County wants to shut down cat rescue
By Brian Bridgeford
ROCK SPRINGS — The owner of a lion and tiger refuge near Rock Springs promises a legal cat fight if county officials try to shut down his operation, which they say is unsafe.
The refuge operator, Jeff Kozlowski, said he is prepared to go to court to preserve the refuge and protect his animals.
Members of the Sauk County Legislative and Executive Committee held an hour-long closed session with county attorney Todd Liebman Tuesday morning to decide how to deal with Big Dad’s Big Cat Refuge and Educational Center on Highway 136 just east of the village. Kozlowski has acquired lions, tigers and leopards he says were abandoned or badly kept by other owners.
Neighbors said the refuge is a great disturbance and is a safety concern to them and their animals.
“We moved here to be safe, I don’t feel safe,” neighbor Rose Valek said. “I have never felt such cold raw fear as I do when I go outside (at night) and hear the animals roar.”
Robert McFarlane said he does not like the extra noise and traffic the refuge has generated. It was established in a way that bypassed normal procedures for placing a non-residential facility in a residential area, he said.
“Somebody who is in the compound could get hurt,” McFarlane said. “They’re petting the animals, their hands are in the cage, it’s unsafe practice.”
Kozlowski has applied to get a county permit allowing him to house the cats but in April Sauk County Public Health Department officials ordered him to move the animals to another facility until he can improve the fenced-in compound and chain-link cages.
Kozlowski said he meets the same standards as facilities such as the zoo in Baraboo. He claims the changes ordered by county officials are based on the unreasonable idea a lion or tiger could jump against the existing enclosure and break through.
Kozlowski said his refuge exists because businesses use lion cubs and other juvenile cats as a form of entertainment and get rid of them after they mature.
“You have a gentleman over in Lake Delton, which is Sauk County, taking pictures with small cubs,” he said. “The reason there are sanctuaries is because of people like that, and that is allowed.”
After a brief discussion the board voted unanimously that Kozlowski meet with Public Health Board members, who are responsible for enforcing the ordinance governing large and dangerous animals.
Liebman said the next step depends on what the Public Health Board decides when it meets June 14. It will have to rule on whether the refuge is meeting the requirements of county ordinances and deserves a permit. After the meeting Liebman is authorized to file a lawsuit against Kozlowski.
In Liebman’s view, Kozlowski has not met the requirements for a permit. For the time being, the most appropriate thing he could do would be to “safely and humanely remove the animals.”
Kozlowski said he has hired Madison attorney Jeff Scott Olson and is ready to take the case to court. Olson is the lawyer who forced the county to pay damages to marijuana advocate Ben Masel for shutting down a Weedstock 2000 marijuana festival.
Kozlowski said he will not add any other big cats. If he is forced to shut down the refuge and move the cats there is a chance some animals will die because they can’t take being disturbed, he said.
“We’ll be at the (Public Health Board) meeting,” Kozlowski said. “Something might be able to solve it there, if not, then we’ll go to court.”
714 Matt’s Ferry Road P.O. Box 9 Baraboo, Wis. 53913 (608) 356-4808 firstname.lastname@example.org Editor J. Chris Mueller, ext. 241 Assistant Editor Jennifer McBride, ext. 234 Features Editor Ben Bromley, ext. 237 Sports Editor Travis Houslet, ext. 239 News Clerk Annette Grossenbacher, ext. 235
Big Dad’s Big Cat Problem
How can you tell a real sanctuary from a fake? A few signs to look for:
- Are they accredited by The Association of Sanctuaries?
- Are they certified by Give.org?
- What is the opinion of the conditions to the casual observer about the safety of guests and humane treatment of the animals?
I have never been to this facility, but if the report below is any indicator, this is not a quality operation. Kozlowski is correct when he says the use of baby big cats for photo props is the cause of so many abandoned adults and that is why we need better laws to prevent that sort of abuse, so that sanctuaries don’t have to exist.
This link will give you a little more insight into the laws: http://bigcatrescue.org/laws.htm
A letter from a concerned sister of a neighbor from March of this year about the facility:
“Are you working to develop laws that restrict the ownership of large exotic animals?
I think its wonderful there are facilities such as yours to care for these animals when they are no longer wanted and/or can not be cared for – but it seems there needs to be some legislature to help slow this situation.
Also, a friend of mine lives in Rock Springs, Wisconsin and she is very concerned about a “exotic cat rescue center” that started by her house. Her primary concern is about the facility and its lack of suitable surrounding for the cats. The person running the facility is leasing the land and has the cats outside, throughout the winter, in cages. The cages are fenced in a larger area (size unknown – but not very large) and the cats are only let out of the cages for a short time. There are 23 cats (lions and tigers) at the facility. It does not appear that the animals have been spay or neutered. She also has safety concerns for herself and her livestock. The area doesn’t have a very well thought out safety plan. All this leads up to … is there a watchdog group that does “audits” on facilities such as this to ensure the animals well being? She is an animal lover but is concerned about the her safety as well as the animals. The owner is also reluctant to release any financial information.
The name of the facility is Big Dad’s Big Cats. Located at E 8485 Hwy 136, Rock Springs, WI 53961. Phone number 608-697-8643.
Any information would be helpful. I don’t think it helps well the cause to have an ill equiped, poorly run facility asking people for money, when the money and the cats would probably be better off somewhere appropriate.
Thank you for your time.” Name withheld
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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