WI Big Cat Rescue Donor 500,000

Avatar BCR | October 29, 2007 2 Views 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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Cats have new home


 By Tim Damos



ROCK SPRINGS — The founder of an organization that provides refuge for abused and abandoned lions, tigers and leopards says getting to this point has been a struggle, but he hopes to open his doors to the public soon.


"It was a very steep uphill process to get here," said big cat advocate Jeff Kozlowski, who started the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center. "We had to fight tooth and nail, but we made it in the end."


Kozlowski held a fundraiser Saturday hoping to raise $5,000 which would go toward completion of the bathrooms and parking lot at the new facility.


The refuge raised about $2,500 in the effort, Kozlowski said, and he is hoping to stage the grand opening of the facility this weekend. But he said that depends on if he can get gravel for the parking lot in this week.


He said he wouldn’t have come this far without his supporters.


Harold Kruse of Loganville said he has been behind the refuge from the beginning. After Kozlowski told him his plans, Kruse and several others helped Kozlowski start raising money.


Donor identified


Kozlowski’s biggest help came in the form of a donation from an influential Louisiana animal advocate, whose name has been kept secret until now.


The donor, Tim Reily, sits on the board for the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Kozlowski said. He heard about Reily through a friend from New Orleans. "I made a special trip down there to talk to him," Kozlowski said.


And it paid off.


In April, Reily donated $500,000 to the refuge, Kozlowski said. Reily could not be reached for comment at his New Orleans home Sunday.


The LSPCA is non-profit animal advocacy group that serves the Gulf Coast and the greater New Orleans area.


In 2005, the organization had net assets of over $10.4 million, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The LSPCA reported rescuing 8,500 animals following Hurricane Katrina.



Controversy over cats


Kozlowski has faced opposition from some village residents worried about public safety.


After he moved several cats from his property on Highway 12 near Prairie du Sac to a location east of Rock Springs in late 2005, the number of animals under his control grew to 16 tigers, two leopards and six lions.


The county took action against Kozlowski in September 2006 after neighbors worried about safety risks and complained of loud noise and traffic. Officials alleged he had violated zoning rules and the animals under his watch posed a potential public health risk.


Kozlowski was ordered off the property, and won permission from the village to start a new facility within village limits. The animals were transferred to that location this summer.


Melody Hiller of Rock Springs, who lived near the former location on Highway 136, says she has backed off in her opposition to the refuge since it moved into the village.


"I’m still concerned," she said. "But it’s the village’s problem now."


She said she still thinks an animal will escape some day and wreak havoc on the area.


But Kozlowski has worked with the village to try and ensure safety, and he has had the U.S. Department of Agriculture certify his facility.


He said his attorney recently reached a settlement with the county in the civil case.


Kozlowski’s attorney, Jeff Scott Olson of Madison, said Kozlowski will pay $7,500 in forfeitures, payable in six monthly installments, beginning in May.


Sauk County Board Chairman Marty Krueger said no settlement has been finalized, and the county is still working to reach an agreement that’s fair for both parties.


The Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Web site lists the case as open and it is still scheduled to go to trial Thursday.


Kozlowski said the facility will be open to the public by appointment only during the week, but will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends. He said entry fees will be $5 for children and $8 for adults, while children younger than age 5 will get in free.



"I’m pleased with the way things have gone so far," he said. "I just hope (opponents) don’t come up with some other legal angle to shut it down."



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