Party Like It’s 1999 at This Week’s Fur Ball

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Big Cat Rescue Fur Ball 1999-2009

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2009 Fur BallThe 2009 Fur Ball is less than a week away and Jamie and I were reminiscing on the Fur Ball days of old…

The very first big event that we had was a cookout at the sanctuary in 1999 and we called it the Safari Benefit.  In those days children under the age of 10 were not allowed to visit the sanctuary.  Our Education Department had not yet been launched so once a year we began something we called Family Day.  At this writing I don’t know how far back that practice went, but it was always well attended.  Our first benefit was styled after the way we did Family Days.

We had a very small parking area, so we had to limit Family Days and our first on site events to 100 people.  The first Safari Benefit was on May 5, 1999 from 4PM till 9PM.  We charged 25.00 per person for the hamburgers and hot dogs, which were prepared by our volunteers, and we had entertainment that included belly dancers, fire spinners and Indian story tellers.  Our major sponsor was Carpet Max.  I think they donated a free carpet shampoo to the auction.  Our other silent auction items were things like Meade notebooks and plastic pens as well as a few pieces of art that we hung up on the inside of an empty cage.  This event netted $6,348.71 and let me tell you, we were excited about every single cent of it.

Until then our biggest Family Days only brought in around $1,800.00 on really good days.  We knew we were on to something good here. The next year we decided to try it again so in June of 2000 we reported that we had raised over $2,000.00 from our Safari Benefit.  Neither of us remembers why the net dropped so much the following year, other than the fact that the first year had been something so new for us that all of us were really pumped up and did a lot more one on one marketing of the event to everyone who would listen.  This was also just after the Y2K scare and a lot of people were still thinking the world was coming to an end.

The 2000 event was a progressive dinner where guests paid $25.00 to walk around the sanctuary grounds and sample foods brought by our volunteers, but thanks to Publix, Chik-Fil-a, Polar Cup and Einstein Bagels we could offer a lot more food.  We tried running our silent auction online as well as live, which turned out to be a nightmare of Siberian Tiger proportions.  Our office was in one room of the tiny trailer we now call the E-Center and as the bidding came down to the last few minutes I was racing back and forth from my computer to the bid sheets to try and make it fair for our on site and off site bidders. This was in the era of dial up.

The entertainment included more belly dancers, Indian flute players and fire spinners on the beach.  The festivities lasted until 9PM.

We don’t have much information on the 2001 Safari Benefit but I know that we never were able to get good enough participation from food vendors to pursue that route again and there was no way we were ever going to try and do the silent auction on the Internet and at the event simultaneously again.  We charged $25.00 per person and the event was held in March from 4PM until 6PM and my guess was that we just couldn’t deal with another late night of cleaning up after everyone left. The event raised over $5,000.00

In 2002 one of our volunteers offered to take over the event which had been previously Jamie Veronica’s domain. The volunteer changed the name to Catspurrilla to play off of the Gasparilla theme.  I remember her creating a huge banner with a new logo and name for the event.  She really knocked herself out on this one and admission was $25.00 per person, but VIP tickets were twice that and the benefit was that only the VIP’s got to pet a small cat.  (I can’t believe we used to do that and we stopped in 2003!)  Catspurrilla raised $6,450.00 and the volunteer burned out, and nearly had a nervous breakdown, by the time it was over.  No one wanted to take on yet another big event at the sanctuary so it fell back on Jamie Veronica to make something happen.

The spring came and went in 2003 with no event.  We had been raising money with a week long event that we called the Haunted Trail.  It was a long week of working deep into the night to do a night tour and then scare people as they walked through areas of the sanctuary that did not have cats where we set up “scares.”  It was late into the summer when Jamie came to me and said, “I want to do a gala for the sanctuary, where people dress up nice and eat a nice dinner and dance.  I want to do something totally different than anything we have ever done before…and the deposit is going to be $5,000.00.”

I nearly fell out of my chair.  That was more money than we raised at most of our events and that was just the deposit!  We weren’t sure any of our supporters had fancy clothes or knew how to dance.  We sure didn’t.  She was insistent though so I told her to go ahead.  I was feeling optimistic.  I had just met the love of my life six months back on Nov. 1, 2002. Howie was new enough to all of this that he didn’t know just how outrageous this idea was.

Howie Baskin and Denny Mitchell at Fur Ball 2003Jamie christened the event the Fur Ball and arranged with A La Carte to rent half of their ball room. The only date the hall was available was 10/3/03 which meant the Fur Ball would be right before the Haunted Trail, but we were all excited about doing our first off site gala and figured we could make it work.  Tickets were $50.00 per person to cover all of the added expense and $75.00 for VIP’s who got to come early and drink free Turi Tiger Tinis & Champagne.

