Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Day In The Life Of A Volunteer Senior Keeper

My name is Barbara Frank and I am a Volunteer Senior Keeper at Big Cat Rescue.  I have been a volunteer for the past 2 ½ years. 
My family and friends often ask me, "So, what do you do ALL day at "the cat place?"  (that's what they call Big Cat Rescue, "the cat place"!), "Do you clean poop all day, at "the cat place"? (this is often said with a bit of cynicism).  So, here I am to tell you what my day was like at Big Cat Rescue on Wednesday, August 16, 2006.  I arrived at “the cat place” at 9:00am.  I was greeted by Scott, our Operations Manager, who assigns the volunteers their morning duties.  I was asked to clean the section where Cameron (lion) and Zabu (white tiger) live.  The area also includes two Asian Leopards (Jade and Armani), two black leopards (Adonis and Bagherra) and one small, feisty little bobcat named Alachua Bob.  I got my cleaning gear (bucket, brushes, trash bag, gloves and long stick called a scraper) and was off on my mission. I cleaned water bowls and refilled them, and cleaned feeding blocks.  Marcy (another volunteer Senior Keeper) cleaned the enclosures of poop.  We work better when we clean in tandem, not faster, just better.  I have to tell you how amazing it is, to be near Cameron when he is roaring.  You can feel the vibration in your chest as he roars.  I sometimes look at this magnificent creature when he roars and I get tears in my eyes.  I just can’t believe how awesome he is and how privileged I am to be in his presence. I see Zabu hiding in the grass, she is trying to stalk me, with not much luck ‘cause she’s white and you can see her a mile away!  I clean the Leopards and talk to them all.  I look them over carefully to see if everyone is happy and healthy.  I love being with all these cats.  Marcy and I go over to Buffy (Bengal tiger) and Sarmonti (Bengal tiger).  Buffy is such a flirt!  He chuffs (tiger talk for hello), rubs his head on the cage and follows you as you walk around his enclosure.  Sarmonti and I have some issues that we are working on.  He doesn’t seem to like me very much.  I keep my eyes glued on him and keep a rather large distance from him. He on the other hand is sleeping in his den (or is he watching me with one eye open?!!).  Cleaning is done and I go up front to see what’s next.  Maybe I shouldn’t have asked!  I get to help dig ditches.  There we were, Rob (Trainee), Adam (Keeper), Victoria (Intern from England), Scott (Operations Manager) and me. We have an area that has standing rainwater. We were to dig a ditch to allow the water to flow and drain off properly. Yes, that was fun!  The sweat was pouring down my face, mixed with my mascara, I was a lovely sight!  Sometimes I think, maybe I am too old for this, let the young volunteers do it.  But, my passion for “the cat place” prevails and I will do all that I can to be an active participant in all aspects. Lunch. Is it time for lunch?  No, not yet.  Guess what’s next?  You will NEVER guess, so I’ll tell you.  A WEDDING!!  Yes, a wedding at Big Cat Rescue.  I am the wedding coordinator, with mascara running, sweat drenching my clothes, mud all over me.  Today’s couple is Veronica and Mike.  They have chosen Big Cat Rescue as their “destination wedding”.  The people who choose to get married here are very, very special people.  They realize that their wedding dollars go directly to the care of our cats.  They want to make their wedding day memorable by being part of this truly amazing place.  This wonderful young couple exchanged their vows on our beach.  Our Founder Carole Baskin officiated, Jamie Veronica and Julie Hanan did the photography, and Brian Czarnik was our videographer.  I gave the couple and their 2 children (Haley and Justin) and brother-in-law (Chuckey) a private tour.  They were awestruck with flirtatious Buffy, enormous Sarabi (lioness), and stunning Cloe (snow leopard). We are so grateful for people like Veronica and Mike, who have the compassion and love for these animals as we do.  It’s now 4:00pm.  Did I hear lunch?  Nope.  Time to get ready for feeding.  Scott is in our food preparation building (food prep) getting medications ready for some of our cats.  I help by putting pills in some red meat.  We have to camouflage the pills in either red meat or chicken.  These cats are smart!  They know when medicine is about to come, so we have to outsmart them.  I get the food cart that I’ll be using to carry the buckets of chicken quarters, “mush” (a specially formulated zoo diet specifically for carnivores), medications, and chicken necks. Volunteer Senior Keeper Julie Hanan (who is also my good friend), John (intern) and I will be feeding Center Route.  THAT WAS THUNDER!!  We really have to get going if we want to beat the rain, and by the way, I’m petrified of lightning.  Julie and I divide and conquer. These guys are pretty food aggressive so for the most part I’m pretty scared, but I think that keeps me on my toes and I won’t let my guard down. However, I do love to feed them.  It’s a time that you can observe them and talk to them.  We finish our route and go back to food prep to clean the feeding buckets.  I AM TIRED!!  It’s 6:00pm and I finished early today.
So, what do I do at ”the cat place” all day?  I can tell you, it’s not eating Lunch!!!!

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