Donor offers Wisconsin big cat facility $500,000 despite problems

By Brian D. Bridgeford

ROCK SPRINGS — An anonymous out-of-state backer is prepared to give $500,000 toward construction of a new lion and tiger refuge on 27 acres at the south edge of the village, cat rescue advocate Jeff Kozlowski said Monday.

Rock Springs Village Board officials told him to come back with a business plan and drawings of the proposed refuge before they would consider approving the project.

The proposed site for his 24 felines is on land now owned by former Village President Dorothy Coens, Kozlowski said. He presented his plans along with members of the newly formed non-profit group, The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center.

Kozlowski said his benefactor is from the southern part of the country, but would release his name.

“He wants to remain anonymous because he doesn’t want to get 20,000 more phone calls asking for $500,000,” he said. “As soon as we get our OK from the board, the money’s in the bank.”

Kozlowski has been in conflict with Sauk County authorities since he established a refuge for abandoned or mistreated lions, tigers and leopards just east of the village on Highway 136. Neighbors have complained about noise, an increase in traffic and possible risks from the animals.

Sauk County’s attorney has filed legal action against Kozlowski, arguing his refuge’s existing location violates county zoning rules and is not safe for the public.

During Monday’s meeting village resident and refuge supporter Harlan Behnke said the board could set any rules members think are needed for the proposed center.

He suggested no more than 32 cats could live at the center without village officials’ permission. They would have to approve the design of cages and the refuge would hook up to village sewer and water for public rest rooms.

The refuge could be an attraction that would bring visitors to Rock Springs and benefit local businesses, Behnke said.

Trustee Edward Buck said he believes Kozlowski is capable when it comes to caring for the big cats, but he is not confident Kozlowski has the money needed or the management skill to make sure the refuge can operate in the long term.

“Show me a plan for the facility,” he said. “I think you’re about a million (dollars) short.”

Trustee Lisa Zautke noted Kozlowski let his liability insurance lapse after Sauk Count denied him a permit for the Highway 136 site.

Kozlowski and his attorney have reported the insurance has since been reinstated and would protect the village from liability.

After extensive discussion with supporters and skeptics in the audience, the board told Kozlowski to come back with preliminary plans and drawings when they meet in January.

Kozlowski said he will provide the documents when the Rock Springs Board meets next month.

“We have plenty of money,” he said. “We can build a very nice facility with the money we have.”

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