Wisconsin’s Big Cat Rescue FKA Big Dad’s Big Cats

Operated by Jeff Kozlowski

(Note:  This is not affiliated in any way with Big Cat Rescue of Tampa, FL)

ROCK SPRINGS – A federal inspector has cited a big cat rescue facility for inadequate training and supervision after a volunteer there was bitten by a Siberian tiger.

“They were given a handling citation,” U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman Dave Sacks said. “All volunteers and employees of USDA-licensed facilities must be adequately trained and supervised to ensure their personal safety and the safety of the animals.”

The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue & Educational Center, located in Rock Springs, must immediately comply with supervision and training requirements, Sacks said. The organization has until Nov. 19 to appeal the citation.

The USDA will not release the inspector’s report until after the deadline for appeal has passed, Sacks said.

The rescue center’s founder, Jeff Kozlowski, said there are no federal regulations describing the type or amount of training a volunteer must have.

“What are there regulations for training?” Kozlowski said. “I asked (the inspector), ‘When does he have enough training?’ And he didn’t have an answer.”

Kozlowski said the facility would have been cited regardless of the volunteer’s level of experience.

Volunteer Jon Meeker said he was using a 5-gallon jug to pour water through a cage into a bowls for Kahn, a 600-pound Siberian tiger, when the animal playfully pawed at the cage.

One of the tiger’s claws went through the cage and snagged Meeker’s sweatshirt. The animal then pulled Meeker’s arm through the cage and bit it.

Meeker was flown to University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, where he was treated for puncture wounds, a 5-inch gash on his upper arm and torn tendons. Nerves had been pulled from his fingers and the cartilage in his wrist was “ripped up,” he said. He was released five days later.

Kozlowski said the facility will change its practices so that the cats cannot come near the outer edges of the cage when volunteers are watering them.

USDA inspection reports from the previous three years give the rescue center a clean bill of health.

Kozlowski and Meeker have both said the animal was being playful, and not viciously attacking the volunteer. And Meeker, who has volunteered there since last spring, has said he will resume volunteering as soon as he heals.

Sacks said the tiger’s intentions aren’t important to his agency.

“These are wild animals, so it’s not like their behavior is totally predictable,” Sacks said. “Regardless of whether it was an attack or just something playful, the bottom line is that a person was injured. These animals, with the strength they have, if they grab a hold of you there’s going to be some damage.”

Send e-mail to Tim Damos tdamos@capitalnewspapers.com