HOW BIG CAT RESCUE STARTED
Narrated by Howard Baskin
By: Carole Baskin, Founder of Big Cat Rescue
I never set out to start a sanctuary. It happened partly by accident, then largely through a process of evolution.
In 1992 my late husband and I were at an exotic animal auction buying llamas when a man walked in with a terrified six month old bobcat on a leash. He said she had been his wife’s pet and that she didn’t want her any more. We brought her home and called her Windsong. I adored her and she generally responded in the ways we expect a pet to do. But one of the traits that makes exotic cats bad pets is the tendency to bond to one person and be jealous of and/or aggressive toward others. She wouldn’t tolerate my husband, so he decided to buy and hand raise one or more bobcat kittens of his own.
In 1993 he located a place in Minnesota that sold bobcat and lynx kittens and we drove there with my 12 year old daughter and a friend to look at them. What we found was a “fur farm”. While they sold a few cubs each year as pets, their main business was raising them for a year and then slaughtering them to make coats.
The cats were in cages that were several inches deep with layers of fur and feces. The flies were so thick in the metal shed that we had to put hankies over our faces just to breathe without inhaling them. On the floor was a stack of partially skinned bobcats, Canada lynx and Siberian lynx. Their bellies had been cut off as this soft, spotted fur is the only portion used in making fur coats. I was so stunned by the sight, that I was numbed and in denial of what I had just seen. There were 56 kittens and we asked if there was that big of a market for them as pets. We were told that whatever did not sell for pets would be slaughtered the following year for fur.
In horror and disbelief I looked at my husband. I couldn’t speak. I had never heard anything so heartless and now the pile of dead cats in the corner hit me with the reality of a freight train.
This was at a time when protesters were spray painting people wearing fur coats, wearing fur was becoming “politically incorrect,” business was not good and probably looked to the breeder like it might stay that way. I believe this is why, after we first offered to buy all 56 kittens and later agreed to buy all of his cats if the breeder would agree to discontinue making cats into coats (he still had mink, fox and others,) he agreed.
We bought every carrier, basket, tool box or bucket that you could put a cat in and bales of hay for nesting for the ride from Minnesota to Florida. As my husband drove, the rest of us tended to babies that had to be fed every two hours for the next two months. It was many months later before any of us slept through the night because we didn’t know what we were doing and there was no one to turn to for advice. We dealt with every imaginable sickness and the increasing demands on our time from these carnivores that rely so heavily on their mothers for the first one to three years of life.
Initially we brought the cats to our home. Then we started building cages on the current site of the sanctuary, a 40 acre site (now 55) nearby which we had obtained some years before in a foreclosure. That began years of long hours, hard work, learning, heartbreak over what we found many animals enduring, and evolving, often by trial and error, to the sanctuary as it exists today and continues to evolve.
If you are considering starting a sanctuary, which I do not recommend, this website has information that may be helpful.