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Wisc. big cat facility starts construction at new site

Brian D. Bridgeford – News Republic

ROCK SPRINGS — Workers using steel pipe and heavy wire panels began assembling the new Rock Springs lion and tiger refuge big-cat advocate Jeff Kozlowski says could be open to the public in July.

On Friday morning, workers with Qual Line Fence Corp. of Waunakee were hard at work on the Pine Street farm formerly owned by village resident Dorothy Coens and now the future home of the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center. The animal sanctuary will replace one just east of the village along Highway 136, where neighbors and Sauk County officials have raised complaints about safety, excessive noise and violations of county large-animal and zoning ordinances.

The workers took panels of welded steel wire 6.5 feet long by 10 feet high and assembled them around a frame of welded steel pipes. They used a pneumatic device to bind panels together using steel “hog” rings.

Fence installer Dick Kalisch of Waunakee used pliers to twist lengths of heavy steel wire through the panels and around the pipe frame, binding the structure of the cage and its frame together.

Co-worker Joel Goodnature of Waunakee referred to the steel panels as “cattle panels” and said the firm commonly uses them to make animal cages.

As the men finished each cage, they carried it back to a growing line of cages Kozlowski said will number 24 when they were done, one each for the lions, tigers and leopards living at the sanctuary. He referred to the small enclosures as “feeding cages.”

His cats will be moved into the cages at feeding times, he said. While they are eating, their keeper can come into the larger pen they normally live in to clean it.

“There never has to be any contact between the keepers and the big cats,” Kozlowski said.

On a flat field down the hill from the house and farm yard stood concrete dens Kozlowski said will be the cats’ main shelter within their steel fence pens. There also were large concrete culverts he said would provide the cats a place to take shelter from the sun or to rest.

“The cats will have tornado-proof housing,” Kozlowski said.

The field also contained piles of large steel pipes and welded panels 10 feet long by 16 feet high that will be used to construct the pens that will be the big cats’ homes, he said. A fence will also surround the sanctuary.

During a Sauk County committee meeting last week, legal adviser Todd Liebman said they are waiting for a judge to decide on the county’s civil forfeiture action against Kozlowski and his rural sanctuary. The county is asking for a court order against operating the sanctuary on property in the county’s jurisdiction and unspecified monetary penalties for his violations and costs to the county.

Liebman said he hopes the judge will grant a summary ruling against Kozlowski based on written arguments rather than requiring a trial or further court hearings.

The county already has reached an agreement with Kozlowski’s landlords, David and Joy Carroll. To avoid paying any fines for violations of county ordinances, they agreed to bring an eviction action against Kozlowski and his big cats.

The eviction action is just beginning to work its way through Sauk County Circuit Court, according to court records.

Kozlowski said he expects the conflict with the county will be largely resolved when he is able to move his cats into the village. He said he is still working with the Rock Springs Village Board to set the rules and conditions under which the sanctuary will be opened.

“We’re hoping in July,” Kozlowski said.

http://www.wiscnews.com/bnr/news/132579