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Big Cat Rescue: Animal Dealers & USDA Violations of The Animal Welfare Act

Subject: Animal Dealers and USDA Violations of The Animal Welfare Act
Source: USDA Press Release

Carole Lewis Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, Tampa Florida, would like for you to believe that she began rescuing animals at her sanctuary in 1992. A USDA press release dated September 10, 1998, 6 years later, refers to her as an animal dealer with numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Baskin could not have been a rescue and an animal dealer at the same time, so let's look at what USDA, the agency overseeing the care of her animals, had to say.

Press Releases


Jim Rogers (301) 734 8563
Jamie Ambrosi (301) 734 5175

RIVERDALE, Md., Sept. 10, 1998 The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently charged licensed animal dealers J. Don and Carole Lewis, doing business as Wildlife on Easy Street, Inc. (now Big Cat Rescue) in Tampa, Fla., with violations of the Animal Welfare Act. 

"The animal care program is designed to enforce minimum animal care standards under the law," said W. Ron DeHaven, acting deputy administrator for animal care with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a part of USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs Mission Are. "We are charging that the Lewises did not even meet those minimum standards".

PHIS inspectors found that the Lewises failed to:

  • Maintain compatible groups of animals in the same enclosure
  • Handle animals in a manner that prevented physical harm
  • Maintain structurally sound housing facilities for dogs
  • Clean water receptacles
  • Clean premises and keep it free of accumulations of trash
  • Maintain complete records on the premises showing the acquisition, disposition, and identification of animals
  • Provide suitable method for rapid  elimination of water from outdoor housing facilities
  • Clean primary enclosures as required
  • Store supplies of food in an adequate manner; and
  • Maintain a sufficient distance or barrier between animals and the viewing public

In other words, the place was a dirty trash strewn dump and the animals didn't even have clean water receptacles. And this was just one inspection. Another turned up 26 similar violations! Baskin would like you to believe that this was all the fault of her husband, the missing millionaire Don Lewis. But although Don's name may have been on the USDA license, he had been missing for over a year at the time of this inspection.

Don Lewis went missing in August of 1997 after filing for an Order of Protection against his wife, Carole Lewis (now Baskin). The order of protection was denied and Don's body has never been found, although Baskin had him declared dead before marrying her third husband, Howard Baskin, on November 1, 2004.

So just what was Carole Lewis Baskin's Big Cat Rescue in 1992? An animal sanctuary rescuing abused and abandoned exotic cats as she claims? Or a sub standard facility of badly maintained cages run by animal dealer Carole Lewis Baskin who could not provide even the basic needs for her personal breeders and pets?

According to USDA acquisition forms, In one short time period between 1993 and 1995 there were at least 110 cats bought, sold, or born there. Baskin herself admits in her early Safari Guide that she paid for all but a few of her 144 cats. Are we to believe that she bought these cats to rescue them? What about the ones she bought and then bred. Are they rescues too? Was Carole Lewis Baskin an animal dealer or an animal rescue?

Baskin now publicly admits that she used to be a breeder, while all the while insisting that she began as a rescue. But nowhere does she describe the extent of of the buying and breeding of the cats or the fact that she portrays them all as being rescued from abuse or abandonment. Nowhere does she admit that horror stories such as those of Shere Khan and Shaquille were invented to pull at people's heart and pursestrings. In 2008 her present husband, Howard Baskin explained in an interview that in the early years "a few" cats were bought and there was "a limited amount" of breeding. If Baskin claims that she has always been upfront about the origins of her cats, then why not tell the whole truth? 

Would Baskin's financial supporters be as eager to donate if they knew they've been lied to for 18 years? Would they believe that Baskin became a rescue in 1992 if they knew the extent of the buying, selling, breeding, and even declawing that went on there for years? Do these donors have a right to know the truth?

View the 1995 articles of incorporation showing that Lewis-Baskin incorporated for the purpose of breeding. You cannot be a "rescue" or a "sanctuary" in 1992 and incorporate for the purpose of breeding in 1995...unless you are Carole Baskin.

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