Do You Have What it Takes to Save Big Cats?
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. Volunteer as a presenter to school groups in the Tampa Bay area. Help Big Cat Rescue share our mission by talking to children about what we do at the sanctuary, sharing our cats’ stories, explaining why big cats make bad pets, and teaching them the value of conservation. Contact Kids@BigCatRescue.org Note that we will not be offering these until COVID is no longer a threat.
5. Be an Outreach Intern
7. 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 insure 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 working in the Gift Shop before I get to work around the cats? We use this time to make sure you can follow directions.
5. Can I lead tours and do public speaking? All animal keepers must be good tour guides and have great people skills as well as animal skills.
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 also have been on a recent Day Tour on a date prior to attending Orientation. Check here for Day Tour times. 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
This video shows you the inner workings of Big Cat Rescue and what YOU could be doing if you are dedicated to making the world a better place for the cats.
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.
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:
Keeper Trainee – Red Shirt
Keeper – Yellow Shirt
Senior Keeper – Green Shirt
Master Keeper – Navy Shirt
A volunteer may become a keeper trainee only after performing duties for an initial period of time to be determined by the staff and volunteer committee. Keeper Trainees are considered a probationary level. A volunteer serving at this level will work under the direct supervision of a ranking volunteer. Duty hours for Keeper Trainees are primarily early morning hours. Typically 8:30 AM to Noon daily.
Keeper Trainee duties may include feeding non-cat species, sorting produce, cleaning (Geoffrey Cats to Siberian Lynx), serving as a tour back up, housekeeping, and domestic cat care.
Keeper Trainees must maintain 16 hours of on-site volunteer time per month (4 hours a week) and must complete training classes for the Keeper Trainee level within the first 3 months of beginning the program.
Keeper Trainee Classes & Certifications
Small Cat Cleaning
Human First Aid
Tour Back-up, Gate Operation, and Guest Relations
After six consecutive months of maintaining minimum hours at Keeper Trainee level and successful completion of all Keeper Trainee Classes and Certification, a Keeper Trainee can apply for promotion in writing to the Volunteer Committee to the Keeper level.
Keeper duties may include Trainee duties, cleaning (Geoffrey Cats to Cougars), feeding cats, guiding tours, leading projects, and training Trainees.
Keepers must maintain 24-hours of on-site volunteer time per month (6-hours per week) and are eligible to take the following training classes.
Keeper Classes & Certifications
Feeding Cats Class and Certification
Animal Emergency Class Refresher (must be taken at least once a year)
Enrichment Class and Certification
Operant Training Class and Certification
Children’s Tour Class
After one year of maintaining minimum hours at Keeper level and successful completion of all Keeper Classes and Certification, a Keeper can apply in writing to the Volunteer Committee for promotion to the Senior Keeper level.
A Senior Keeper is eligible to assist Staff or Master Keeper. A Senior Keeper must be able to perform at least Keeper (yellow shirt level) duties.
Senior Keeper duties may include Trainee & Keeper duties, cleaning (Leopards, Tigers & Lions), feeding cats, guiding special tours, leading projects, and training Trainees & Keepers.
Senior Keepers must maintain 32 hours of on-site volunteer time per moth (8 hours a week) and are eligible to take the following training classes.
Senior Keeper Classes & Certifications
Big Cat Cleaning
Animal Emergency Class Refresher (must be taken at least once a year)
Special Tour Certifications (Feeding Tours, Night Tours, & Keeper Tours)
Advancement to the Master Keeper Level is by recruitment only. This level cannot be applied for.
The Master Keeper is nominated and majority approved by the Volunteer Committee. The Master Keeper must be able to perform at least Senior Keeper duties.
Master Keeper duties may include Trainee, Keeper & Senior Keeper duties, cleaning and maintaining quarantine animals, administering meds, transporting animals to and from the vet, feeding special needs animals, assist in animal emergencies, transfer of animals on the property, coordinating cleaning, feeding, and tours, assigned tasks by Staff, and training Trainees, Keepers, and Senior Keepers. A Master Keeper may be entrusted with keys to buildings and/or the medicine cabinet.
Master Keepers must maintain 120 hours of on-site volunteer time per month (30 hours a week).
Big Cat Rescue has three main committees that oversee specialty programs offered by the sanctuary. Each of the committees can be contacted with ideas or suggestions by putting a note in the committee’s designated folder, which is located in the main office.
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.
Fundraising Committee – Designs and implements special donation programs, on and off-site fundraising events, and tracks, as well as solicits, donors.
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 monthly Committee meetings to discuss issues concerning the volunteers, disciplinary actions, promotions and rewards within the volunteer program, Frequently checking and responding to emails to email@example.com , Hosting monthly 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, recognizing birthdays, 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 submitted in writing and may be either placed in the Volunteer Committee folder or emailed to committee @ bigcatrescue.org
Big Cat Rescue also has an internship program, which consists of interns that live on and off 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. The interns are not staff or part of the Volunteer Program; however, part of their responsibilities may include training new red shirts.
VOLUNTEER POLICIES AND CODE OF CONDUCT
Volunteers must wear a Volunteer shirt upon entering and at all times while on the property. Each volunteer must wear a shirt 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 Updates section of the BigCatRescue.me 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. Red shirt volunteers are required to indicate only the next time that they will be here. Yellow and Green shirts 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 call one of the coordinators to inform them. 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.
Volunteer Meetings will be held at 12:00 PM on the first Sunday of every month. It is important that all volunteers attend these meetings. Any volunteer that is absent from a meeting must read and sign the minutes of that meeting. The minutes are posted on the BigCatRescue.me site.
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. Easy Street is a privately owned road (not by Big Cat Rescue) and the people that live on the road are not affiliated with Big Cat Rescue. It is very important that we respect these people and drive no faster than 10 mph, as well as yield to on-coming traffic.
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 first day of volunteering, a radio must be purchased from BCR and must 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.
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 Member.
No animal shall ever be removed from its cage or enclosure without the express consent of the Staff or a Committee Member.
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 can’t volunteer onsight, check out our AdvoCat program
Please fill out the Volunteer Application.
Does all of this sound like a dream job come true, but you live too far away? Check out Zoo College: ZooCollege.com
We look forward to having you Make a Difference with us!