What’s It Like to Work at Big Cat Rescue?
Most animal organizations our size have 30 paid staff, but we are able to maintain excellent care with about a third of that in paid staff because none of our paid staff are paid to work with animals. There are so many people who love big cats that they will do all of the cleaning, feeding, enrichment, operant conditioning and vet care for free. Our paid staff do the things animal lovers don’t enjoy like managing the gift shop, managing the data base, paying attention to donors, writing newsletters and managing volunteers. Our paid staff work for far less than industry standards because they love our mission and the cats.
Our intern and volunteer force averages around 80 people, who must put in a minimum of four hours per week, every week, rain or shine. A typical day starts at 7:30 am and often runs till way after dark. First the cats get their operant conditioning and morning meds. Most of our cats are geriatric and require supplements for all of their old age related ailments.
Then the cages are cleaned, water bowls are scrubbed and refilled, and projects are done which include cage enhancements, landscaping, and a plethora of other tasks to make the cats comfortable. Volunteers also write thank you notes to donors, help send out guest’s letters to lawmakers, stock and clean the gift shop, rest rooms and storage buildings.
All of the tours, like the one you are on now, are organized and led by volunteers. This might be your tour guide’s first tour, or their one thousandth tour, but before they are sent out to lead a tour they have already completed extensive training and have spent many hours backing up tours. With about 100 cats here, the guides have to know every cat’s story and every cat fact and that’s a lot to remember, so that is why the tours are automated, except in extreme weather.
You can tell a volunteer’s status by their shirt level:
Interns wear royal blue.
First six months: Red, who serve 4 hrs a week
Next year and a half: Yellow, who serve 6 hrs a week
After 2 years: Green, who serve 8 hrs a week
After 5 years: Navy, who serve 16 hrs a week
There are a LOT of classes, tests and certifications to graduate up that ladder!
In the evenings the old and sick cats get their evening meds and then dinner is served. It takes an army of volunteers pulling carts full of food, about 500 lbs a day in all, to make sure that every cat gets exactly the right amount and types of food. After feeding, all of the buckets and carts have to be cleaned and put away, the floors mopped and then the day is done…for our volunteers.
For interns, who live on site, they still have intern housing full of foster cats and kittens who must be fed, cleaned and often medicated as they come to us sick from the shelters. Some kittens have to be hand fed, every 4 hours around the clock, so the interns take turns caring for the kittens around the clock.
A few hours of sleep and it starts all over again.