What is a “typical” day at Big Cat Rescue like in 2013?
1. How many people work on an average day?
The Full Time staff work 5 day weeks and volunteer on their days off to keep up their privileges to work with the cats. Our volunteer program requires a minimum of 4 hrs per week for Red, 6 hours per week for Yellow and 8 hours per week for Green. Only Green can take care of the lions, tigers and leopards. All of our staff currently keep up Green level hours in addition to paid hours because they want to be able to work with the lions, tigers and leopards. All animal care work is volunteer work.
So, what that means is that on M,T,W & F there are usually 10 staff and 5-10 volunteers and interns. On Thursday there are a lot more because we are closed to the public and volunteers really want to work with cats; not people, so more come in. On weekends there are usually 10 staff and 20-40 volunteers each day because more people are off on weekends to help out. This past weekend Fullsail college sent 80 volunteers out to help us, so we have a lot of those kinds of corporate volunteer groups on week ends as well.
2. When did you first open?
We started with the rescue of Windsong the bobcat in 1992 and people first started visiting in 1995. See http://bigcatrescue.org/
3. Are you open year round?
Yes. We are only closed on Thursdays, Christmas and Thanksgiving, but our workers are here everyday.
4. What is your busiest time?
Oct – May for visitors, the rest of the work is steady
5. What is a typical day like?
Every day the volunteers show up at 7:30 am to start cleaning cages, scrubbing water bowls and scrubbing feeding blocks. They break at noon for lunch and then have about an hour to do projects: like building a boma for a cat to hide in, hand out enrichment, landscaping projects, winterizing or summerizing dens with hay, or removing it, digging ditches, hauling dirt into cages to build up areas so that the cats aren’t standing on wire, or laying in the mud.
2pm M,T,W,F they begin moving to the Gift Shop area to check in guests for tours and then give tours until about 4:30 when they start getting the cats dinners ready for them and then handing out the food and leading Feeding Tours.
On weekends the days start at the same time, but there are tours at 9am, 10am, 1pm and then Keeper Tour at 2pm and the Feeding Tour at 4:30 pm. There is a night tour at dark on the last Friday of each month.
We have so many more volunteers on week ends than on week days that a lot more projects get done, like building ramps and tree houses for the cats, painting cages, bigger maintenance projects, mowing, revamping or building a cage, etc. Those things are all going on simultaneously with the tours. Visitors on week ends really get a sense of visiting a real sanctuary in action.
Our Education Department does outreach programs to schools (no good place takes wild animals to schools, so please don’t even ask), and they have bus loads of 60-80 kids showing up for tours at random times. We also do a lot of outreach to Rotary groups, civic groups and have group tours for disabled veterans, mentally handicapped and other groups. We do about 70-100 of these each year and usually do 12-20 such tours for free.
What makes every day different is that we have 80+ volunteers who have to keep up a minimum of 4 hrs per week, so there is always a different mix of people, although Green level people are obviously here more since they are putting in 8 hrs per week and many put in far more hrs per week.
The stuff that happens randomly, that can really throw a wrench into planning are:
The meat truck shows up with 7,000 lbs of frozen meat to offload
The wire truck shows up with thousands of pounds of wire caging material to offload with the tractors
A cat has to be caught and examined for some minor thing, like a stick stuck across the roof of their mouth
A cat has to be rushed to the vet (all but 4 of our cats are already older than these cats usually live (10-12), so we have a lot of that as these cats are into their late teens and early twenties) We have to start about an hour before feeding each night, just to hand out all of the meds for the geriatric cats so that they don’t suffer from achy joints or other age related ailments.
A tree falls on a cage, on the road into the sanctuary, on the tour path, on the fence
The neighbors start shooting at their farm animals and stray bullets come through the fence so the police are called. This actually happened several times. There is an illegal horse slaughter place next door that has been in the news recently and another neighbor has twin teenage boys who used to shoot paint balls at our cats, so we put up a solid wall, but now they shoot real bullets through it.
Someone passes out on a tour
The cats have to be vaccinated, or dewormed, or treated for fleas
A water moccasin gets into a tiger pool and we have to fish it out without anyone getting bitten
The bug guy comes to spray and bait for mosquitos and rats. We had a year long battle with Crazy Ants and finally won, but that was like the battle of our lives here as they were coming from the pig farm next door.
There are cats in our on site Cat Hospital that have to be given intensive care after having gone to the vet
We have native bobcats in rehab that require special care
Stuff breaks down, toilets back up, things get messy and need over hauling, from our tool shed to our records.
