St. Pete Times The big cat fight by Leonora LaPeter Anton
The Big Cat Fight
|Bashing Baskin||Where the dangerous animals live||Carole’s Note|
|Slideshow & Audio||Injuries in FL||You Can Help|
|Poor State Oversight||The Accusers|
The big cat fight
Activism, accusations lurk behind a pet project
By LEONORA LaPETER ANTON, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007
TAMPA – Carole Baskin would like to forget that she once bred exotic big cats and sold them as house pets. 1
She would like everyone else to forget that her husband disappeared mysteriously 10 years ago, leaving her a rich woman. 2
She would rather that everyone thought of her the way she sees herself: a crusader for animal rights who believes no one should own a wild cat. Not a zoo. Not a sanctuary. Not even herself.
But to many who live and breathe exotic animals, Baskin is a hypocrite.
They point out that her own 40-acre Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Hillsborough County has 137 tigers, lions, leopards, lynx and other big cats. Her own “private collection,” they call it. 3
They heckle her at state wildlife meetings. They picket her fundraising Fur Balls. And they speculate on what happened to her late husband, Don Lewis, calling police with tips.
“Did you feed him to the tigers?” someone once asked Baskin at the grocery store. Her own stepdaughter wanted police to test the meat grinder at the sanctuary for her missing father’s DNA. 4
Baskin says she has no idea what happened to Lewis and she had nothing to do with it. She is simply focused on her mission to outlaw private ownership of big cats and arrive at a day when there is no longer a need to shelter them. A day when Big Cat Rescue closes.
“That’s our ultimate goal: to put ourselves out of business,” she says. For now, her sanctuary for big cats remains one of the largest in Florida. Baskin glides quietly between the steel enclosures at her overgrown sanctuary, nodding at the tigers and lions, cougars and leopards that lounge or pace around. Today she keeps her distance. No more “Mommy loves you,” at least not out loud. No more bobcats in her bed.
Instead, she compiles statistics on big cat attacks and writes legislators. She firmly believes that exotic cats should be left to either wax or wane in the wild. People who think they’re preserving the species in captivity (as she once did) are fooling themselves, she says.
“What drives a lot of these people to have these sanctuaries and pseudo sanctuaries and backyard collections is that they love being around that kind of animal,” Baskin says, dressed in cheetah print. 5
Her opinions and actions have inflamed many who love, breed, rescue and rehabilitate exotic animals in Florida. Some have sent out anonymous packets with letters and testimonials, to show Big Cat Rescue is simply a private collection masquerading as a rescue. They sign it “Crusaders for Animals.”
The animosity reached a peak this year after Baskin helped get a liability law passed that would require owners of tigers, chimps and other exotic animals to get insurance in case of injuries.
Baskin also took it upon herself recently to send letters to more than 1,500 people around the state informing them that they live next door to an exotic animal even though state wildlife officials decided against doing so.
The dispute is largely playing out on the Internet and YouTube. Baskin has compiled a wall of shame of animal owners, complete with names, dates and actions on her Big Cat Rescue Web site. Exotic animal owners fight back on other Web sites.
Vernon Yates, a man who has about 200 exotic animals in Seminole, has clashed with her repeatedly, even calling her “A.K.A. The Liar” on his own wildlife rescue Web site.
But Baskin says she’s not intimidated.
“It isn’t about me or any other individual,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It is the collective conscious of society that is evolving in such a way that keeping wild animals captive will soon be a thing of the past.”
Exotic animal owners say they are trying to expose her heavy-handed fundraising, and what they say is her true intent: to be the only game in town. 6
Judy Watson, former education director at Big Cat Rescue, says Baskin tells less-than-truthful stories about how she rescued some of her cats from the pet trade or abuse. Sometimes Baskin bred or bought the cats herself, Watson says. 7
One example is Shere Khan, an 800-pound Siberian tiger that was undernourished and stuck in a cage up to its belly in feces when it was rescued, according to the Big Cat Rescue Web site. 8
But the man who sold Shere Khan to Baskin in 1994 says the tiger had the run of his house in Flat Rock, Ind., even sleeping with a pillow and comforter in the living room.
