CBS’ Inside Edition Did an Expose on Mike Deeson’s “source”: Joe Schreibvogel
This aired on Inside Edition on Nov. 28, 2011. Too bad Mike Deeson and the local CBS station didn’t do a real investigation before posting the sensationalistic nonsense they did below about Big Cat Rescue. In Mike Deeson’s report all of the “news” dated from 1990s or came from animal abusers. Inside Edition however had current video footage of Joe Schreibvogel’s sick tiger cubs, his current and open USDA investigation, the recent deaths of 23 of his cubs and Joe’s lie about it being the formula when FDA was quoted at the end of the segment as saying that the formula was not to blame.
CHANNEL 10 IS WILLING PAWN FOR EXOTIC ANIMAL EXPLOITERS
By Howard Baskin, JD, MBA
On 9/28/11 WTSP Channel 10 ran a disparaging report about Big Cat Rescue by Mike Deeson. Deeson’s primary “source” was Joe Schreibvogel, one of the most notorious exploiters of tiger cubs in the world. Schreibvogel constantly breeds tiger cubs, takes them from their mothers causing distress to mother and cubs, puts them in a semi trailer, and carts them around the Midwest setting up in malls and charging people to play with them. When they are too old to be exploited in this way, they end up in one of the rows of barren cages at his zoo or sent to live in poor conditions elsewhere.
The WTSP story notes that Schreibvogel was fined $25,000 by USDA, but dispenses with this by repeating Schreibvogel’s claim that it was “when he first started out.” The facts are that he started his “animal park” in 1997. The fine was in 2006 for violations that took place continuously over a four year period from 2000-2004 after he failed to correct repeated citations. It was not when he first started and it went on for years.
Has Schreibvogel changed since 2006? The report conveniently omits that Schreibvogel is currently under investigation by USDA for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs in 2010, a fact the reporter knew. Joe Schreibvogel says that he and his parents started G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Park in 1997 in memory of a deceased brother who loved animals. On December 10, 2010 Joe wrote on Facebook “…another employee quit today without so much as a phone call. …all I get is a text message that reads… My brother (g.w.) would be ashamed of what I have become.”
If Joe’s brother was indeed a lover of animals, this is likely to be an understatement.
Deeson could have come to us when Schreibvogel first made his false “allegations” and asked us if what he was hearing was true. Instead, Deeson reached his conclusion based on Joe’s lies, built his story, then just a few days before the story was to air, his producer “invited” my wife to refute the “negative allegations” camera. On my advice, explained below, she declined. Instead, she sent him a long email laying out why Schreibvogel and others make such attacks, and addressing what we knew from the past would likely be some of the allegations.
Why decline to go on camera? When the media come to us asking about exotic animal issues we gladly go on camera. But, we have already had the experience years ago of dealing with a reporter who had already created a negative, personal attack story on Carole and then invited her to go on camera. When reporters invite you to go on camera after they have decided how their story will end, they are not seeking truth or genuinely giving you an opportunity to tell your side. If they were, they would have come to us at the beginning of their “investigation”, not at the end. When they come to you at the end, they have reached their conclusion and their story is going to end the way they have already planned it. If you go on camera, their main purpose is to edit your statements to support their negative conclusions. At best they will air selected portions of your statement followed by “but,” and then air the contrary information with a spin intended to make you look bad. You simply play into their hands by agreeing to go on camera. If he really wanted the truth, he would have contacted us right after Schreibvogel visited him, not after he had decided how his story would end.
After we received the producer’s email asking Carole to go on camera, I told Carole I expected that the reporter and a camera man would show up at the sanctuary. We instructed the staff to call us if they did. (We work from our home a few miles away.) Deeson showed up at the sanctuary the day before the story was supposed to air. That day WTSP was already playing a “promo” for the story featuring Schreibvogel on area radio stations and the WTSP website. So, our gift shop manager called us and we spoke to Deeson at length by phone while he was at the sanctuary. I will give him credit for listening. But, at that point he was committed to a negative story. It had been sold that way internally at the station and the promos were out. We knew nothing we said was going to change that.
