incident with no bleeding.  She also noted, as did Tim Harrison who also testified that the autopsy report just read, “work place accident.”

 

Unless the news finds out, no one knows when people are mauled or killed by wild animals.  There is no check box for that.

 

We are hopeful that this committee will hear from sane people who will let them know that there is no reason to allow the continued trade in big cats.  This law would let people who have them, keep them, but they can’t breed or buy more.  Please contact the Ohio State Representatives’ Agricultural Committee and tell them you SUPPORT SB 310 / HR 483 and that it should be made as strong as possible.

 

Patty Finch’s Testimony

 

People who do not want to be held accountable for the way they treat their animals have been saying all kinds of crazy things about the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.  They have tried to convince lawmakers that it is just some elitist club, run by animal rights fanatics.  Patty was able to show that the board is made up of professions in the animal welfare industry and is funded by major foundations including PetsMart Charities.

 

She also pointed out that there is no cost of applying and that, in fact, GFAS has awarded grants to 50% of their applicants to help them meet the standards.  The money given is to help improve the facilities, make them safer and give the sanctuaries tools so that they can manage their organizations better.  GFAS’ mission is to help any sanctuary who really wants to do the right thing by offering grants, online and in person training and the community of accredited sanctuaries are happy to help others in our field if we know they are striving to meet GFAS standards.

 

Marie Collart

 

Marie had a unique perspective in that she had been on the board of directors, and had actually formed the organization called the Siberian Tiger Conservation Foundation.  She saw from the inside out just how crazy and reckless big cat owners frequently can be and relayed stories of a keeper being dragged across the compound in the jaws of a tiger and the owners, each at different times, being held captive by a tiger and by Sasha the lioness.  What Big Cat Rescue keepers will love are the photos she brought of Joseph when he was a cub.  The point was to show how they go from cute to killer in just a couple years.

 

 

Carole’s Testimony

 

My name is Carole Baskin and I am the founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FL. We are home to more than 100 exotic cats ranging from 4 lb sand cats to 700 lb tigers. Our sanctuary started in Ohio.

 

In 1992 my late husband and I drove from FL to Delphos, Ohio to buy llamas at and exotic animal auction. While there I learned that exotic cats were being sold to taxidermists who said that they would kill the animals in the parking lot so that they didn’t have to deal with them on their way home.

 

When a man put a six month old bobcat up on the auction block, I saw the terror in her eyes. I saw her clinging desperately to the only person she knew as he told the bidders that his wife had kept her as a pet but didn’t want her any more.

 

I looked around the room at the taxidermists who were bidding on her because she was beautiful and would make a great den decoration. I began to cry and my husband began to bid. He didn’t stop bidding until she was safe. We named her Windsong and she opened our eyes to an industry that we could not believe existed.

 

The Eyes of the World are Upon YouAt that point 20 years ago, I was probably even less aware, than you are today, of the extent of the problem. By the time you have heard and seen the evidence that will be presented over the next couple of days, you will know far more than I knew then, but you will only have seen the tip of the iceberg.

 

I believe that you will still find the evidence to be overwhelmingly in support of a ban on the private possession of dangerous wild animals. Where I believe I can be of assistance is in giving you some insight as to why it will be important to make your new law as strict as possible and with as few exemptions as possible. Exceptions and exemptions become the legal loopholes that are often exploited which make enforcement costly, if not impossible.

 

Big Cat Rescue has been accredited for more than 11 years; originally by The Association of Sanctuaries which later became the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. We are licensed by the state of Florida and USDA.

 

Big Cat Rescue has more than 63,000 supporters around the globe and 2,380 of them are in Ohio.

 

I am here today because I want to thank you in person for considering this bill. I also want to thank the 30 Senators who voted in support of this bill a few weeks ago. I am so thankful Ohio has a legislative system that allows the public to be heard when it comes to human safety and exotic animal welfare, because I come from a state that does not. Florida is unique in that our Wildlife Commission was given constitutional authority to regulate wild animals. This is a state agency where the members are not elected and thus not inclined to listen to the voice of the people. The Florida Wildlife Commission boasts that they have created the toughest standards for regulating wild animals, and their minimum standards are higher than most other states, but they have opted to regulate, rather than ban private possession of dangerous animals. This explains why Florida is the only state in the country to have more maulings, killings and escapes than Ohio … well, until Zanesville happened.

