ROCK SPRINGS — A federal inspector has cited a big cat rescue facility for inadequate training and supervision after a volunteer there was bitten by a Siberian tiger.
“They were given a handling citation,” U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman Dave Sacks said. “All volunteers and employees of USDA-licensed facilities must be adequately trained and supervised to ensure their personal safety and the safety of the animals.”
The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue & Educational Center in Rock Springs must immediately comply with supervision and training requirements, Sacks said. The organization has until Nov. 19 to appeal the citation.
The rescue center’s founder, Jeff Kozlowski, said there are no federal regulations describing the type or amount of training a volunteer must have.
“What are their regulations for training?” Kozlowski said. “I asked (the inspector), ‘When does he have enough training?’ and he didn’t have an answer.”
Over the weekend, volunteer Jon Meeker was on IV antibiotics to help fight off infection and trying to take it easy 10 days after the Oct. 22 incident.
“No one is to blame for this,” said Meeker, 38, at his Baraboo home Saturday.
Meeker said he was using a 5-gallon pail to pour water through a cage into a bowl for Kahn, a 600-pound Siberian tiger, when the animal playfully pawed at the cage.
One of the animal’s five-inch claws went through the gate and caught a piece of Jon’s clothing.
Before he knew it, the animal had pulled his arm through the gate.
Even though he felt he was only being played with and not attacked, Jon said it was in that moment that a feeling of intense terror set in.
The animal clasped his arm and took a bite. Volunteers helped get Meeker away from the cage by distracting the animal and began administering first aid until first responders arrived.
He was flown to UW Hospital in Madison, where he was treated for puncture wounds, a five-inch gash on his upper arm and torn tendons. Nerves had been pulled from his fingers and the cartilage in his wrist was “ripped up,” he said. He was released five days later.
His wife, Emily, who also volunteers at the rescue center, was helping to care for his wounds, changing his bandages twice a day and giving him painkillers when he needs them.
Meeker said it will be four or five weeks before he is functional again, and he’ll need cosmetic surgery and physical therapy. But Meeker said he plans to start helping out again as soon as possible — he just won’t wear baggy clothes near the cages again.