“That’s baloney,” says Dennis Hill, 50, who said he sold the tiger to Baskin for $800. “She uses this creative writing and plays on people’s heartstrings. That situation never existed.”
Baskin says the stories on her Web site are all true and Hill gave her Shere Khan in that condition. But she admits that some of the animals she claims to have rescued were actually her pets. But she says she has changed. 9
Her supporters say she has worked tirelessly to make people aware that owning big cats is misguided.
“She has been a pioneer in changing people’s ways of viewing the animals from cute and cuddly balls of fur, to something they are going to be responsible for 20 to 25 years,” says Jennifer Ruszczyk, 33, a Big Cat volunteer.
– – –
All the controversy has made Baskin cautious. In person, she is quiet yet passionate, guarded yet pointed. She’ll talk about her purpose, but not her past.
She does write about it though. Her 12,000-page Web site is sprinkled with colorful stories about her childhood, the men in her life, her effort to lose weight and her infatuation with “The Secret,” a belief that positive thinking can create results. There’s even a video of her reading Wallace Wattles’ The Science of Getting Rich.
Baskin says she left her Tampa home at 15 and took up with an older man, an abusive drunk. Met another man where she worked as a bookkeeper. Married him at 17, had a baby girl at 19.
And then there she was walking along a Tampa road barefoot, trying to subdue her anger. It was 1980. She had just thrown a potato at her husband. Her baby was 6 months old. And Lewis drove by. He was in his 40s with a wife, young children. 10 She was 19 and beautiful in the way that Suzanne Somers is beautiful.
He stopped the car. She got in.
“I fell in love with him immediately,” she says, smiling.
Baskin tried not to talk about Lewis, but inevitably he slipped into the conversation.
The two carried on an affair for a decade before Lewis’ wife divorced him. Though he had made millions in trucking and foreclosures, he gave Baskin a $14 engagement ring from a pawnshop.
“He looked like someone who basically came home from a 50-hour workweek on a road crew,” recalled James Moore, Lewis’ friend and a former volunteer at the sanctuary. “He Dumpster dove. You looked at him and you wanted to hand him money.”
Lewis and Baskin both loved animals even before they met. Lewis had owned swans and geese, raccoons, even prairie dogs. Baskin had bred Himalayan show cats, amassing a wall of ribbons and plaques.
Together, they got their first pet bobcat, Windsong, at an animal auction in 1992. One wasn’t enough. The way Baskin tells it, the couple found themselves at a Minnesota fur farm staring at 56 bobcat kittens in cages matted with fur and feces. They brought the cats back to a 40-acre parcel on Easy Street in northwest Hillsborough County. They had gotten the land in a foreclosure.
They called their new place Wildlife on Easy Street.
– – –
Trouble began to surface once the exotic cats came along. The couple’s relationship appeared to suffer, kind of like parents who fight about how to raise their kids. 11
Baskin wanted to change their mission from breeding and selling exotic cats to rescuing them.
By 1996, Lewis wanted to move the operation to a 200-acre farm he owned in Costa Rica. His wife didn’t. 12
Lewis told Anne McQueen, his assistant of 18 years, that he wanted a divorce. A year later, he walked into the Hillsborough courthouse and asked for a domestic violence injunction against his wife. 13
“Me and Carole got in a big fuss, she ordered me out of the house or she would kill me,” Lewis wrote in court documents. “She has a .45 (caliber) revolver and she took my .357 and hid it.”14
A judge said there was “no immediate threat of violence” and denied the request.
The last time McQueen saw Lewis, he had argued with his wife and slept in a semitrailer on the property. 15
“Don did not leave of his own free will,” says McQueen, 53, who lives in Tampa. “He loved his money more than anybody, and he would have never left his money.”
