TAMPA, Fla. - After years of pressuring lawmakers, Carole Baskin's "Big Cat Public Safety Act" is making major headway in Washington. If passed, HB-263 would outlaw "cub petting" and ban the private ownership of big cats as pets.
As Baskin puts it, it's her "silver lining" to the craze that exploded from Netflix's "Tiger King." Before she was a household name, banning "cub petting" and the private ownership of big cats was and always has been one of her biggest priorities. Soon, Washington could make it federal law.
As it stands right now, there is no federal law banning private citizens from owning big cats, like lions and tigers as pets. Baskin says it's long overdue.
"I'm feeling like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Baskin said.
For decades, she's been rescuing exotic big cats and offering them a new life living at her 67-acre sanctuary Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. Many are born into captivity and forced into circuses and roadside zoos, where, Baskin says, poor living conditions lead to life-long health implications – meaning they wouldn't survive if released back into the wild.
"What I would say to anybody who thinks that they want to own a lion or a tiger or any kind of exotic cat as a pet, it's not the glamorous thing that you see on social media," she explained. "They grow up like that, and they become apex predators who want to kill you in just a matter of a couple of years."
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, since 1990, nationwide there have been at least 400 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats.
Since 1998, Baskin has been pushing for legislation to crack down on private ownership. Steadily over the years, it's gained support, but it was the release of "Tiger King" that gave Baskin a national platform to push even harder.
"That is probably the only silver lining to Tiger King," Baskin offered, "what it did was it made people aware of this problem."
If the act passes, it will grandfather in current owners and require them to register their pets, so first responders and animal control officers are aware of them.
"When first responders go into a fire or into a domestic abuse situation, they need to know that these cats are even there, and they don't know that now," Baskin said.
So far, the legislation has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and received formal support from President Biden. Its fate now remains in the U.S. Senate.
Right now, the U.S. Senate is on recess. When they return in September, the country could know more about the likelihood of it passing. The bill has bipartisan support and no known organized opposition.
Baskin said she expects it'll pass before the end of the year.