Lions & Tigers, But No Bears: A Trip to Wisconsin's Big Cat Rescue

Jul 26, 2012

What happens to animals are discarded like objects that no longer entertain?

In our ongoing "It's a Material World" series, Material Culture student and contributor Gianofer Fields usually shares stories about objects, tools and other ephemera. But what happens when potentially dangerous animals are treated as disposable things, discarded when they fall out of fashion or become too big to handle?

That's where the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue comes in. The Rescue, located in Rock Springs, Wis., began when owners Jeff Kozlowski and Jenny Meyer realized that their “take a photo with a lion,” business, while lucrative, was too stressful for the big cats. When they stopped taking photos, they realized there were other formidable felines that needed a safe place to live.

It’s estimated that there are between ten- and twenty-five-thousand big cats being raised in backyards across the country. If that range seems large, it’s because nobody knows for sure how many people are attempting to care for these wild animals. When the cats become too much for the owners, the lucky ones go to the Rescue, where they're cared for by staff and volunteers, like Sara Crook.

Away from the rescue, Crook is a metalsmith who typically uses tools to create wearable art. But at the rescue, Crook's learned to use a different set of tools - tools that keep her and other staff members alive.

Fields produces and curates the series, "It's A Material World." That project is funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.