Howie had built relationships with Jaguar of Tampa who was our first major sponsor and had secured the free champagne.  As the night was quickly approaching and ticket sales were not as robust as we had expected, Howie pulled out his Rolodex and began calling practically every person he had ever spoken to and invited them to the Fur Ball.  We were worried that we wouldn’t even raise enough to cover the expenses, but since we had already paid for all of the food, Howie figured that at least his friends would all have a good party.  Our biggest ROI to our sponsors was that our website was getting 120 visitors per day.  At this writing in 2009 we get more than 4,000 daily website visitors.

The night continued with a never-ending silent auction spread, gourmet vegetarian fair, African drumming sessions, door prizes, a Bahamas Vacation giveaway, a wild live auction hosted by Channel 8 News Anchor
Gayle Guyardo, Conga Limbo Lines, and an amazing fire eating act put on by Prince Rupert.  Much to our relief and amazement 300 guests attended and we netted $22,000.00!

We learned the next morning that while we were all partying to save tigers from being exploited, two of the world’s worst tiger exploiters (in our opinion) had been up all night partying and using Cocaine in Vegas which resulted in Roy Horn being attacked and nearly killed by one of his performing tigers.  The tide began to shift and the St. Pete Times ran a story, quoting us, called “Maybe They Don’t Belong in Cages and on Stages.”

Cox Radio donated $100,000.00 in air time ads for the Fur Ball and 850 people showed up for the 2004 Fur Ball despite the fact that we had faced four hurricanes in six weeks. Tickets were $50.00 and $75.00 VIP and the style of event was again a buffet.  Entertainment included a comedian, drumming circle and Prince Rupert’s fire eating act.  By midnight we had netted $40,465.00 for the cats.

The 2005 Fur Ball was a Roaring Twenties Theme the next year and we doubled the price of the tickets to $100.00 and $150.00 for VIP’s and raised a net of $60,000.00 with only 500 attendees.  This enabled everyone to have a better time because there were no lines and our volunteers found it much easier to deal with 500 people at check out as opposed to 850 like we had last year at lower prices.  We discovered last year that at 55.00 we were just breaking even and for people for whom that was a lot of money we found that they did not spend money in the auctions so we had to evaluate whether the Fur Ball was a donor thank you party or a fundraiser and deciding it was the latter made the agonizing decision to double the price.

Bo Derek at Big Cat Rescue Fur BallThe 2006 Fur Ball had more
than 500 attendees and netted more than $52,000.00.  As always it was
THE party of the year and included a sit down gourmet dinner and chocolate fountains as well as all of the usual ways we have fun such as drumming, live music, dancing and the live and silent auctions with International trips.

Party of the Year  That’s what a lot of people in the know called the 2007 Fur Ball.  The Fur Ball netted more than $120,000.00 with a sell out crowd of 700 people.  More than double the previous year!  We had our first King of Feast contest where chefs competed for the prize as the most awesome looking and tasting creation.  See the entire recap including photos of Bo Derek who won our first ever Guardian Angel Award and our colorful, cat themed guest here:

The 2008 Fur Ball was an African Safari Theme and netted over $110,000.00! What makes this particularly remarkable is that it did so during the worst week the stock market has ever experienced.  Over 550 big cat supporters had a blast dining, dancing, shopping in the Bargain Sale, tasting and voting in the cake contest, playing the Wheel of Fur-Tune casino table and bidding in the silent auction and live auctions. Spirited bidders in the live auction won exotic trips see lions in South Africa, tigers in Thailand, visits Paris, Brussels and London and golf at St. Andrews.

Here we are;  a year later and it is Fur Ball time again:  October 9, 2009.  Will you be a part of our history this year and make some memories to last a lifetime?

Reserve your “SPOTS” Now!


Please join us at this not-to-miss event.  Purchase your tickets online now or give us a call and order your tickets over the phone.  For more info or phone reservations contact or call 813.850.7052

Win a Rolex Watch from AvantGold Jewelers:  Raffle tickets are $20 each, or the best value is 7 for $100.  The drawing will be held at the 2009 Fur Ball, approximately 10:00 PM EST Friday October 9, 2009. You do not need to be present to win – winner will be notified by telephone if not present.  For watch details and to purchase tickets online click HERE

Bid and win auction items on line before the ball: You can bid and win some of the auction items before the Fur Ball.  Check out the pre Fur Ball auction list HERE

LIVE AUCTION TRIPS – CHINA, ITALY, AFRICA, GREEK ISLANDS…  Check out the International Trips and other unique items that will be offered in our Live Auction HERE

