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I was born in Southeastern Ohio in 1975. I was blessed to grow up in a stabile home with both parents and several siblings. I have had the unique perspective of having siblings between 10 and 20 years older than myself. As a result I have a brother and 4 sisters, but still had some of the experiences of an only child.

As a kid, I was a Momma's boy. Yeah, I'll admit it! My mother, Charlotte, was always the life of the party...endearing, nurturing, polite, and classy. She always had a way of making everyone feel comfortable and welcome. She was a stay-at-home mom, very involved in the community, church, and our family's life. I, on the other hand, was generally shy, nervous, and self-conscious. My father worked a lot in my younger years, so I was very attached to my mom.

My mother passed away from colon cancer when I was 13. The battle was a long one. After being diagnosed, she had part of her colon removed, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. The radiation slowly destroyed what was left of her colon and a couple years after her initial surgery, she underwent another surgery and was then fitted with a colostomy bag. Working in the yard one summer morning, she fell and broke her femur. From that she obtained a full-leg cast. That seemed to mark the beginning of the end. She fought a long two-month battle in the hospital. She passed away on the morning of Christmas Eve, 1989.

While the experience was one I would never want to relive, it taught me to be more independent. I was still shy, but I became more self-reliant. I learned how to cook. However, it was the teen years and my father and I were at odds regularly. Since then, my father has remarried--a wonderful woman named Dola--and they continue to live happily in Ohio.

I graduated high school in 1993 an honors student and promptly attended the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL. For most of my junior high and high school years I had developed a love of science, especially biology and decided I wanted to pursue Marine Biology. After a year or so of marine biology studies, I felt a little jaded. What was I going to do...discover a new fish? I wanted to make a bigger mark on the world.

I had taken a full-time job at Kinko's while attending the University of Miami. I decided to pull out of college after my sophomore year, until I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I have worked in the computer industry ever since...until...

In 2002, a friend introduced me to Vanishing Species Wildlife, the sanctuary where I volunteered and later worked. As more of a public relations stunt, I offered to rebuild their website and offered to partner with them developing a variety of merchandise (hats, t-shirts, calendars, postcards, posters, etc.) We launched a couple of products (postcards and calendars), but it seemed too much of my time was used working with the cats.

A year after I started, I became the property manager and also a primary show personality for a daily exhibit in the Everglades. I "survived" training two cougars (which became my favorites), property maintenance, two facility moves, hurricane Wilma, as well as all the day to day drudgery. I chuckle sometimes that the only substantial scar or injuries I received were a knock on the head with a 2x4 (26 stitches) and a very faint scar from a lion claw (my fault, not hers.)

Over time at Vanishing Species I found that while the owners, staff, and everyone involved had the best intentions with the animals, Vanishing Species began to fall into a death spiral that I have seen in other sanctuaries and organizations. Vanishing Species offered the opportunity for members of the public to do pictures with their big cat cubs for a nominal donation. This helped acclimate the cats to both captive life and to humans (which is good). The cubs were also used in animal shows at schools, camps, and other events until they were 3 to 6 months old (depending on the species). While some members of leftist animals rights groups do not agree with this practice, I found it to be an effective way to engage people of all ages about wildlife and conservation. I also found it to have a positive impact on both the demeanor and health of the animals.

The death spiral begins when a facility like this gets low on cash. They begin doing more and more pictures with the animals in an attempt to make up for lost cash. Because big cat cubs can only safely interact with the public for 6 months or so, facilities such as Vanishing Species begin breeding more to have a continual flow of cubs to generate more revenue. Keep in mind, this extra revenue isn't typically used to line the pockets of the facility owners...its just to help cover the operational costs of the facility. So the extra breeding is justified for the good of all the animals at the facility. For cubs past their prime, disreputable facilities will either put down the cubs or sell them to unlicensed (illegal) owners or aweful places such as "canned hunts" (in which people that amount to scum pay big bucks to "hunt" a tiger, lion or other large predator illegally.) Facilities such as Vanishing keep their cats and slowly try to place them with other sanctuaries or smaller zoos around the country. However there are a limited number of places looking for these animals, and before long, the number of animals the breeding facility is caring for starts to grow. When I started at Vanishing Species, they had 20 large predators. When I left, 4 years later, they had 60. This only compounds the money problems.

As money becomes tighter, these facilities start taking short cuts. First, postponing general maintenance (vehicles, properties...things that don't affect the animals.) Then they start postponing regular cage maintenance, regular vet checkups, etc. This amounts to holding off changing the oil in your car when money's really tight. It's fine for a little bit, but the longer it goes, the worse the problems become. Sanctuaries in the spiral may start using outdated medications or using more questionable foods. They may start doing pictures with cubs too early (younger than 8 weeks) or letting unqualified staff handle the animals for events. Before long they are holding back on vitamin supplements, all cage repairs except emergencies, and sometimes even food.

During this whole mess, staff and volunteers begin to gossip and whisper about what's going on. Some may feel the owners are misuing funds. Others start questioning whether they are doing right by the animals. Morale starts to sink. People don't work as hard. Those that are working diligently, have to work harder to keep up. The quality of care for the animals begins to suffer. More staff and volunteers become upset. Some begin to leave, while the workload for those left behind keeps growing. Now the facility is not only facing financial problems, but lower quality care for the animals. People aren't as careful about removing all the excrement or urine from cages. Maybe they miss a couple pieces of meat for a few days -- it becomes riddled with maggots or other vermin. The whole place begins to look terrible. Getting new volunteers becomes an uphill battle. You get an inspection from the state or federal regulators now and you're up *%(@* creek without a paddle.

Over the past few years I have watched from afar and apparently the problems at Vanishing Species grew exponentially. In the spring and summer of 2009, USDA and Florida Fish & Wildlife stepped in and issued some pretty harsh punishment, along with outcry in the media. I would never have wished this fate on the animals, owners, or staff, but am also relieved that I did not get caught up in the storm. My only continuing contact with Vanishing Species is hosting their website. The company is still around, but a shell of its former self.

Since my time at Vanishing Species, life has gone nowhere but up. I have become a certified website programmer, and met the woman of my dreams, Crystal. Together with her two sons, I have fallen into a "ready-made" family. I never thought I would want a wife and kids, but now I cannot imagine living any other way. Our new family lived in Cape Coral, FL for two years. We loved the wildlife, the endless fishing opportunities, and made some great friends. However, we hated the heat, the bugs, and the sulfurous well water. After an exhaustive search for a new place to call home, we found a fantastic house in my old stomping ground...Ohio. We are adjusting to the slower, quieter pace. The boys have both started attending their new schools and are doing very well. I continue to work on a variety of websites and have become an iPhone programmer.

Crystal shares my passion for animals, and together we plan to open a wildlife sanctuary in approximately 10 years. We hope to learn from my past experiences and build a bigger, better, stronger facility that can overcome adversity and serve as a model for all animal facilities.



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