In August 1997, police found Lewis’ van at a Pasco County airport with the keys on the floorboard. He was known to fly out of the country frequently, so police first thought he had just taken a trip. But as the months passed with no sign of Lewis, police flew to Costa Rica, chasing possible sightings. They also searched the wildlife sanctuary in Hillsborough.
Police found no sign of him.
Lewis never touched his $6-million estate again – but his family fought over it. Baskin had documents showing he left her in charge of his estate. Lewis’ children were mostly left out of the will except for a previously agreed upon trust.
In 2002, five years after he disappeared, a court declared Lewis dead. Most of his estate went to Baskin. 16
– – –
In 2004, Baskin walked down the beach on Anna Maria Island toward a man dressed like a caveman. She hit him over the head with a plastic bat. He threw her over his shoulder. They exchanged vows in the surf.
The man was Howard Baskin, a semiretired banker with an MBA from Harvard Business School and a law degree.
He has brought a corporate mind-set to Big Cat Rescue, now a $1-million operation with dozens of volunteers. He had the sanctuary’s name changed to Big Cat Rescue because Wildlife on Easy Street sounded like a bar. And he brought in corporate sponsors, including a Washington lobbyist.
Big Cat Rescue’s annual Fur Ball gala raised $120,000 last month – twice what it did the year before.
The nonprofit sanctuary charges $25 a person for tours. Last year, more than 26,000 people visited and for the first time it turned a profit, of $500,000.
The Baskins plan to use the money to build a wall around Big Cat Rescue since the sanctuary is surrounded by a major mall, a soon-to-be condo development and Veterans Expressway.
But they say the wall likely will not fend off the attacks from other exotic animal owners intent on using Carole Baskin’s past against her.
“What will carry her … is her passion for her mission and understanding that her role unfortunately includes being the subject of these attacks,” Howard Baskin wrote in an e-mail.
– – –
At the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Detective Chris Fox skims through two volumes on Lewis’ disappearance.
It remains a cold case.
Fox says Lewis’ trips to Latin America “gave him a very exotic image and opened him up to rumors and questions about everything from drug smuggling and animal smuggling to money laundering and who knows what else. Add in a contentious relationship with his wife.”
There have been no tips in the case for years – except one in 2005. It came, Fox says, from another exotic animal owner. A former sanctuary volunteer was now saying she had not witnessed Lewis’ will.
Susan Aronoff Bradshaw said that after Lewis disappeared, Carole Baskin asked her to testify that she was there for the will signing when she was not. 17
Bradshaw, an exotic animal owner in Plant City, said she feared angering Baskin. “Carole’s made a big name for herself and I’m a big nobody,” Bradshaw said recently.
Fox believes she is telling the truth, but the statute of limitations on the possible perjury has passed. It is also not enough to focus the investigation back on Baskin or Big Cat Rescue.
But Fox is aware of the controversy swirling around Baskin.
“The only inquiries I have received on this case in the past year,” he said, “are from people who are business adversaries of Carole Baskin and who hope she will be discovered to be responsible for his disappearance.” 18
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.
[Last modified November 10, 2007, 23:58:07]
You can post a comment here or email the reporter at LaPeter@sptimes.com
Slideshow and audio
There is a slideshow and audio at the following link that contrasts the perspectives of Carole Baskin and Vernon Yates:
Records sparse on exotic animals in our midst
In Florida, about 500 private owners have about 13,500 of the most dangerous animals.
By LEONORA LaPETER ANTON, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007
Here in Florida, land of more alligator and shark attacks than anywhere else in the world, it should come as no surprise that it’s a jungle out there.
From sleepy farm towns near Lake Okeechobee to the palm tree-lined downtowns around Tampa Bay, thousands of wild animals live and die in backyard cages largely hidden from view.
Although 22 states ban private ownership of lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife, Florida remains a haven for menageries. State records show about 4,500 people or businesses hold licenses to own everything from bears to boa constrictors.
Research labs breed thousands of primates for experiments. Circus workers return every winter with lions and bears. And large and small rescue operations started years ago in undeveloped areas now find themselves surrounded by single-family homes.
