Often we learn best through our mistakes. Whatever may have led you to that mistake was a journey leading to a bump. But whatever may have led you to understanding the importance of that mistake, how to get over the bump, or how to never “bump the bump” again was a process of growth. It is through our mistakes that humanity has come to learn and evolve to the society we have formed. And those who are kind enough to admit their mistakes allow others the opportunity to learn from them. This is exactly what Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue, did for us.
Carole started off with a love and a passion: bobcats. She wanted to own one, and her desire was fulfilled when she adopted her first bobcat at an auction in 1992. A note should be made here about selling animals at auctions: firstly, these animals quite often suffer from malnutrition due to reduced care. They are particularly frightened in these often loud occasions, and secondly, it is a “hot” place for taxidermists to pick their next stuffed kitchen table ornament. Yes, often taxidermists specifically go to these animal auctions to pick lean, sickly, and/or weak animals so that later they can easily slaughter it and stuff it.
Carole realized how much she needed to learn about these beautiful but wild creatures. She contacted breeders and owners to get aid with her bobcat. They also encouraged her to be a breeder herself. Furthermore they purported the seemingly altruistic creed that private owners absolutely should own exotics as pets in order to “preserve the species”. Hook, line, and sinker, Carole bought into the idea because it sounded so wonderful. She didn’t see any harm in helping them if she was “preserving” the species.
Soon after purchasing her first bobcat, Carole contacted a fur farm. She found that they had 56 kittens (bobcat and lynx mixes), all ready to be turned into coats. Horrified by this, Carole did the only thing she knew to do: save them- all 56 of them. This was the pivotal move that transformed Carole- it was the calm before the storm. It was here where Carole then officially became a breeder of cats. Ads were placed in the paper with the intent that she would sell those kittens and future kittens bred to very loving and good homes.
Carole slowly started realizing that once her pet bobcat (the first one she purchased at the auction) starting reaching maturity, she became a little unruly- a little more wild- contrary to what breeders had once told her. Breeders in the past had assured her that wild cats could be domesticated- that one just has to “know how to handle them”. Carole, of course, was able to maintain and control her cats very well, despite realizing that these creatures were not meant to be tame. Slowly, though, calls from nervous clients started coming through. People couldn’t control their cats. Some people were begging her to take the small, cute creature that had turned into an uncontrollable beast back.
To save other cats, Carole continued attending auctions to mostly offset the agenda of taxidermists and prevent cats from falling into the hands of people who had no idea what they about to hold. Carole eventually began to realize that the animals on sale at these auctions were “pets” purchased from breeders like herself. The owners clearly did not know what to do with their unmanageable obligation with teeth and claws, so they were putting them anywhere out of sight- even into “dead ends”. Often when a cat-lover sees a kitten (of wild origin), he/she thinks how precious and beautiful the little creature is. If that person purchases that kitten, he/she only realizes once the kitten turns into, say, a lion that things can get a little more than just difficult. Not knowing how to properly take care of a baby of a different species, the mortality rates of exotic pets are extremely high. For example, many kittens die because the owners have no idea how to properly bottle-feed the babies. In bottle-feeding incorrectly, the kittens often would die of aspiration (i.e. drowning from milk because the fluid went down into their lungs instead of into their stomachs).
And MANY of the client phone calls Carole received were over kitten deaths. The reason why kittens are adopted out when so little is to allow them to “bond” with their owner. Yes, there is a critical period of time during which young animals “bond” better, but in an effort to form this relationship, the kitten has to be taken away from the mother shortly after birth and “replaced” with a human mother of some sorts. Not only is this cruel for the kitten whose very existence is at risk should it not be fed properly and be kept at the right temperature, but it is cruel to the mother.
Seeing all of this, Carole wrote a book on how to take care of exotic cats. The goal wasn’t just to teach people “how to take care of exotic cats”; it was also a way to dissuade potential buyers from going through the hassle of buying one. The book became her subliminal way to discourage the industry. But to Carole, it still wasn’t enough.
She decided that she had to stop breeding her cats- it was the only way to actively end the vicious cycle she had been witnessing firsthand. She then began to take in more and more unwanted “pets”, including many that she bought from near-death. Across the country, people needing to desperately dispose of their wild cats for a variety of reasons began to reach out to her for help.
By 1997, Carole stopped all breeding at her centre (except for a few accidents during which cats and binturongs that were thought too old to breed “magically” did conceive and give birth). Those were the last, though. But this wasn’t the last “last thing” she did: Carole also made her last payment for a cat in 1998. She didn’t have the financial means to continue rescuing them by buying them from their terrible fates. Sadly, there are just too many that die unnecessarily, and there is just too little money to stop it from happening. Furthermore, she stopped paying for these cats at fur farms and auctions because she didn’t want to give money to such perpetrators.
Since then, Carole created a sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, for all exotic cats to live out the rest of their days in peace and comfort. From across the United States, she receives many requests from exotic cat owners to take in their “pets”, and unfortunately she quite often has to turn them down due to insufficient space. To keep these cats fed and well-tended takes an enormous amount of effort and finances. Volunteers come from around the world to do their part and help. Private donations are the blood to keeping the centre in the condition that it is. The results of what Big Cat Rescue does is slowly coming into public view through educational programmes they offer. But none of this could have been accomplished had Carole not first been pained, drained, and then gained of such knowledge through her arduous journey- through these severe bumps in the road. She recognizes that she was once part of the problemme. But upon realizing this terrible though enlightening fact, she fixed it.
With this facility, which has been a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity since 1995, Carole has given 100% of the donations to the cats. With government and private help, animal caretakers can ensure the well-being of these rescues. Carole and her husband work together to monitor them- both of them not taking a penny for their efforts. Not to mention, they have donated the centre to the cats and to the public who visits and supports them.
The ultimate goal of this sanctuary is to create a world where such a sanctuary will one day be obsolete. They wish to end the days of exotic pet ownership. With your help, I think we can keep the wild in the wild.
(Whoa, that is a lot of “wild” at the end of this post, but hopefully you’re feeling it!)