There are a few ways to volunteer at Big Cat Rescue:

1. Volunteer on site. See below.

2. Intern for 3 months in exchange for lodging and the experience of a lifetime.  Intern here

3. Volunteer off site from your home town as an AdvoCat!

4. One Day Workgroups for business team building or groups.  https://bigcatrescue.org/workgroup/

This page contains a description of Big Cat Rescue’s Volunteer Program. If you are interested in becoming a Big Cat Rescue Volunteer please read on for more information on the program. All animal care at Big Cat Rescue is done by volunteers. Because big cats are so dangerous, we have to be very selective in our choice of volunteers because we will be investing a massive amount of training in them to ensure their safety. Before asking us if you can volunteer, please ask yourself the following:

1.  Can I devote no less than 4 hours, every week? No excuses;  every single week?

2.  Can I be at the sanctuary to clean at 8:30 am on my volunteer days? Not 8:45, but 8:30 on the dot, EVERY day I volunteer.

3.  Will I be happy to work in the rain, mosquitos, 90 degree heat or freezing rain? The cats have to be cleaned and fed every single day; regardless of the weather.

4.  Am I willing to spend 2 months doing maintenance, diet prep, general chores & cleanup before getting to work directly with the cats? We use this time to make sure you learn the ropes.

If you answered “no” to any of the above, then maybe you could do something on your own for the cats, like sharing our posts, telling your friends, etc., but volunteering with the animals won’t be possible.

If you truthfully answered a resounding “YES!!!” to each of the above, then please read the rest of this page and fill out the  Volunteer Application.

New Volunteer Orientation is offered by invitation only to those who have passed the application process.  You must be at least 18 years old to participate in Big Cat Rescue’s Volunteer Program. There is no cost for Volunteer Orientation, however, there will be a fee on the first day of volunteering. This fee is $70 per person or $50 per senior or student with valid senior/student ID. The fee covers the cost of your training manual, volunteer shirt, walkie-talkie, and an administrative fee.

Volunteer and Intern Program Contact Information

For individual volunteers and interns: Erin Carden at Intern1@bigcatrescue.org 813 323-7951

Big Cat Rescue’s Volunteer Orientation

Congratulations! You have decided to become a volunteer at Big Cat Rescue. This will be the most rewarding experience you will ever have and we look forward to having you join our team.

Big Cat Rescue is a unique sanctuary dedicated to the care of abused, orphaned, abandoned, unwanted, and elderly wild & exotic animals. The operation of this facility is very costly and relies heavily on an active volunteer organization to help offset some of those costs as well as allowing us to provide a better life for the animals.

The volunteer program is largely responsible for the day-to-day operations of the sanctuary. The sanctuary relies heavily on volunteers for cleaning, feeding, animal care, as well as soliciting donations, administrative tasks, and working in the onsite gift shop. The sanctuary is run completely on donations that are brought in through tours, memberships, sponsorships, and gift shop sales.

Volunteer Program

The Big Cat Rescue Volunteer Program skill levels and responsibilities are designated by shirt color. These levels are designated to enhance volunteer strengths and meet the varied needs of the sanctuary.

Much of the initial training consists of the basic knowledge needed to be a valued volunteer. They may progress to the Animal Husbandry Department as approved by the Volunteer Committee after a probationary period.

The levels of advancement within each department are as follows:

Animal Husbandry

Keeper Trainee – Red Shirt

Keeper – Yellow Shirt

Senior Keeper – Green Shirt

Master Keeper – Navy Shirt

Keeper Trainee


All volunteers start in the program as Red Level Trainees.  Trainees are considered a probationary level.  A volunteer serving at this level will work under the direct supervision of a ranking volunteer. Depending on the schedule for the day Trainees can sign up for either morning or afternoon shifts. Shifts are typically 4 hours in duration, 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM or 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM.

Duties: Trainee duties may or may not include landscaping, enclosure maintenance projects, backing up tours, housekeeping of the gift shop, food prep, and other buildings onsite, administrative duties, grounds maintenance, and other tasks assigned by the Coordinators or Staff.

Time Commitment: The monthly hour requirement for Red Level Trainee is 16 hours (approximately 4 hours a week).

Red Level Trainee Classes & Certifications

Tour Back-up, Gate Operation and Guest Sign In

Animal Emergency

Animal Observation

Human First Aid

Events  (no teacher required)

Keeper Advancement: Trainees are automatically promoted to Yellow Level Keeper after having completed the following; 2 consecutive months volunteering a minimum of 16 hours per month performing Trainee duties, completion of all Red Level classes and successful passing of the Map Test.


Yellow Level Keepers are eligible to begin training in small cat care (hybrids through lynx). Due to the physical demands and safety protocols of the Keeper positions, the following criteria must be met to maintain Big Cat Rescue’s safety standards.

