Third-grader Gussie Sirovatka knows it's no small effort to raise
money and support BIG cat rescue
CATHY CARTER HARLEY | The Beaufort Gazette
Gussie Sirovatka is spearheading a fundraiser for the Big Cat Rescue
in Tampa, Fla. She is selling the "PRES Helping Big Cats" cookbook.
Published Tue, May 6, 2008 12:00 AM
By MARK ALLWOOD
Gussie Sirovatka has always loved animals, especially cats, but even
her mother was surprised when the 9-year-old Port Royal Elementary
School third-grader decided to take on fundraising efforts for Big Cat
Rescue, a Tampa, Fla.-based, nonprofit educational sanctuary dedicated
to rescuing and providing a home for exotic cats that have been
abused, abandoned, bred to be pets, retired from performing acts or
saved from being slaughtered for fur coats.
"It's just been one amazing thing
after another," said Katrina Thompson, Gussie's mother. "They gave
Gussie a private tour. They're very encouraging, because it takes a
lot of money to keep those cats taken care of."
Currently, 23 states have laws banning private pet owners from keeping
big cats, but Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin has been lobbying
to make the ban broader.
After completing a report on animals located in Beaufort where she
researched and wrote about the bobcat, Gussie and her mother took a
trip to Big Cat Rescue, which is open to the public.
"I was shocked when she came to me after we did the (report) and said,
'Mommy I want to help,' " Thompson recalled.
Sitting in the main office of Port Royal Elementary, Gussie described
her trip to Big Cat Rescue as being "quite fun," but expressed her
sadness of learning that a white tiger named Rag Doll located at the
facility had been found strapped down to the floor with a metal chain.
It was hearing stories like Rag Doll's that made Gussie want to help
"I know they really need the support now," said Gussie, who would like
to become a veterinarian when she grows up. "They have to get fresh,
raw meat for all of the big cats. It makes me feel good, because I
know I'm helping Big Cat Rescue and all of the big cats there, and I'm
helping the environment. They're glad we're helping them."
Gussie's main source of fundraising has been selling a cookbook, "PRES
Helping Big Cats," which is available for $10 at Port Royal
Elementary's main office. Thompson found a company online called
Gateway Publishing that publishes cookbooks for fundraisers and
churches, and parents of students contributed recipes for the book.
"Me and my mom are hoping we can get a booth at Wal-Mart and sell
cookbooks there," said Gussie. "My mom already has some moms selling
cookbooks at their jobs."
This Saturday afternoon, Thompson and her daughter have organized a
car wash at Port Royal's parent drop-off line, and a bake sale is also
in the works. Several students at Port Royal Elementary also are
helping Gussie, and some of them will accompany Gussie and her mother
when they reach their goal of $1,000 and take their proceeds to Big
Cat Rescue. Thompson added that Gussie's father, Todd, has been very
supportive as well.
"It's slow, but it's going," said Thompson. "We should clear $1,500
with the (cookbooks), so with the car wash and the bake sale, it may
be more. If we make more, then that will be wonderful."
Port Royal Elementary principal Kay Keeler has been in education since
1975, and she said that Gussie's efforts top anything she's ever seen
when it comes to students taking on fundraising projects. In the lobby
of the school there is something called an "action wall" that has
pictures of several students and their accomplishments. Gussie is one
of the students pictured.
"She's becoming a real leader for a cause," said Keeler. "Everyone is
very aware of that project. We want to honor the children when they do
things like that and congratulate them for getting out into the
community. That's what it's all about. (Big Cat Rescue) is very proud
of her and are tracking her with the project."
Honey Wayton is the senior keeper and gift shop manager at Big Cat
Rescue. She was the one who led Gussie on a private tour of the
facility. Even though Big Cat Rescue receives support from foundations
and corporations, Wayton said that support from people like Gussie is
"You may only be 9 or 10 years old, but there's a lot of stuff you can
do to make a difference," said Wayton. "Just because you can't vote
doesn't mean you can't get involved and do something. It touches us,
because we know how hard it is to do what we do and to raise the
funds, and it doesn't matter if it's $15 or $20. If they actually went
out and made lemonade or whatever, that kid put in time, effort and
energy into animals that we love."
Thompson said that her daughter's love of animals also has been
extended to their home, where they have several cats and a dog as
pets. She mentioned an incident where Gussie rescued a cat with a
litter that she found beneath their home. After helping find homes for
the litter, the family got the mother spayed and made her a part of
Gussie even shows off some of her cats at cat shows sponsored by the
American Cat Fancy Association.
"She works closely with them," said Thompson. "That's where we sold
some of our cookbooks."
For Wayton, the action of children like Gussie makes her optimistic
about the future when it comes to caring for animals.
"It gives us hope for our next group of animal advocates and people
that are interested in our natural resources," said Wayton. "The
generation that we're leaving this to, hopefully they will be able to
care for it the same, if not better than we have. It's very heartening
to see young kids interested in doing that."
Gussie's photo is just too cute and worth going to the newspaper's
site below to see. Thanks everyone for encouraging her to make
something special of her life.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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