“There are so many sanctuaries out there and they’re not sanctuaries, they’re peoples’ private collections,” says Vernon Yates, who keeps about 200 animals on 3 acres in Seminole.
Wildlife owners must submit annual counts of their animals, but state wildlife officials acknowledge they have no idea exactly how many exotic animals inhabit the state.
“In an ideal world, it would be better to have inventories on what is possessed on a daily basis, but that’s not realistic,” said Capt. Linda Harrison of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the agency that monitors captive wildlife. “Especially with the frequency and amount of change. What’s important is to know where all these facilities are located.”
A St. Petersburg Times review of files for owners of Class 1 and Class 2 animals — the 66 animals that “pose the most threat to human safety” in the words of Harrison — was fraught with difficulty. Some files were missing; others were lacking the latest inventories; injury and escape data were not computerized.
As for the missing files and inventories, Harrison had no answer. “Some files we weren’t able to locate,” she said. “I can’t answer why they weren’t there.”
Based on the available inventories, the Times found that about 13,500 Class 1 and Class 2 animals are concentrated in the hands of 500 private owners. (This does not include animals in accredited zoos, aquariums, theme parks and the thousands of less-regulated Class 3 animals.)
The most popular of the more dangerous animals: crocodiles (560), tigers (456) and cougars (401).
* * *
In 1967, a tourist driving into Florida couldn’t go but a few miles without running into a roadside animal attraction: a couple of crocodiles in a pen, a pair of boxing chimps, a Bengal tiger in a cage by a souvenir stand.
Some were so decrepit that even the tourists complained. State lawmakers responded by requiring inspections. Then in 1974, after several gruesome animal attacks, the state banned owning certain wild animals as pets. Today, the most dangerous wildlife can only be owned for commercial use.
The largest quantities of exotic animals in Florida — a combined 8,042 macaques and 1,321 baboons — are being bred for research at places like Primate Products of Immokalee and Miami, Worldwide Primates Inc. of Miami and the Mannheimer Foundation in Homestead.
But many more are owned by everyday people.
There’s the Clearwater woman who has sold encounters with her chimpanzee on Craigslist and a retired 80-year-old St. Petersburg preacher with pet emus and an ostrich in his back yard.
And then there’s Richard Greenberg, who keeps three orangutans, three tigers, two chimps and a leopard in multistory cages in his back yard in St. Petersburg behind an electronic gate. Two of his orangutans, Bernie and Maggie, are the stars of a TV ad for his Clearwater auto parts store.
Still, experts say it is inevitable that one day many animals will disappear from private hands as it gets harder and more costly to keep them. Recent efforts for stricter laws have included requiring exotic animal owners to get insurance for potential injuries. Wildlife owners, however, defeated an attempt to make them notify their neighbors of their existence.
Many have watched some of those neighbors creep closer.
“The (animal) activists like to point out that I live in a densely populated area of Pinellas County, but this area was very rural 26 years ago,” says Gini Valbuena, who owns two chimpanzees at her home in Clearwater. “I didn’t move into this congestion, it moved into me.”
Other exotic animal owners believe animal activists are trying to scare the public with exaggerated statistics and misdirected perceptions. No one in Florida has died from a tiger mauling since 2001, they say, and most of those injured are trainers or owners who choose to live with the risk.
Some say they simply want to live with their animals — free from prying eyes and more government intrusion — but fear a state that has long welcomed wildlife owners may be turning its back on them.
“I thought I would not see it in my lifetime,” said Yates, a wildlife trapper, “but I think it’s coming — any form of private ownership will be gone.”
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan and editorial assistant Emily Rieman contributed to this story.