 

Big Cat Rescue has to raise one and a half million dollars per year to care for the 100 + wild cats in our sanctuary, but only 17 of those cats are lions and tigers. Most of our cats are smaller exotics that people often buy as pets before discovering that male, or female, altered or not, they almost all spray bucket loads of urine on everything to mark it as theirs. We can only take in more rescues if we are sure that we can provide them with lifetime care, so even though we are asked to take dozens of lions and tigers every year we often have to say “no.”

 

It costs Big Cat Rescue 10,000 per tiger, per year, to provide just food, shelter and vet care. This does not include any of the over head of running the sanctuary. This is because we feed a balanced diet that has been developed especially for big cats; not road kill, sick, diseased or downed animals nor the expired meats being thrown out by Walmart, which is where most big cat owners get their food. We have two vets who come several times per week and work for free, but there are huge expenses involved, that we do pay for, in obtaining blood work, x-rays, medications and veterinary supplies. For instance, just one round of flea treatments can run $7,000. and has to be done quarterly, or more often as needed.

 

Everyone probably thinks that their job is the hardest; but I think that most others who have dealt with big cats would agree that they are one of the hardest animals to house. The only others who I think could be harder, are bears and primates, because opposable thumbs and claws made for digging earn them a spot at the top of the list.

 

I only have six animals at Big Cat Rescue that are not cats. Even they are cat-like though, being a genet, civets and bearcats. I chose to focus on just rescuing cats because it is hard enough to learn everything necessary to provide for one type of animal, much less for the varied collections that are so prevalent in back yard collections, traveling acts and zoos.

 

I had to learn how to care for these animals the hard way, because after bringing Windsong the bobcat home from Ohio, I ended up the following year in a fur farm where they were breeding lynx to slaughter for fur coats. We came home with 56 lynx in 1993 and by 1995 had purchased every cat off every fur farm that we could find in the U.S. with the agreement that cats no longer be killed for their fur.

 

While those fur farmers held good to their word, and to my knowledge there are no more lynx being bred in this country for slaughter, I had to learn the hard way that you can’t buy your way out of the abuse and you can’t rescue your way out of it either.

 

As long as someone will pay the ransom for an animal, there are those who will breed for that market. As long as you provide a dumping ground for people to unload wild animals who have outgrown their profitable cub stage, you are enabling that bad behavior. We now require that people contract with us, in writing, with heavy financial penalties, to never own nor participate in the exotic animal trade again, before we will let them dump their responsibility on us.

 

There have been 723 incidents in the U.S. involving captive exotic cats since 1990. These incidents have resulted in the deaths of 21 humans, 16 were adults and 5 were children. There was an additional mauling of 247 more adults and children, 254 escapes, the killing of 143 big cats, and 132 confiscations. We track this on our web site at http://bigcatrescue.org/2011/big-cat-attacks because there is no government agency that does so.

 

There are a number of photos attached to this testimony and they are typical. These are not just the bad actors; they are typical of what I have seen in 20 years of dealing with people who own exotic cats. Despite the wretched conditions, they will all rave about how much they love their animals. Many will tell you that they have all of the government oversight that they can stand via the USDA. You will hear a number of them tearfully pleading that you not pass this law because they will have to give up their animals.

 

I want you to see with your own eyes how the vast majority of exotic animals owners keep their beloved pets, so that you are not fooled by them. I’ve collected hundreds of images over the years and did not catalogue them by state in many cases, so I tried to select the ones that I knew to be from Ohio and have marked them accordingly. In some cases I don’t know where they are from, but they are typical.

 

You might be wondering, “Is there this big a market for tigers as pets?” The answer is “no.” The reason for so many lions and tigers in back yards is because of an inadvertent loophole in USDA guidelines. The USDA’s Big Cat FAQ says that cubs under the age of 8 weeks shouldn’t be used for photo ops and petting sessions because they haven’t had their shots yet. A separate court case, USDA vs Palazzo decided that cubs over the age of 12 weeks were too dangerous and should not be used for these pay-to-play schemes.

 

The unintended consequence was that those who make money off exotic cats figured out that they could legally use cubs who were between the age of 8 and 12 weeks for photo sessions where the public pays to have their picture made with a cub.

 

This means they need to breed new cubs every month because cub petting is offered year round at their roadside zoos and in their traveling acts that go from mall, to fair to flea market to parking lots all across the country. One such operator claims he can make more than $20,000 in a week end doing this, so there is a huge incentive to breed cubs, use them for a month and then unload them any way they can.

