Barbara Nicholas (a.k.a. Barb)
Big Cat Rescue has four volunteers named Barbara. Most everyone calls me Barb to keep the confusion to a minimum. I’m a yellow-shirt level Partner. My BCR orientation was Thanksgiving 2015. Since I was a little girl, any photo of me includes a cat or kitten. I love cats! Big cats, small cats. Most likely, this is why I was drawn to Big Cat Rescue. I retired from my property insurance adjuster career with USAA when my 90-year old mother needed assistance recovering from surgery. As her health improved, I started looking for meaningful work and the first place I thought of was Big Cat Rescue. I became a member of the BCR Staff beginning August 10, 2017, as Director of Donor Appreciation.
I was born in Cleveland, OH. My parents lived in the suburbs of Beachwood & Gates Mills. I graduated from Orange High School in 1977 and attended college at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, TX. Tarleton is the same college that my father attended after WW-2. I was very close to my Dad. When I had just turned twenty-eight, he died suddenly. After an unusually cold and snowy winter, my Mom called and said “I’m moving to Tampa. Do you want to come with me?” We have cousins who live in Tampa and were always bragging about how much they enjoyed the Florida lifestyle. We sold two homes and a lot of belongings. I’m an only child; so myself, mom and three cats moved south and never looked back.
I met my husband Wayne on the internet (gasp). He’s from Ontario, CA. I told him that if my two cats didn’t like him, he would have to return to California. Cats are very good at judging character. We married in Las Vegas on December 10, 1994. Wayne loves to golf. If he’s not playing golf, he’s watching the Golf Channel. I don’t play, so I guess that makes me a “golf widow.”
When I’m not at Big Cat Rescue, I enjoy scrapbooking, bird watching and gardening. I love to travel. I prefer domestic travel, not international. There are still so many places in the U.S. that I have yet to see. My goal is to visit all 50 States. I’ve not been to Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, Utah, Minnesota, Montana, and Wyoming.
I have a sister (not biological) named Sally who lives in Sacramento, CA. I try to visit her at least once a year. Sally and I met in England in 1987 (my only trip outside of the U.S.) while we both were attending a Wedgwood seminar at Keele University in Stoke-on-Trent. We are both keen collectors of Wedgwood, Sally like Royalty memorabilia and I collect mid-century modern jasper. I have many road stories to tell, and the best ones always include Sally. We talk for at least an hour every Saturday morning to keep current in each other’s lives. In 2018, we are planning to go with a tour group to experience the Chicago to Oklahoma portion of Route 66.
Bashful and Dawn
Many of our explore.org viewers get to watch the adorable kittens playing in the Kitten Cabana. As a volunteer, this is one of the BEST perks to take a break and play with kittens. During March/April 2016, I fell in love with a grey kitten named Bashful (one of the Seven Dwarfs). I knew I was destined to be her forever human.
I have a 19-1/2-year-old all-black cat at home named Miss Betsy. I was concerned that bringing active kittens home would upset her. I planned to adopt Bashful along with a second kitten so that they would play with each other and leave Betsy in peace. I spent days observing which kitten(s) Bashful chose as a playmate. Her favorites were a faux-snowshoe Siamese named Dawn and an all-black beauty named Baby Pam.
In early May, Bashful weighed in at the required 2-pound mark and was off to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay to be spayed. She had to stay overnight after her surgery, but I was there before the doors opened to adopt her.
The next week, both Dawn and Baby Pam made weight. Happily, Baby Pam was adopted by an Intern/Volunteer Julia Piotti. Dawn and I arrived home from the Humane Society. I wish I would have had a video camera to film the reunion of the K.C. buddies. Bashful raised her paws up in the air and hugged Dawn as if to say “I thought I’d never see you again.” Bashful led Dawn all over the house showing her hot spots such as the food bowl, toy basket, and litter boxes. These two have been inseparable ever since. I love these girls SO much and look forward to a long and happy life together. A special shout-out to the BCR Kitten Program, Karma Hurworth and the hard-working Interns who made this adoption possible.
Do I have a favorite cat at BCR? Yes, it was Nirvana the Ocelot who passed March 2017. She was the true essence of a cat. She had the most beautiful markings. I would sometimes see Nirvana early in the morning and have a chat. I always felt honored by her gracing me with her presence. Carole wrote that “Nirvana was a comedian in cat pajamas.” I regret that I didn’t know her when she was younger. Every once in a while, Nirvana would come out to meet my afternoon Tour. I never failed to mention to guests how lucky they were. I had the honor of purchasing the black granite memorial plaque for Nirvana. The inscription was “Small but mighty. Loved by all that knew her.”
I work from the Staff Offices in the middle of the sanctuary. My office looks onto Nikita’s feeding lockout. How many people can say the view out their window is a 550-lb. Lioness? Nikita and I are developing a friendship. I talk to her every morning. I usually say that I passed Food Prep and the wagons are on there way. I also tell her that the breakfast looks extra yummy today.
There are some who think that being a Partner is not as rewarding as being a Keeper. I disagree because I have the best of both. I get to meet fascinating guests from all over the world and share with them “my happy place.” I work with amazing & dedicated Big Cat Rescuers and still get to interact with our 4-legged residents during tours.
The NEW Gift Shop has more retail space and lots more storage, so all of the merchandise is housed under one roof. It was exciting when it opened in time for the 2017 Walkabout.
Partners are essential to Big Cat Rescue. We are the first ones the guests see when they arrive for their tours. The old saying is very accurate, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” It’s up to us to ensure our Guests have the best possible experience. We check them in, provide wristbands for the assigned tour, answer questions and direct them into the Tour Waiting Area. We have many tasks to accomplish before Tour Time. We ensure the VOX Systems and iPads are working correctly and start the Big Cat TV videos for guests to enjoy. We make sure there is complimentary bug spray and rain ponchos available. We also determine how many golf carts are required for guests with a medical need. Partners and Interns are the Tour Guides, Back-Ups and Golf Cart Drivers. We have other tasks such as restocking merchandise, filling online orders, answering phones, accepting deliveries, labeling, sorting lanyards and writing thank you notes.
My Superpower is I See the Best in People
My Superpower is that it’s my nature to find the good in everything and bring out the best in people. I’m sincere when I share my passion for cats with our donors and guests. Many of our residents suffered from abuse before arriving at BCR; we are lucky to have them here now, to share their stories and educate people. It thrills me when I finish a tour, and someone who has never donated before is inspired to support the cats. – Barbara Nicholas
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