[Last modified November 11, 2007, 01:36:14]
Map shows where the dangerous animals are
This online map shows how many people are harboring dangerous exotic animals in the Tampabay area:
Even less-dangerous exotic animals can cause injuries
By LEONORA LAPETER ANTON, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007
In the past five years, captive wildlife have injured at least 124 people in Florida, according to state officials. Eighty-four incidents involved people who owned or trained the animals. Those designated the most dangerous — lions, tigers, elephants, crocodiles, cougars — were responsible for a third of them. Most people got hurt by less dangerous animals such as raccoons, marmosets and dolphins. Venomous reptiles caused 34 injuries.
The last death involving a captive wild animal in Florida was in 2001 when a tiger named Tie killed a 49-year-old volunteer at Savage Kingdom, a tiger breeding facility in Sumter County.
Nationally, 10 people have been killed by captive big cats since 2001. Congress is considering Haley’s Act, which would ban all contact between big cats and the public. Two years ago Haley Hilderbrand, 17, was killed by a Siberian tiger while having her senior class picture taken at an animal sanctuary in Kansas.
Here are some Tampa Bay area wildlife injuries, not including those at zoos and theme parks:
Dec. 30, 2006: A 14-foot Burmese python named Cloe bit an 18-year-old animal handler at the Tarpon Springs Aquarium, wrapping itself around her arm as it tried to drag her into its cage.
Oct. 3, 2006: An albino monocle cobra bit an employee of Southeast Reptile Exchange while he was preparing the animal for transport.
Sept. 12, 2006: A tiger named Rula bit its handler in the upper arm and face after the handler stumbled in the tiger’s muddy enclosure in Balm in unincorporated Hillsborough County.
April 13, 2006: Gizmo, a Capuchin monkey, bit a 78-year-old woman trying to feed it.
Feb. 27, 2006: A cougar at a Dade City facility bit someone who reached in to pet the big cat.
Feb. 9, 2006: A marmoset living in a St. Petersburg home bit a visitor on the right thumb.
Nov. 17, 2005: A 2-year-old ring-tailed lemur named Fonzie scratched a 34-year-old woman as the owner tried to pull the animal away with its leash at a Gulfport business.
Aug. 16, 2005: A ring-tailed lemur living in St. Petersburg bit a 35-year-old woman who tried to kiss it through its cage. The woman required surgery to her mouth.
Feb. 12, 2005: An infant tiger bit a 42-year-old Oldsmar woman on the hand during a photo event.
Oct. 28, 2004: A dusky pygmy rattlesnake bit a 48-year-old Holiday man who had a rodent in his hand. The man was not licensed to have the snake.
Dec. 7, 2003: A cougar in Brooksville bit an appliance delivery man who stuck his hand in the animal’s cage.
Nov. 12, 2002: A coral cobra bit its Tampa owner while it was being fed.
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
[Last modified November 11, 2007, 01:36:56]
Even though it is painful to have people make such untrue accusations about my personal life and motivations, I am grateful that the St. Pete Times has exposed the dirty animal underworld that exists in Florida. Online polls show that 76% of the public would approve a ban of exotic animals as pets. (6,518 random online surfers were polled as of 11/11/07) As more people find out about animals living in cramped concrete cells, or filthy backyard cages, they will do something to end the trade and misery.
