Big cat could be big ticket
Weld County Garage
Dan England, (Bio) firstname.lastname@example.org
May 14, 2006
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After 35 years in the animal business, Pat Craig is learning how to market his Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center.
Craig always knew how to win the trust of and care for wild, neglected animals that others couldn’t handle. And he knew how to run a sanctuary, with more than 150 big cats, bears and other exotic animals, and a budget of more than $750,000. But he didn’t know, or really want to learn, how to market his place. He refused to open to the public for many years and finally gave in more than a year ago.
But after almost closing — he was $200,000 in the hole before receiving a flood of donations in response to his pleas for help — he hired a consultant and is working on finding ways to start major gift campaigns, which means lots of marketing, brochures and meetings with bigwigs. But he has the perfect marketing tool.
Eddy, a black leopard born at the center after Craig saved a female who was so thin he didn’t know she was pregnant, will be featured on Animal Planet’s "Growing Up" series Sunday. The show may reach 10 million viewers after numerous repeats (the show airs twice Sunday and probably will be shown many times in the next few weeks).
Eddy is a unique opportunity for the conservation center, a baby cat that is personable, cute and even friendly, even if he could kill a human without much effort. Babies are rare at the center because Craig refuses to breed; he says the breeding and selling of exotic animals is the reason the need for places such as his is so great.
But when Animal Planet asked to film a story about Eddy’s life, Craig agreed, and now he’s glad he did, even if the show may be a bit too cute for his taste. The episode already aired overseas, and Craig got dozens, if not hundreds, of e-mails from all over the world about the show.
"I’m sure my e-mail box will get jammed to the hilt," Craig said. "We’re scrambling to see how we can take that energy and make it positive. We don’t want to miss a big opportunity. We’ll probably still miss half of them because, how do you field all this stuff?"
You do it by adding three phone lines, some staff members and putting together a gift campaign that includes bro-chures, professional writers and a plan that shows the place is a responsible center, both in the way it treats its animals and manages its finances. Craig’s already met with one major donor who has contacts with others, and he plans to present his plan in a few weeks. That meeting couldn’t come soon enough: His place has about $50,000 left in the bank after the donations left him with a $200,000 cushion. Craig knows the campaigns are vital to his organization’s future, something he’s finally learned to accept.
"This is all really important stuff," Craig said. "But I’m just an animal guy who shovels crap."
If the gifts come through, they will give the conservation center the cushion it has always needed to withstand times when donations plummet, as they did after Hurricane Katrina, Craig said. His consultant said the center wasn’t in an unusual position for a place with a budget of more than $500,000 and no cushion: Tragedies are bound to strike, and when they do, those places barely survive when donors choose to give their money to other causes.
"We’ll have that half million in the bank for the real catastrophes," Craig said. "So if half our donations disappear for a few months, it won’t kill us."
Craig needs that cushion. He never wants to be so close to closing again. The crisis came at a time when a concrete slab fell on Craig, crushing him and leaving him in bed for a couple of weeks. Craig probably should have been killed, but some quick action by his son, Casey, saved him. Still, Craig pushed through the pain, shifting his focus to his center and the animals that would probably have to be put down if his place closed.
"It was the worst pain I’ve had in my life," Craig said. "There were times I would just get stuck in the hallway on the way to the bathroom. It was no fun, and quite frankly, with all we went through, it was all such a blur."
Now the conservation center’s future looks a little clearer, especially if the marketing plans developed by Craig and a staff of hard-working folks works out, and Craig can stash a little money away for emergencies.
And just maybe, Craig will get some help in that department from a friend. Souvenirs of your favorite black leopard are now available.
"Eddy’s going to be totally famous," Craig said. "That’s OK. We actually have Eddy T-shirts now."
"Growing Up: Black Leopard," the story of Eddy’s life at the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center, will be broadcast at 6 p.m. and again at 9 p.m. Sunday on the Animal Planet channel.
« The show will be hosted by Edie Falco of "The Sopranos."
« The conservation center, at 1946 Weld County Road 53 in Keenesburg, is open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. every day.
« For more information, directions to the center or to make a donation, go to www.wildlife-conservation.com or call (303) 536-0118.
Source: Dan England
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