The story focuses primarily and pointlessly on the fact that in the first few years of the sanctuary, until 1997, Carole bought and intentionally bred cats like our critics still do today. The question is why this is news? This is fully disclosed on our website and on a large sign in our tour waiting area, a sign Deeson even shows in the WTSP piece. The WTSP statement that “Big Cat Rescue built its reputation” by breeding and buying is beyond a lie, it is a logical absurdity. Hardly anyone even knew we existed in the early 90’s when that was happening, but even if they did, how could Carole have built our literally worldwide reputation for rescuing, giving great animal care and fighting to STOP buying and breeding based on having done those things early on? The statement that we built our reputation based on breeding and buying is totally ridiculous.
Deeson shows hand written records from 1993-6 that he claims “10 News Investigators obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture.” I do not see how this can be true and invite him to prove it. USDA tells us they do not keep records more than four years. And this document is not one they would ever have had anyway. These are internal sanctuary records that were stolen in 1997 and have clearly been altered and passed around by animal abusers for years. Deeson did not get them from USDA, he got them from Schreibvogel or one of the other attackers, who most likely told him they were from USDA, just one of their many lies. If he can prove that he got them for USDA I will apologize. But, who cares? The only thing they show is that in those early years before Carole realized that it made no sense, cats were bred or purchased. This is something we freely disclose. So what is the point of showing these records at all?
Two other 10-15 year old items were shown in this “investigative” report, both of which were previously aired on television years ago.
The 1995 video of Shere Khan in a tub getting water therapy for his atrophied back legs has been trotted out by the abusers since they first got their hands on it because in it Carole said, “He was bottle raised in a loving and nurturing home.” Our website today talks about the deplorable conditions at the facility Shere Khan came from.
In those early years, breeders and exhibitors were the people Carole and her husband associated with. She was one of them. Dennis Hill, who owned Shere Khan, was another. All of them say, and convince themselves, that they love the animals regardless of the conditions at their facilities. Joe Schreibvogel will swear to you today that he loves the cubs that he grabs from their mothers right after birth and carts around to malls. The conditions at Dennis Hill’s facility were horrible. But at that time, these breeders were the people Carole and her former husband had relationships with then, and they all believed they were people who loved their animals.
The only physical problem with Shere Khan that Carole knew of when he first arrived was that his back legs were weak. The video in the tub was hydro therapy to build up his leg muscles. Other medical issues that are currently on our website did not become known until after the video.
Regardless, this video is almost 20 years old. The description of Dennis Hill’s facility that appears on our website is clearly validated by subsequent events. Some years after Shere Khan came here Dennis Hill was convicted of drug dealing. Then USDA and State of Indiana forced him to find other homes for most of his animals because of the horrid conditions in which he was keeping them. A few years ago he became the focus of a documentary called “The Tiger Next Door” that exposes how breeders and dealers like Hill and Schreibvogel constantly breed tiger cubs for their own personal egos and gain.
The other very old item in the WTSP report was an email that Carole sent to our then Education Director about a conversation with someone from Jack Hanna’s operation about filming a rescue and a tour. The bizarre thing about it is that it looks like it was dated in 2000 and Jack Hanna filmed here in 1998.
We have no record of this email, but here is the entire email transcribed from the WTSP broadcast:
Subj: Jack Hanna
Date. 12 24 00
From: easystwild. (“Carole” hand written next to it)
To: (Blackened out – was to former Education Director)
They called last night and initially scheduled for the 21st. If yours doesn’t pan out, I would be willing to pay you whatever you usually make to host a free one. It could be kids, or the mentally handicapped, or the kids at risk, or even a retirement group. If the film crew doesn’t come on the 21st I’d still pay for the group tour and just count it as part of my donation to WOES. What they really want to film is a rescue. They want the camera rolling at some substandard facility, the rescue of the cat and then it’s new cat-a-tat life on easy street. You may want to speak with Sumner Mathis and see if there is anything that would fit that bill. Although I feel hypocritical in taking a cat just because it’s story plays well on TV, verses some other cat, I recognize the national exposure that this could give us and that us what enables us to do more rescues. Do we have any video of any of your bobcat releases? We should do that. The scout said they often use local channels clips. Do you know who was there if it was ever filmed?