This video shows facilities that are currently licensed and approved by the USDA and the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission that have been operating at this level or worse for more than 10 years and yet are still open to the public. These images are typical of those who allow cameras in but there are many worse ones who do not. This shows precisely why we need to ban private possession of exotic cats. http://www.veoh.com/videos/v2570412PGPYhmr
The following is a partial listing (655) of incidents in the U.S. involving captive exotic cats since 1990. The U.S. incidents have resulted in the deaths of 19 humans, 15 adults and 4 children, the additional mauling of 171 more adults and children, 135 escapes, the killing of 79 big cats, and 106 confiscations. There have also been 148 big cat incidents outside the U.S. that have resulted in the deaths of 56 humans and the mauling of 85 humans by captive big cats. These figures only represent the headlines that Big Cat Rescue has been able to track. Because there is no reporting agency that keeps such records the actual numbers are certainly much higher. http://bigcatrescue.org/big_cat_news.htm
To see a video of the mauling of a zoo keeper in 2006 go to http://bigcatrescue.org/animal_contact.htm
The Journal of Internal Medicine in 2006 estimated that 50 million people worldwide have been infected with zoonotic diseases since 2000 and as many as 78,000 have died. Read more about zoonotic diseases here:
To see the number of exotic cats abandoned each year go to http://bigcatrescue.org/animal_abuse.htm
To view a trend chart that shows the alarming escalation of big cat incidents here: http://bigcatrescue.org/Flash/BigCatBans/BigCatBanCharts.htm
The U.S. represents less than 5% of the entire global population, but up through 2006 79% of ALL captive cat incidents occurred in the U.S. (Now that the US is clamping down on the exotic pet trade, the reports in 2007 show a decline in U.S. incidents compared to the rest of the world) Likewise, Florida represents less than 6% of the U.S. population while 11% of all U.S. incidents occur in Florida. Florida boasts the most comprehensive sets of regulations allowing private ownership of exotic cats while ranking #1 in the highest numbers of big cat killings, maulings and escapes. To view photos of fatal injuries from cases reported in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine click http://bigcatrescue.org/laws/AMJForensicFeline.pdf
You can help!
Support Haley’s Act with a quick and easy email letter directed to your Congressional representative here: http://capwiz.com/bigcatrescue/issues/alert/?alertid=9657621&type=CO This bill bans contact with big cats and their babies and the reason it is so important is that hundreds of lions and tigers are bred each year to be used for photo booths, petting sessions, tiger tamer camps and flea market fundraising. They can only be used for a few weeks of their lives and then are killed, sold for their parts in the 20 billion dollar illegal wildlife trade or warehoused in cramped, filthy quarters until they are abandoned. Haley’s Act would end most of the breeding for those purposes, resulting in fewer homeless lions, tigers and other big cats. It will not affect legitimate zoos.
Leonora LaPeter Anton
The Truth of the Matter
Any of you who know me (Carole Baskin) know that the ugly things said about me by the breeders, dealers and exotic pet owners are not true. You also have seen the way some member of the media use such unfounded gossip to sell papers and ad space. For those of you who do not know, the following is posted so that you will have a more complete understanding of the situation. The article above actually did a pretty good job of exposing the motives of those who lie in order to divert the attention away from their selfish and abusive practices.
1. Our website has always said how we started and we tell it on every tour. It is the reason that I have credibility as a witness against those who use and abuse exotic cats. I know from personal experience with them, what they do, how they do it and how they hide it. They hate that I am exposing them and by doing so putting an end to their wildlife trafficking. More here: http://bigcatrescue.org/historyandevolution.htm
2. Don’s disappearance did not "leave me a rich woman" but rather nearly destroyed the wealth we had accumulated through a decade of real estate investments together. Pull the probate case filed in Hillsborough County 97-2001.
3. I donated the 45 acres (valued at over 4 million dollars), vehicles, computers, equipment and animals to the non profit charity Big Cat Rescue. I have never been compensated for my 60+ hour work weeks and never intend to be. I can never sell the property or have any personal gain in it at all. I am not even on the board of directors for the charity. No one who is accusing me of having a backyard collection (I don’t live at the sanctuary) can make the same claim.
4. The grinder was only big enough to run a chicken leg through, so the assertions made by Don’ estranged children were obviously ridiculous to the police who investigated.
5. The reporter left off the second half of that sentence, but it was included in the slideshow online version, where I said that the reason these people who claim to be rescuing animals do not want the trade in wild animals to end is because they would then not have the opportunity to rescue and be around the animals they like to possess. If their motives were pure they would be helping Big Cat Rescue get laws passed that stop the suffering from happening in the first place.
6. Those who oppose laws to end the breeding and discarding often say that I want to be the only person with exotic cats, but it is clear to anyone who can read, in this article and repeatedly throughout our website, that our goal is that Big Cat Rescue will someday soon not need to exist.