At least 18-years old and possess a valid driver’s license

Physical and mental capability to safely perform Keeper tasks

Capable of walking and standing for extended periods of time

Capable of lifting and carrying at least 50 pounds

Possess vision and hearing at adequate levels

Possess adequate literacy and verbal comprehension of English

Give complete disclosure of any prescription drugs

Pregnant volunteers will be assigned duties within the Partner Department and must refrain from having contact with the animal areas and raw meat as well as from heavy lifting or strenuous activities

Off-Site Hours Policy: Keeper volunteers may serve no more than 25% of their minimum required hours each month off-site.  If the volunteer serves hours in excess of the minimum required hours these additional hours may be served either in an on-site or off-site capacity.  This is to ensure that keeper volunteers are serving at least 75% of the minimum required hours each month performing keeper duties.

Duties: Keeper duties may or may not include Trainee duties, cleaning small cats (hybrids through lynx), feeding small cats, guiding Private Tours and Feeding Tours, small cat enrichment and operant training, leading projects, training and mentoring Trainees, and other tasks assigned by the Coordinators or Staff.

Time Commitment: The monthly requirement for Yellow Level Keeper is 16 hours (4-hours per week).

Yellow Level Keeper Classes & Certifications

Small Cat Cleaning and Certification

Small Cat Enrichment and Certification

Small Cat Feeding and Certification

Small Cat Operant Training and Certification

Tour Guide and Certification

Feeding Tour Guide and Certification

Issues and Actions (no teacher required)

U.S. Government 101 (no teacher required)

Certification Requirements: Small Cat Cleaning Certification is mandatory for all Yellow Level Keepers. Each of the above classes and certifications must be completed in the order as listed before moving on to the next class and certification.  Tour and Feeding Tour are only required if advancing to Green Level Senior Keeper.

Advancement: Yellow Level Keepers may request promotion to Green Level Senior Keeper after having completed the following; 12 consecutive months volunteering a minimum of 16 hours per month performing Keeper duties, completion of all Yellow Level classes and certifications, and successful passing of the Map Test.


Green Level Senior Keepers are eligible to begin training in big cat care (cougar, leopard, jaguar, lion and tiger).

Duties: Senior Keeper duties may or may not include Trainee and Keeper duties, cleaning big cats, feeding big cats, guiding Keeper Tours, big cat enrichment and operant training, administering meds, teaching classes, training and mentoring Trainees and Keepers, and other tasks assigned by the Coordinators or Staff. A Senior Keeper may be entrusted codes to the gates which must never be shared with anyone under any circumstance. Each volunteer that is promoted to Senior Keeper will be assigned a special task or duty that they are responsible for.

Time Commitment: The monthly requirement for Green Level Senior Keeper is 32 hours (8-hours per week).

Green Level Senior Keeper Classes & Certifications

Big Cat Cleaning and Certification

Big Cat Enrichment and Certification

Big Cat Feeding and Certification

Big Cat Operant and Certification

Keeper Tour Guide and Certification

Med Administration and Certification (as needed)

Animal Grooming (applicant must have been a Senior Keeper for a minimum of 1 year and must be maintaining minimum hour requirements as well as reading and signing the monthly newsletters)

Certification Requirements: Big Cat Cleaning Certification is mandatory for all Green Level Senior Keepers. Each of the above classes and certifications must be completed in the order as listed before moving on to the next class and certification. Tour Guide, Feeding Tour Guide, Big Cat Feeding, Enrichment and Operant Certifications are all required prior to taking the Keeper Tour Guide class. There are a limited number of Meds openings available, Meds Administration Certification is only provided as needed.

Advancement: Green Level Senior Keepers may apply to Navy Level Master Keeper after having completed the following; 48 consecutive months volunteering a minimum of 32 hours per month performing Senior Keeper duties. Any write-ups on their record will be taken into consideration.


After 4 consecutive years volunteering a minimum of 32 hours per month performing Senior Keeper Duties, successful completion of all Trainee, Keeper, and Senior Keeper Classes and Certifications and successful passing of the Map Test, a Senior Keeper can apply for promotion to Master Keeper. Navy Level Master Keepers are celebrated and recognized as veteran volunteers and are looked up to by all other volunteer ranks for advice and guidance.

Duties: Navy Level Master Keeper duties may or may not include Trainee, Keeper, and Senior Keeper duties and other tasks assigned by the Coordinators or Staff. Each volunteer that is promoted to Master Keeper will be assigned a special task or duty that they are responsible for.

Time Commitment: The monthly requirement for Navy Level Master Keeper is 32 hours (8-hours per week).