The portion of the email that WTSP pulled out in a quote said, “Although I feel hypocritical in taking in a cat, just because its story is better than some other cat, I recognize the national exposure that this could give us, and that is what enables us to do more rescues.”
Every year Big Cat Rescue is asked to take in far more cats that we can accept. So we have to make painful decisions about which cats to take. All Carole was apparently doing here was expressing her feeling that rescuing a cat based on its appeal for TV show versus some other cat seemed unfair to the other cat, but that the end result would be exposure that would allow her to do more rescues. So? And, as it turned out, the two cougars that were in the show turned out to be two that very much needed a home and would have been taken in anyway. Hanna apparently also wanted to video part of a tour group. So, in the early part of the email, Carole is talking to the Education Director about inviting one of the groups for whom we often provide complimentary tours.
On the WTSP website, they characterize this email as saying Carole was “Staging a cat rescue at some substandard facility for a TV show.” There is no mention in the email of “staging” anything. As shown by reference to contacting Sumner Mathis of In Defense of Animals (now deceased), they were simply looking for a rescue situation that would be suitable to film.
Debra Sandlin, who appears in the video, was a volunteer for about nine months in 1999-2000. She left with others who did not like the change in philosophy to opposing ownership of exotic animals. She has a USDA license to own monkeys. No further comment needed I think.
The real question about everything you have read up to this point is “why is it news today?” Every one of these 10-15 year old items has already been aired in the media and/or disclosed on our website. It is simply a rehash of very old, fully disclosed material that is passed around repeatedly by animal exploiters in hopes someone like Deeson will reuse it. It is made totally irrelevant by what the sanctuary has been in the last ten years. There is nothing “investigative” about it.
There are only two “allegations” in the WTSP that have anything to do with the last 10 years.
First, Deeson carefully says we “appear” not to be transparent. Why “appear?” Because the only example he gives, which is the fact that we do not apply to the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to be rated, is not an example at all. When one of our supporters emailed Deeson complaining about dragging out the 10-15 year old nonsense, Deeson responded by saying “The biggest question is why won’t Big Cat submit information to the BBB Charity check? That is an on-going issue, not one from 10 years ago.”
We did meet all 20 requirements for the BBB Wise Giving Seal for a few years, 2005 to 2008. That was before our application finally made its way through the process to be rated by Charity Navigator, the most commonly referred to source for charity information. In 2008 BBB Wise Giving advised us that they felt we met 19 but not all 20 requirements to display the seal. Of the more than one million nonprofit organizations in the nation, only 328 meet all 20 requirements to qualify for the seal. It is a great credential. We were proud to display the seal when we qualified.
Meantime, in that same year Charity Navigator, which had a long backlog of nonprofits waiting to be evaluated, finally rated Big Cat Rescue. Since we were not going to qualify for the BBB seal and we were at that point being rated by Charity Navigator, I chose not to apply to BBB going forward. Our IRS 990’s and Audited Financial Statements appear on Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and on our own website. If, as Deeson says in his email, why we do not apply to BBB Wise Giving was the “biggest question”, why was there a story? How many of the 20 requirements of BBB does he think Joe Schreibvogel’s zoo would meet?
The only other part of the story that is not 10+ years old is WTSP’s characterization of our USDA inspections as “run ins.” This term makes it sound like we have a contentious relationship with USDA, which is absolutely not true. Most of our inspections over the years are perfect. The way USDA expresses that in the reports is to say “no non-compliant items identified during this inspection”.
Deeson says we were cited by USDA twice, once in September 2010 and once in March 2011. If Deeson had really “investigated” the September 29 inspection report he would find that on January 11, 2011, after we presented to USDA why the citation should not have been issued, USDA retracted it and issued a revised report with no citations.