7. See number 1 and more about Judy Watson, who was thrown out of Big Cat Rescue for animal abuse here: http://bigcatrescue.org/abusers/judywatson.htm
8. It is illegal to sell a tiger and if I had bought Shere Khan from Dennis Hill I would have immediately turned him in to the US Fish & Wildlife Service to be fined and jailed. Unfortunately, he cannot be jailed for saying that he broke the law, and based upon his illegal narcotics activities and possession of stolen equipment, he is no stranger to lawlessness. More here: http://bigcatrescue.org/big_cat_news_files/2005/sherekhanownershutdn.htm
9. Again, see number 1 and note that no exotic cats have been bred or purchased in many, many years.
10. Don’s daughters were all adults when we Don and I first met. His illegitimate son, by another girlfriend according to Don, may have been 16 or 17 when we met, but was often in juvenile detention and later went to jail for killing a friend.
11. It is true that I wanted to stop breeding and placing animals before Don came to that same conclusion, it is not true that we were fighting about it.
12. We chose not to move to Costa Rica because we could not find an experienced veterinarian there and access to appropriate food, in the quantities we needed for the cats, was not available in a land that can barely feed its people.
13. Anne McQueen, our former secretary, is not a reliable witness given the fact that she had titled $600,000.00 of our assets in her maiden name and changed Don’s $1,000,000.00 life insurance policy to make her the sole beneficiary and owner just four months before his disappearance. Don could barely read or write and as his office manager Anne could ask him to sign anything and he wouldn’t know what it was. Neither of us had reason to suspect her and I did not discover what she had done until it was too late. The probate courts made her return all but the $54,000.00 she had already spent. It is all in the Hillsborough Probate court case 97-2001.
14. The restraining order came as a result of me hauling the junk off that Don would drag home from his dumpster diving. Whenever he was in Costa Rica I would haul as much trash off the property as possible. One of the people who was taking advantage of Don called him in Costa Rica and told him what I was doing, but when Don tried to get the police to stop me they told him that there was no law against me hauling trash off the property and if he wanted to keep me away from his stuff he would need a restraining order. The only way he could get a restraining order was to say that I threatened to kill him, which never happened. I did not know about his attempt at getting a restraining order until after his disappearance. because there had never been a fight or any other reason to suspect he would have done such a thing. Anne McQueen knew that when Don was out of town I would use the time to clean up the property, and she knew why Don had tried to get the restraining order, but it did not suit her needs to be truthful to the police about it.
15. There was never a time during our marriage that I threw Don out of the house, or that he spent the night in a semi trailer. He traveled to Costa Rica regularly, but it was because he felt like a big fish in a little pond there. The fact that he was illiterate in English didn’t matter in a country where he was not expected to be able to read and write in Spanish.
16. See number 1. Even though Don had disowned his children long before his disappearance., I had set up a trust for them that contained all of his assets at the time we married in 1991. I was not required by the court to do so, but rather chose to give them that and more, which totaled about 1.5 million dollars, so that they could manage it until Don returned. Millions more were lost to attorneys, the co conservator and court ordered mandates that required me to abandon properties that had liabilities associated with them. By the end of the ordeal, six years later, there were no assets of Don’s left to give to me or anyone else. I also agreed to re-write the insurance policy so that his children collectively received the lion’s share, 325,000.00 went to the sanctuary, Anne McQueen was given 125,000.00 in order to compel her to sign back other things she had taken and a very small portion to me. I don’t remember the exact breakdown, but you can see it for yourself in the aforementioned court case file.
17. Susan Aronoff Bradshaw was thrown out of Big Cat Rescue for endangering a lion and the public. More about that here: http://bigcatrescue.org/abusers/susanaronoffbradshaw.htm
18. It is telling that the only people making claims that I was involved in my husband’s disappearance. are those who stand to lose financially if I am successful in ending the trade in big cats as pets, and those who would seek to take what I have re-built since Don’s disappearance. because they have likely already squandered what was given to them.