Wildlife Warrior Book Tim HarrisonPlease join our Mistress of Ceremonies Cynthia Smoot from Fox 13 TV and our celebrity guest Tim Harrison, 2006 Educator of the Year winner, and author of Wildlife Warrior.  Elephant Productions, Producer of the Elephant in the Living Room, is donateing a copy of his book for our first 600 guests.  Tim stars in the upcoming film directed by Michael Webber called The Elephant in the Living Room.  The film is about the controversial world of exotic animal ownership within the suburbs of the United States. “The Elephant in the Living Room” offers an unprecedented glimpse into the fascinating subculture of trading and raising the most deadly and exotic animals in the world as common household pets.  See Fox 13 Liger ReportCynthia Smoot Fox 13

Ball Details

DATE & TIME: Friday, October 9, 2009 6:30PM to Midnight

LOCATION: The fabulous A La Carte Event Pavilion at 4050 Dana Shores Dr. Tampa, FL 33634 off Memorial Highway by Rocky Point Golf Course.  For detailed directions and information click HERE.

ATTIRE: We call the unique Fur Ball attire “Safari Costume Formal”. You can come in traditional formal attire, come in safari, cat print or jungle orientation costume, or any mix in between, such as part formal with cat print accessorizing.  Be creative and have fun with it! Prizes will be awarded! Use your imagination – get wild!   For examples from the past visit


  • Fur BallLIVE AUCTION. Bid on SIX custom created international trips (click HERE for trip and other auction item details) and 30 days in the yet to be introduced Jaguar XJ (click HERE for video) and the option to buy any Jaguar at dealer invoice from Jaguar of Tampa.
  • ROLEX RAFFLE. Win an elegant Rolex watch from AvantGold Jewelers.
  • GOURMET SEATED DINNER . Dine on a gourmet seated dinner by the wonderful chef at A La Carte. (see menu below).
  • COMPLIMENTARY WINE. Provided all evening by Barefoot Winery.
  • DRUMMING CIRCLE. Pound away your frustrations at the Drumming Circle with Jana Broder’s Drum Magic.
  • COSTUME CONTEST. Win a great prize in our Costume Contest
  • SILENT AUCTION. Bid for great prizes in our Silent Auction.
  • DANCE TO LIVE MUSIC. The lively beat and dazzling stage show of the DeLeon Band will have you rocking and swinging all night. The band has played in Europe, on Regis & Kathy Lee Live, Lifetime Television, Jack Harris Live to name a few.
  • WHEEL OF FUR-TUNE CASINO TABLE. Special wheel with our own cat faces custom created by Dan Mar Productions. Win 30 days in the sporty Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible (see image below).
  • COMPLIMENTARY BOOK. Our first 600 guests will receive a free copy of Tim Harrison’s book “Wildlife Warrior” graciously donated by Elephant Productions, Producer of the Elephant in the Living Room.
  • GIFT CERTIFICATE for $50 from Planet Beach Contempo Spa for each guest.


For information on sponsorship or if you would like to help by donating a product or service for our auction/sale please contact Jeff Kremer at or 813-373-9033.

Thanks to Our Generous Sponsors!

King of Beasts Sponsors

American Momentum BankJaguar of TampaTeasdale


Major Media Sponsors 









Tampabay Business Journal


Fox 13Tampa Bay Magazine

Leopard Sponsors

Avant Gold

GenesisSaab of Tampa
ATT Yellow Pages

In Kind Sponsors


Cabot CheezeBarefoot Wine & BubblyBarefoot Winery has graciously donated all of the wine for the Fur Ball.  Complimentary wine flows all night at this party…which is one reason it is so much fun!  Just remember:  What happens at the Fur Ball stays at the Fur Ball!

Cabot Creamery of Vermont has donated the award winning complimentary cheeses this year.

Vincent and Tampa Cigar Co. are donating cigars for our guests’ smoking pleasure out on the waterside deck. RAFFLE BY AVANTGOLD:

Purchase tickets to win this elegant Regal Gents Oyster Perpetual Explorer I Rolex watch with retail price of $5050.  Provided by AvantGold Jewelers. 1 ticket for only $20, best deal is 7 tickets for $100. To purchase tickets visit


A La Carte Event PavilionThe exciting animal themed decor is donated by the A La Carte Event Pavilion.  Every year guests just can’t wait to see what the designers at A La Carte and Jamie Veronica have come up with to excite the senses.

Silk GardensSilk gardens has donated their fine array of silk plants and floral arrangements for the night of the Fur Ball.

Other Media Sponsors

FL CreativeQuinnVertical Magazine


Quinn Photography –  Florida Creative Alliance –  VERTICAL Tampa Bay Magazine

Play the custom made Cat Wheel of Fur-Tune by DanMar

and win 30 days in a Saab 9-3 Aero convertible from Saab of Tampa

DanMar Productions, the best in the business if you are planning a casino night, has created this custom cat oriented casino table just for the Fur Ball.