 

Often the people who “rescue” these cubs find that they cannot afford to feed them as they mature, so they repeat the pattern of breeding cubs, who will bring in donations, but it is never enough to provide lifetime care and so the vicious cycle repeats over and over until you have a Zanesville.

 

Sometimes the end result is not quite as tragic, but is still devastating. In 2010 a huge sanctuary in TX imploded and when it did there were 400 lions, tigers, bears and primates with no where to go. It took over a year to find homes for all of the animals but now the sanctuaries are busting at the seams with the animals who were displaced from this one facility. There is another facility of the same size that is just teetering on the brink of collapse and the sanctuary community is already scrambling to try and find a way to deal with that eminent closure. There are a number of huge facilities that have been breeding cubs to pay for today’s bills, who cannot keep up with the mounting expenses. Over the next few years I believe we will see a number of these people walk away and leave their states to clean up the mess they have made.

 

Ohio has been the origin of a number of animals we have rescued over the years, including Servals, Canada Lynx, Bobcats, Lions and Tigers.

 

Marie Collart will tell you more about one of the larger rescues we did in Gambier, OH that involved 2 Lions and 4 Tigers. She can tell you about it from someone who saw what was happening from the inside out, but I’d like to give you a brief overview.

 

On August 12, 2007 The Columbus Dispatch story began, “Knox County residents are footing the bill for two lions and four tigers left in legal limbo after their owner was evicted from a Gambier farm in May.” The drama that was not fully told by the papers was how things got that bad.

 

Because of the number of people injured at Diana McCourt’s back yard collection of lions and tigers, the USDA suspended her license in 2000, and revoked it entirely in 2006. Despite losing her right to display big cats to the public, McCourt continued to do so and even ended up in an undercover investigation that was aired in 2006 on 20/20.

 

Because Ohio had no laws and the USDA failed to take any further action, this back yard collection of pets continued to be kept in a decrepit barn and continued to injure and endanger patrons who came to pet the grown lions and tigers. It wasn’t until her landlord evicted her, after years of not paying rent, that the Knox Animal Control was able to take custody of the big cats when McCourt abandoned them.

 

In the photos you will see that she had collared the cats, long before, so that she could stake the cats to the ground, with short chains, to let people climb on their backs for photos. When we rescued the cats these collars had become embedded in their skin because they were so tight and had rubbed the skin raw so frequently that it began to scar over the collars. Remarkably, this woman came to Big Cat Rescue years later demanding to visit with her “babies.”

 

If you talk to the people who have exotic cats in their homes, basements and back yards they will say:

 

“They are my babies.”

“They are spoiled rotten.”

“I love them as much as my own children…or more.”

And they say even more scary things like, “I’d die before I gave them up.”

 

I say scary because these are the same people who are keeping animals in the horrid conditions that are reflected in these photos and are the same people who will tell you that they will kill their animals before they let someone tell them how to provide proper care.

 

In essence, that is what HR483 is about. The bill stops the trade of dangerous wild animals outside of legitimate accredited zoos and requires that owners register and manage their existing animals in ways that ensure public safety and the well being of the animals.

 

If the people testifying before you really love their animals then there is no reason why they should be concerned about the fact that you are going to require them to act in a responsible fashion.

 

If they really want to surround themselves in wild animals, they can work to achieve the accreditation of the American Zoological Association or the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. The latter is a free resource and offers both online and in person training sessions on fundraising, grant writing, social networking, recruiting, training and retaining volunteers and so much more. Their goal is to make sure that sanctuaries are run in a responsible manner so that the long term wellbeing of the animals in their care can be assured. That is nothing for any animal lover to fear.

 

The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries is not just a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for sanctuaries that are already exemplary. It is an organization of people devoted to helping even the most modest facilities improve their situations.

 

One well crafted law can make a huge difference. I know from experience how much good a single law can have. Back in 2003 we had to turn away 312 big cats because we can only rescue 5 or 6 per year. I had been tracking the number of these exotic cats who were being discarded each year and every other year the number had been doubling, so that by 2003 we were basically having to turn away a lion or tiger every day.

 

In December of 2003 a federal bill passed, that we had been promoting for several years, called The Captive Wildlife Safety Act. That bill made it illegal to sell big cats across state lines as pets. Even though there were a lot of parameters, it made a huge impact on the number of animals being discarded.

 

In the SB310 hearings I heard all of the same old stuff you hear every time a ban is suggested; the owners say that if you ban the possession of dangerous animals it will drive the trade under ground or that people will all just abandon their animals. It isn’t true.