Deeson melodramatically quotes a line in the March inspection about making it “easy for an animal to climb and jump over the fence” and refers to the 25,000 visitors as if this put them in danger. The inspection item with that language in it was not referring to any of the cages the animals are kept in and had nothing to do with any chance of them escaping those cages. It referred to the perimeter fence around the property. There were some materials stored a short distance from that perimeter fence. These materials had been there for years without any comment from USDA. On the day of that inspection, the inspector decided that he would like them kept further from the perimeter wall. The inspector noted at the end of the report that “Items identified were in the process of correction while I was in (sic) site.”
So, WTSP paints us as having “run ins” with USDA because we had some materials stored in a way that previous inspections had said were fine. WTSP chose not to include that our most recent inspection on July 13, 2011 was perfect, like most of our past inspections. And they express no concern that the 20 page USDA complaint against Schreibvogel in 2005 contained four years of violations for serious issues of animal mistreatment like failure to “provide adequate veterinary care”, “water receptacles that are clean and sanitary”, and “adequate shelter for animals kept outdoors.” As noted, WTSP dispenses with these by repeating Joe’s false claim that this was “when he first started out and he didn’t know what he was doing”.
So, Schreibvogel is saying it took him from 1997 to 2005 to figure out that cats need veterinary care, clean water, and shelter from the blistering Oklahoma sun, and WTSP is apparently satisfied with that explanation.
We suggested that Deeson contact our USDA inspector to get his opinion of our facility and provided his contact information. As far as we know he did not do that.
Deeson points to the strong financial support we get from donors like it was something bad. Much of that support comes specifically because we are not only giving excellent care to the cats, but also because supporters value the fact that we are out there actively working to stop exploitation by exhibitors like Schreibvogel and willing to continue to do so even though it means enduring constant attack from people like Schreibvogel. As the WTSP report mentions in passing, we currently have two lawsuits against him in federal court.
I apologize for the time it takes to read through this. But, in response to emails from our supporters, Deeson has been sending an email that says:
Thank you for your email.
I understand you are upset about our story, but your anger is misdirected. Let’s set the record straight. Many people wanted to know why we didn’t have Carole on camera… the answer is we tried several times and she declined.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Why did Carole buy or breed cats?
Why did she say on video Shere Kan was raised in a loving environment and then turn around on the web and say the cat was abused?
Why won’t Big Cat Rescue submit information to the Better Business Bureau charity check?
Why did Carole think it would be worthwhile to do something she called ‘hypocritical for a TV show’ to garner publicity?
Why did Big Cat endanger people and animals by having a ‘fence that was inadequate’ according to the USDA?
As for Joe Schreibvogel, we mentioned he was fined $25,000, and that he is involved in a lawsuit with BCR. He was reacting to paperwork and facts that we researched are irrefutable.
We stand by our story and thank you for your interest.
So, if I did not address these questions, we would be criticized for not doing so.
If you have had the interest to read this far, I thank you. I am not just madly in love with my wife Carole. I am totally in awe of her. I watch her work literally from dawn until late at night almost every day taking no compensation at all from the sanctuary. The only time she has taken a vacation that was more than a rare two or three day visit to a beach in Florida to recharge was our week long honeymoon in 2004.
She has a courage I can only wish I had. She is willing to stand up to vicious attacks from scurrilous people who make money exploiting these majestic animals. Joe Schreibvogel is the most evil-minded of these. He has stolen the Big Cat Rescue name and part of our logo to try to damage our reputation by making people think his abusive traveling cub petting exhibit is us, or related to us. That is the subject of one of our lawsuits. He steals photos and videos from our websites and alters them, or captions them with lies. That is the subject of a second lawsuit against him.
Schreibvogel, along with an equally vicious employee of his named Bobbi Corona, has repeatedly filed false claims with any government agency they can find, wasting the agency’s time and ours. They and his cronies who want to own and exploit exotic animals persistently post outrageous lies, and in some cases crude comments, threats, and sexually oriented material about Carole.