The winner spends 30 days in the sporty Saab 9-3 Aero convertible courtesy Saab of Tampa and has the right to purchase any new Saab in stock at dealer invoice.  Here are reviews of this fantastic vehicle:Saab

  • “It offers a great combination of performance, comfort, and space, and real-world gas mileage that won’t break the family piggybank.” — New Car Test Drive
  • “The Saab does have unique design, a willing spirit, and an excellent optional all-wheel drive system in its favor.” — Car and Driver
  • “Buy the 9-3 Sedan if you want a quick and nimble European sedan with just enough quirkiness to set it apart from the pack. Keep looking if you want larger and/or sportier vehicle.” — Forbes

AND a Week Vacation in Pennsylvania Mountain Resort Condo

Big Cat CondoSpend a week in Big Cat Rescue’s condo at Wolf Run Manor  at the beautiful Treasure Lake in Du Bois, PA. Hike 9000 acres of woodlands, swim at the many beaches and pools. Amenities include boating, two PGA rated golf courses, driving range, nature trails, basketball court, sledding, tubing hill, parks, playgrounds and a marina. Week 31 (July 30 – Aug. 6, 2010).

Costume Contest

Our costume scout committee will select 10 contestants to be called to the stage to display their costumes. The winner will be selected by drawing cards and receive a week in Big Cat Rescue’s condo at Wolf Run Manor (Week 32 Aug. 6 – Aug. 13, 2010) and a Florida Funpack of gift certificates for food and fun!

Fur Ball Portrait Photography Services provided by Joe Photo Tampa – Matt Nassif Special Event Photographer

Tarot Card Readings by Enchanted Earth – Christine Oliver will be offering complimentary readings for guests. A Tarot card reading can help give you a fresh perspective on life by offering a reflection of the past, present and possible future.

What’s For Dinner?

First Course

Watermelon & Heirloom Tomato Salad in a Nest of Greens with Feta Cheese and Champagne Vinaigrette and Homemade Rolls

Second Course

Grilled Coho Salmon Over Double Corn Polenta with Fontana Cheese & Garlic Seared Asparagus Finished with a Warming Chili Butter (the Coho Salmon is Ocean-Friendly)


Portabello “Wellington” A Braised Portabello Mushroom Topped with Goat Cheese and Wild Mushroom Pate Enrobed in Puff Pastry with Rainbow Chard, Roasted Garlic Parsnip Potatoes Puree and Mushroom Madeira Wine Reduction

Third Course

Alternating between;

Venetian Dark Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache, Assorted Fresh Berries and a White Chocolate Mask


Golden Yellow Cake with Lemon Butter Cream, Fresh Raspberries, Tart Raspberry Sauce and a Dark & White Chocolate Mask

Discounts on Hotel, Cat Attire, Tuxedos, Limos, etc.

You must mention Big Cat Rescue when making your reservation or purchase

Hotel: Mainsail Suites offers some of the most spacious accommodations in the Bay Area right around the corner from A La Carte Pavilion at a discounted rate of only $89/night (regularly up to $129).  Contact David Frank at 813-849-4106,

Attire: La France in Ybor City usually has a selection of fun cat print attire and offers a 20% discount if you mention Big Cat Rescue. (813) 248-1381. 1612 E 7TH Ave Tampa, FL 33605.

Attire: Kings Court Gowns in Bartow, FL will donate 10% of each purchase made for the 2009 Fur Ball to Big Cat Rescue. They care 250 gowns in stock sizes 2-14, but can also custom make any gown in any size. They also offer a gown registry that guarantees that no two Fur Ball guests will have the same gown. Check out their website at for more information and to view all the gowns in stock. (863) 667-8456

Limo: All Star limousine service has offered a 10% discount to transport partiers to the Fur Ball in style To take advantage of this offer, please mention the Fur Ball when making your reservation. Call 800-345-6614 for reservations.

Tuxedo: Men’s Wearhouse is offering $30 off every tuxedo rental package exclusively for the Fur Ball. Prices start as low as $49.99 on select styles. Simply reference group # 2348811 when placing a reservation in any Florida location. There is a store across from the sanctuary entrance in Citrus Park, phone 813-792-0287.

Big Cat Rescue is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The sanctuary provides a permanent home for unwanted, abused and neglected exotic cats.  Lions, Tigers, Leopards, Bobcats and more reside at the 45 acre Citrus Park refuge located just across the street from the Westfield Shopping Town. The Fur Ball is an annual event to raise funds for the close to 100+ cats in our care.



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Watch for next year’s Fur Ball!

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