 

The first year after the federal ban on trading big cats as pets, the number of unwanted big cats dropped for the first time ever and it dropped a lot! That year we “only” had to turn away 110. That was down from 312 to 110 in the very first year after the ban. Eight more states have since passed bans and partial bans and the result is that the number of big cats who end up in need of rescue continues to drop substantially each year.

 

I want to thank you again for considering this bill and urge you to pass it, but would like to make a few suggestions, so that you can minimize the loopholes that are likely to be exploited.

 

The Senate bill, under definitions they added a section to create a different description for a Rescue Facility than for a Sanctuary. Under the definition for Rescue Facility the Senate version would allow the animals to be taken off site for exhibition. That opens up the flood gates for people to call their organization a Rescue Facility so that they can take wild animals out into the public where they can more easily market them, albeit illegally, because they would have to be caught in the act of selling or using the animal for profit. There is never going to be enough inspectors to chase them around and see what they are doing every minute of the time they are off site, but if you do not create this loophole, it would be very easy to cite someone who had a dangerous wild animal off property.

 

Both the Senate version and your House version of the Sanctuary definition leave out a very important element and that is that the sanctuary does not buy the animals they rescue. When I started out in 1992 I purchased cats from fur farms and auctions to save them, but I quickly learned that it just fuels the trade. We haven’t bought animals to save them since the 1990s and there is no reason to allow it. To do so only creates yet another loophole for people to continue to trade in these animals under the auspices of being a sanctuary, when good sanctuaries do not buy, sell, breed, trade, allow public contact nor take animals off site other than to see the vet.

 

I’ve worked with 19 species of wild cats and their assorted hybrids and one thing I can say for certain is that they make awful pets. Some will argue that their 4th generation hybrid is a great pet, but they all seem to be incapable of understanding that you can’t get to generation 4 without generations 1-3 ending up being killed, discarded or relegated to puppy mill type conditions. In your definition of prohibited wildlife, it would be more inclusive and far easier to regulate, if you said, “any felid or hybrid other than felis, catus; ie the common, domestic cat.”

 

I have been called up many times over the years to settle disputes between owners who claim to own some non regulated species or hybrid when law enforcement has asserted that the cat in question was a regulated species. Just last week a woman called me who said that she thought she had bought two Serval hybrids on the Internet but that when she took them to the vet he turned her in for having Servals, which are regulated in FL … somewhat. Whether she really knew what she had or not, it illustrates the problem that arises if you make exceptions. It may be hard for some people to tell a 30 lb Serval from a 30 lb Savannah cat, but it is easy to tell either from a domestic cat.

 

My last suggestion is probably the most important. That is to, at the very least, prohibit contact with wild animals and their cubs at ZAA facilities and at best to remove the exemption for ZAA facilities. I am puzzled that anyone here takes them seriously because no professional I know in the animal care industry does.

 

The organization was formed to try and legitimize zoos and backyard breeders who chose not to strive for the standards created by professionals in the zoo world. People that had no intention of living up to the agreed standards of care set by the American Zoological Association (the AZA) or those who lost their accreditation by acting in the most egregious manner banded together to form the Zoological Association of America. The only thing professional about this group is the sound of their name.

 

When Tampa, Florida’s Lowry Park Zoo lost their AZA accreditation due to the misdeeds of the curator, Lex Salisbury the ZAA listed Lowery Park Zoo as their headquarters with Salisbury at the helm. ZAA leader, Lex Salisbury’s was fired for taking home the city’s zoo animals and starting his own back yard breeding compound to stock his own roadside zoo. There was nothing legitimate about it then and there is nothing legitimate about it now.

 

Exempting the ZAA from this bill will result in all the same backyard breeders and hoarders seeking ZAA’s easy stamp of approval to circumvent the new law.

 

In closing, let me reiterate that HR 483 is a strong step forward. It will save countless animal lives and result in safer and more humane communities.

 

1. It should include all non domestic cat species.

2. There should be no separate exemption made for Rescue Facilities as a Sanctuary exemption would cover both.

3. Neither a Rescue Facility, nor a Sanctuary should be allowed to buy wild animals nor take them offsite for display.

4. The ZAA exemption should be dropped if this bill is to have any effect.

Thank you for all that you are doing to make Ohio a better place to live.

 

Carole Baskin, Founder & CEO of Big Cat Rescue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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