February 23, 2016 - A volunteer is possibly bitten by a cougar. One of Big Cat Rescue's volunteers originally reported that she had been bitten by a cougar, but later changed her story claiming that she was injured by a sharp point on the enclosure housing the cougar.
Breaking Down The Incident
On February 23, 2016, Sue Messineo, one of Big Cat Rescue's volunteers, was reportedly bitten by a cougar.
Through a public records request, we obtained a copy of the animal bite report that revealed a cougar bite as the cause of the injury Messineo sustained.
We also obtained documents of the Florida Fish and Wildlife's report on the incident which conflicts with what was stated in the animal bite report.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife report, Messineo was in the hospital for "several days" due to her injury, however, she now claims that she was injured by a sharp point on a cage when she was feeding the cougar in question.
The report also says, "No witnesses present during this feeding as all other personnel had left for the day."
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, posted her response to OSHA after they were tipped off about the incident:
Dear OSHA Rep.,
Can you print this email as a response to your request, as accessing a fax machine is a huge hassle and mailing this simple answer seems like a waste of paper and postage?
First; the volunteer in question was never an employee of Big Cat Rescue. None of the animal care work at the sanctuary is done by employees. It is all done by volunteers. Paid staff are only paid to to administrative work but she has never even been paid staff.
While the original hospital report stated that she had been bitten, it just wasn’t possible given her description to me after the fact and the quarter inch long, minor surface cut to her hand. She said her hand never went in the cage so when the cat moved toward her, she probably just dragged her hand across the cage wall quickly, in order to avoid contact, and caused the scratch on the wire. The galvanizing can cause an infection, which is probably what happened.
When the FWC inspector came out on March 7, 2016 we found a couple tiny points of galvanizing on the cage wall that could have caused a scratch, of the insignificance of that shown to me. I’ve had paper cuts that were much, much worse.
I flicked the shards off with my finger nail to prevent any future incident. The FWC inspectors and I ran our hands over the rest of the area and didn’t find any other sharp edges. We have checked the other cages to make sure there are no flecks of galvanizing that could scratch a person or a cat.
Please let me know if this was sufficient to lay this to rest.
Carole's response raises even more questions:
If the volunteer wasn't injured by the cougar, why would she state that she was in her hospital report?
If her cut was so harmless as Carole says, why would she require multiple days of hospital care?
If her hand was never in the cage, how could she have possibly dragged her hand across the surface?
If her hand was never in the cage, why would she feel the need to move her hand to "avoid contact" with the cougar?
If there were no other sharp points, why does the Fish and Wildlife report say, "It should also be noted at throughout the entire facility there are sections of wire fence that have very sharp edges and this is also addressed in the release from liability form that each person must sign prior to entering the grounds."
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