Application: After 24 consecutive months volunteering a minimum of 32 hours per month performing Senior Keeper Duties, successful completion of all Trainee, Keeper, and Senior Keeper Classes and Certifications and successful passing of the Map Test, a Senior Keeper can apply for promotion to Keeper Coordinator.

Duties: Keeper Coordinator duties may or may not include Trainee, Keeper, and Senior Keeper duties, caring for animals in the cat hospital, dispensing & administering medications, feeding special needs animals, assisting in animal emergencies, coordinating cleaning, feeding, and tours, and other tasks assigned by the Operations Manager. A Keeper Coordinator may be entrusted with keys to buildings and the medicine cabinet which must never be shared with anyone under any circumstance.

Time Commitment: The monthly requirement for Purple Level Keeper Coordinator is 32 hours (8-hours per week).

Program Committees

Big Cat Rescue has 4 committees that oversee specialty programs offered by the sanctuary. Each of the committees can be contacted with ideas or suggestions via email.

Enrichment Committee – Designs and implements enrichment items, records for tracking their success, and studies individual species to enhance the quality of life for the animals currently residing at the sanctuary.

Operant Committee – Teaching the class, signing off on observations, evaluating the cat’s level within the program, maintain all records, and assigning appropriate cats to volunteers that are participating in the program.

Volunteer Appreciation Team  – The Appreciation Team was put together to recognize volunteers for their exceptional dedication to the cats. They are responsible for hosting quarterly Volunteer Appreciation Parties, keeping in touch with volunteers, recognizing birthdays, and fostering relationships between volunteers.

Volunteer Committee – The Volunteer Committee is comprised of representatives from different levels and branches of the volunteer program and oversees the daily operations of the Volunteer Program and its members. The primary goal of the Volunteer Committee is to develop and maintain a successful volunteer force to carry out the mission of Big Cat Rescue.

Volunteer Committee duties may include; Interviewing new volunteers and interns, scheduling new volunteers for their first day, maintaining files on each current volunteer, training volunteer and interns, Weekly Intern room inspections; air filters, leaks, damages & repairs needed, Writing standard operation procedures & volunteer program and class revisions, Attending Committee meetings to discuss issues concerning the volunteers, disciplinary actions, promotions and rewards within the volunteer program, Frequently checking and responding to emails to committee@bigcatrescue.org , Hosting Volunteer meetings for all volunteer levels to discuss updates and news involving the Volunteer Program and the animals at Big Cat Rescue, Keeping in touch with volunteers, following up if a leave of absence is taken, and fostering relationships between volunteers, Attending off-site classes or seminars to further improve operations.

Volunteers are encouraged to offer suggestions, ideas, questions, and even grievances to the Volunteer Committee. These must be emailed to committee @ bigcatrescue.org


Big Cat Rescue also has an internship program consisting of interns who live on site. These volunteers are designated with a blue intern shirt. Due to the significant amount of time the interns will spend on the property, they progress through the levels of the volunteer program at a rapid pace. interns are not staff or part of the Volunteer Program; however, part of their responsibilities may include training new Trainees.


Dress Code

Volunteers must wear a Volunteer shirt upon entering and at all times while on the property. Each volunteer must wear a shirt in the color designated for his or her level. Volunteer tank tops are available but are only to be worn when working on a project (i.e., not when working with guests). Volunteers are visible to guests at any time while on the property and must look presentable. Volunteers that are giving tours or assisting with events must wear a clean Volunteer shirt. Volunteer shirts are to be worn by volunteers only. They are not to be given to friends or family nor are they to be donated or sold to the general public.

Closed-toe shoes must be worn at all times while on the property. Excess jewelry or heavily scented products should not be worn. Long pants are recommenced but shorts will be tolerated if worn at a presentable length. Any clothing including Volunteer shirts must be in presentable, unaltered condition. Volunteers may get wet or dirty while working and may want to bring an extra set of clothes. Volunteer sweatshirts are available for each shirt color level. Any other sweatshirts, sweaters, or jackets must be worn underneath the Volunteer shirt. Raingear must be in the appropriate color for each level. Rain boots are encouraged during the rainy season.

Volunteer Check in & Time Records

Before your volunteer shift begins, the Important Updates group of the Workplace site must be checked for important information such as rule changes, cat information, scheduled events, etc. Volunteers must also verbally check in and out with a Volunteer Coordinator in order to receive work assignments and so that the Coordinator can keep track of the Volunteer’s progress. Volunteer time must be logged on the computer system daily. These time records will be monitored frequently to assure maintenance of Volunteer level responsibilities.

Scheduling Your Volunteer Time

All Volunteers are required to enter their names on the appropriate calendar indicating when they will be coming out to volunteer. Volunteers typically indicate their schedules on a weekly or monthly basis. If you are unable to volunteer on a day that you are signed up for, you must let the coordinator of the day know. Volunteers are encouraged to sign up for days that are short of help or to check with the coordinators to determine when their help is most needed.