For a husband, watching your wife attacked this way is very difficult. At our wedding we chose Rod Stewart’s “Have I told you lately” as “our song.” I have to confess that the “ease my troubles” line probably applies more to the time she spends teaching me to take this all in stride than it does to the times I comfort her. She does not let anything this idiot Schreibvogel does, or the others do, bother her. She just keeps the goal of stopping the abuse in the forefront of her mind. She continually amazes me.
I have friends in the field of journalism. They talk with sadness about the slide from real reporting to tabloid reporting that is driven by the financial pressures on the media industry and what “sells” to the largest audience. It is sad to see WTSP apparently have a conscious strategy to be the “National Enquirer” of local television. In fairness to Deeson, it appears that as a result of our long phone conversation he did avoid including many of the more outrageous and stupid lies Schreibvogel told him. But it is difficult to forgive him and WTSP for being a willing pawn of a man like Joe Schreibvogel.
If you would like to express your opinion to management at the station, please do so in a professional manner. Let’s not let Joe Schreibvogel drag us down to his level. Although they are unlikely to comply, one request you could make is that they remove the offensive story from their website. It seems like that is the least they could do. If you find this kind of journalism unacceptable, advising them that you will not be watching their news in the future is another alternative.
To email the management of WTSP, you can copy this string of emails and paste into your email program. The full names and contact info are at the bottom of the page.
Here are the email addresses all together to make it easy to cut and paste into your email.
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, KTonning@wtsp.com, PRoghaar@wtsp.com, ELasher@wtsp.com
If you wish to comment on the WTSP Facebook go to http://www.facebook.com/10News
If you wish to comment on the story itself on their website go to
The Reporter – Mike Deeson at email@example.com 813-245-0320
The Producer – Tony D’Astoli firstname.lastname@example.org Office: 727-577-8451 Fax: 727-568-4165
Associate News Producer – Liz Gold email@example.com
Managing Editor – Carolyn Dolcimascolo firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager – Ken Tonning 904-633-8800 KTonning@wtsp.com
Director of News & Information – Peter Roghaar 727-577-8550 PRoghaar@wtsp.com
Program Director – Ellen Lasher 727-577-8422 ELasher@wtsp.com
Letters From Big Cat Rescue Supporters
There was an outpouring of support from our donors, supporters, visitors and those who know us from around the world. Below is one letter that was exceptionally important because it came from the leader of the pack when it comes to watchdogs, Merritt Clifton.
I have been reporting about animal issues for more than 40 years; full-time for more than 25 years, for an international readership of humane professionals, grantmakers, and high donors to animal charities.
Much of my work involves monitoring the accountability and credibility of animal charities.
From that perspective, I am not aware of any national or international humane organization, across the spectrum of animal advocacy philosophies, that has ever had any significant issues with Big Cat Rescue or Carole Baskin.
On the contrary, Big Cat Rescue is usually regarded as one of the three most reputable sanctuaries for large & exotic cats in the U.S., and one of the top four or five in the world.
I do not know Baskin personally, but I have frequently received positive reports about her work, and have seen no reasons for concern in her IRS Form 990 filings, which I monitor annually.
Many national & international humane investigators, however, have had serious issues with Joe Schreibvogel, who first came to my attention as the subject of humane complaints nearly 15 years ago. I don’t know Schreibvogel personally, either, but I don’t believe I know any humane investigator who would regard Schreibvogel as a credible source.
And just finding his accountability filings, among the blizzard of business names he uses, is a considerable chore.
Editor, ANIMAL PEOPLE
P.O. Box 960
Clinton, WA 98236
[Your donations help to support ANIMAL PEOPLE, providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide since 1992. Our global readership includes the decision-makers at more than 10,000 animal protection organizations. We have no alignment or affiliation with any other entity. Free online; $24/year by post; for free sample, please send postal address. Our annual Watchdog Report on Animal Charities, evaluating 174 of the most prominent animal charities in the U.S. and abroad, is $25.]
Click the image below to read the 2011 Animal People Watchdog Report on Big Cat Rescue.