Who it helps: Really, really big cats.
Where to give: www.bigcatrescue.org, or send donations to 12802 Easy St., Tampa, FL 33625.
This holiday season, forgo that $10,000 fur coat for your spouse and spend the money on the animals who owned the fur in the first place at Big Cat Rescue.
Formerly known as Wildlife on Easy Street (we always loved that name), BCR cares for more than 150 rare and exotic cats at its 45-acre sanctuary, all through public donations (the organization receives no government funding) and its annual fundraiser, the "Fur Ball." It costs more than a grand per day to feed the sanctuary's assortment of animals, and 100 percent of all donations go directly to the care and feeding of the exotic breeds. Dedicated and fearless volunteers and interns are what BCR thrives on; from office work to cleaning to tours, the selfless staff keeps the sanctuary running smoothly.
Big Cat Rescue started by accident in 1992 when founders Don and Carole Baskin attended an exotic animal auction to buy a llama, and instead brought home a 6-month-old bobcat (an unwanted former "pet"). In years following, the Baskins bought and closed fur farms to save other cats from gruesome fates, and Don traveled the country buying every abused and unwanted cat he could get his hands on. Carole still runs the organization today, and over the last 13 years has turned it into a nonprofit with a purpose, educating the public on everything from the preservation of wildlife to the horrors of the fur trade. Last year, representatives from Big Cat Rescue and Florida Voices for Animals could be seen waving signs on Fur Free Friday, a national event on the day after Thanksgiving, one of the biggest holiday shopping days of the year. The group picketed Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus for the retailers' holiday fur-sales push.
So how can you help? Cash donations, of course, are a wonderful and tax-deductible way to show support. But for a more personalized gift, visit the organization's website for a glance at its extensive Wish List. Almost everything is needed and appreciated, from toys for the cats, to office supplies, to regular household items for the intern accommodations.
If you've got more cash than most, why not throw down for a few shade trees ($80 each), a misting fan ($3,900) or — to really show some love — indulge the sanctuary with a flea treatment ($7,000 to treat all the animals at the same time).