Leave of Absence

A volunteer may be granted a temporary leave of absence, or a period of reduced activity, for good cause (illness, travel, etc.). This absence, or period of reduced activity, can last no longer than one month. The volunteer will not be penalized for not meeting their hourly requirements and will not lose their status during the designated period, subject to Volunteer Committee approval. The Volunteer Committee will evaluate any absences in excess of one month on a case-by-case basis. Trainees may not request a leave of absence. Any Trainee not meeting minimum obligations may be required to repeat the orientation process and start the Volunteer Program over again.


Any volunteer who does not meet the requirements for their level will be reduced to the level for which requirements are being met. The Volunteer Committee reserves the right to query volunteers, either in writing or in person, in order to establish whether or not requirements are, or are not, being met before making their determination.


The Volunteer Committee retains the right to permanently excuse anyone from the program or from the property if his or her conduct is deemed unbecoming for a Volunteer representing Big Cat Rescue.

Access to the Property

Volunteers will not operate the gates nor allow access to the property to anyone without proper training. If you do not recognize someone on the property as a volunteer or staff member, politely ask if you can help him or her. Explain that they must be escorted by a volunteer or staff member at all times. Lead them to the guest sign in and alert a Coordinator, Staff or Committee Member. No person shall enter the property without having completed a “Release & Hold Harmless Agreement.” If you have been entrusted with the gate code or keys, do not share these with anyone. Volunteers have the responsibility of making sure the gate is completely shut behind them as they enter and exit the property.

Personal Tours

All personal tours must be pre-approved by a Staff or Committee Member and be led by a Certified Tour Guide.


At no time, under any circumstances, will any part of my person come into direct contact with any animal at Big Cat Rescue.

Upon arrival on property each volunteer must obtain a radio from BCR to be carried on your person at all times while on the property. Each volunteer is responsible for keeping their radio in good working order.

Radio transmissions should be kept to a minimum.

No person shall run or horseplay on the property.

Preferably, cell phones are to be left in the volunteer’s car; however, if the volunteer is expecting an urgent call and must carry a cell phone, absolutely no calls will be answered while behind the barricades.

Any person feeling under the weather should contact his or her coordinator to reschedule their volunteer time.

Smoking is permitted in the designated “smoking areas” only.

Absolutely no alcohol or drugs are allowed on the property at any time. No person shall enter the premises for eight hours after having consumed any alcoholic beverages or narcotics. Any person believed to be impaired due to alcohol or drugs will be removed from the property.

Animal Care

No animal abuse of any kind will be tolerated (this includes teasing) which is grounds for immediate dismissal.

No food or toys shall be offered to any animal without prior approval from Staff or Committee members.

No animal shall ever be removed from its cage or enclosure without the express consent of the Staff or a Committee Member.

Grounds Maintenance

All Volunteers are responsible for proper disposal of his or her trash as well as that of Guests or other Volunteers. Recycle containers are provided for drink containers and cardboard. When a volunteer completes a project, they must clean and put away all tools and excess materials and debris.

Code of Conduct

Rumor control is everyone’s responsibility.  The spreading of inappropriate information to fellow volunteers or to the public will not be tolerated.  This includes questioning of the judgments or actions of the Senior Volunteers, Volunteer Committee, Staff, or Veterinarian care. Any issues, concerns, or grievances with volunteers at any level should be addressed, in writing, to the Volunteer Committee.  Every effort will be made to achieve resolution.

While a Volunteer is on the property or at an event or outreach, they are representing Big Cat Rescue. With this in mind, please dress appropriately and refrain from using offensive language.

If you drive your vehicle with Big Cat Rescue signs, bumper stickers, license plates, etc. you are an ambassador for the sanctuary and you must drive and act in a responsible manner.

If you do not know the answer to a question asked of you, do not make one up. Tell the person that you will find out for them and then do so. Bad information is worse than none at all and each Volunteer’s words are a reflection of Big Cat Rescue’s mission.


The above policies and code of conduct apply to all Volunteers, Staff, and Guests while on the property. Each person is responsible to abide by and enforce these policies and the code of conduct. Any infraction of the policies or code of conduct needs to be immediately brought to the violator’s attention as well as to the Volunteer Coordinator and the Volunteer Committee. The Volunteer Committee will decide the appropriate action or disciplinary measure (demotion, dismissal, etc.). Any infraction of these policies or code of conduct will result in an Incident Report, which will become a permanent record in the violator’s file.

Be a part of the best-trained team in the animal kingdom! Be a Big Cat Volunteer!  If you are in fill out the  Volunteer Application.

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