The cameras go out
The Point of Sale breaks down in the middle of a busy tour sign in process
A delivery of 20 cases of Tee shirts arrive right when guests arrive
A bobcat gets hit by a car and we are called out to find and rescue them
Someone calls us trying to unload a tiger, cougar, hybrid cat, or some other wild animal they got as a pet. We can only rescue 5 or 6 cats a year.
We investigate exotic cat abuse, like a nearby place that charges people to swim with a tiger cub and then force the cub to stay in water over his head by holding his tail. Or people using cubs in pay to pet schemes at flea markets, or a local dealer who takes adult tigers to bars in circus wagons. We use the evidence we gather to expose the plight of big cats in captivity and to urge people to help us get better laws passed to protect the cats.
Someone calls with a question about how to care for an injured bobcat, or from overseas about some other wild cat they have found
A serval escapes somewhere and the media calls us for quotes and footage of servals running
We have anywhere from 3-17 interns living on property for three months at a time. More in the summer when school is out. These are the Blue shirts and they work 6 days a week, daylight to dark, but are mostly 18-25 year olds and come with their own drama issues since it is the first time that many have been away from home, or have had to work. We have a code of honor that helps us deal with interpersonal issues for all of us, but it is challenging at times. http://bigcatrescue.org/code-
Other things that our people do together:
We have quarterly Volunteer Appreciation meetings where we applaud those who have graduated to higher colors and permissions, monthly SAVE award winners for outstanding performance, monthly STARS awards for putting in more hours than required for their level, and annual awards that are voted on by the volunteers. These quarterly meetings usually include a movie themed event (next month I’m showing a video of the cats back 15 years ago when they were kittens), a Volunteer Challenge event with competitive games, a Halloween Costume party and a Holiday party.
In addition to those quarterly meetings we do monthly get togethers, like everyone goes skating or to a bouncy house, or trips to other sanctuaries to help out, or pot luck dinners.
We have the best trained staff and volunteers in the business and are frequently called upon to help other sanctuaries duplicate our training and animal care management systems. This means that our Teachers are giving classes every day as people are graduating through our program. These training classes include orientation, animal emergency, cleaning, events, first aid, tours, enrichment, feeding and they all have to memorize where all 100+ cats live on a map.
On Wednesday nights our Enrichment Committee meets and there will be anywhere from 10-25 people making treats and toys for the cats; which are handed out throughout the week.
Our vets have been great about offering training to anyone who happens to be here on the day of their visit. They may learn about checking fecal samples, or do a necropsy of a dead bobcat we have retrieved from the side of the road, or one of our own cats who had died. We try to include our volunteers and interns whenever we safely can in our medical procedures. If you view our surgery videos you will often see non staff members helping: http://www.youtube.com/user/BigCatRescue/videos?query=surgery
We have had success in the past in changing FL laws so that people can’t have mountain lions as pets (2007), people who do have big cats have to post a 10k bond (2009) and ending the practice of fox penning. Believe it or not, it was legal in FL to put bobcats, foxes and coyotes in pens and turn dogs loose on them to maul them to death. We put an end to that just a year or so ago by filling the room with animal lovers instead of hunters for the first time ever.
I go to DC and our state capitol a couple times a year and sometimes one or two people go with me and we were the Diamond Sponsor of the Taking Action for Animals conference in DC this past year where a 1,000+ animal lovers come together for 4 days of learning about the issues and then lobbying on the hill.
6. What is something most people don’t know about your sanctuary?
Most people don’t know what a huge difference there is between an accredited sanctuary and the thousands of places that call themselves sanctuaries while they are breeding, buying, selling and exploiting wild animals in ways that cause people to buy them as pets.
There are only a handful of legitimate sanctuaries and they are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Accreditation is free, so all you have to do is NOT be part of the problem and provide decent animal care, and allow inspections of your facilities by the federation. State and federal inspectors are stretched far too thin and often don’t care about animal exploitation, so they can’t possibly separate the good from the bad, but GFAS does.
7. Where do you get most of donations from?
Individual donors, by far. http://bigcatrescue.org/
8. How many animals are currently residing at Big Cat?
About 100 exotic cats & 5 non cats. Meet our cats here: http://bigcatrescue.org/
9. On average, what how many vistors you get a year?
28,000 on site visitors a year. See http://bigcatrescue.org/
Today at Big Cat Rescue Jan 15 2013