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Carole Baskin

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Carole Baskin
Carole Baskin September 2019.png
Baskin in 2019
Carole Stairs Jones

(1961-06-06) June 6, 1961 (age 60)
Other names
  • Carole Murdock
  • Carole Lewis
Known for
Michael Murdock
(m. 1979; div. 1990)
(m. 1991; legal d. 2002)
Howard Baskin
(m. 2004)
RelativesA brother in the police force

Carole Baskin (née Carole Stairs Jones; born June 6, 1961) is an American big cat rights activist and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit animal sanctuary based near Tampa, Florida.[1][2] A lifelong lover of cats who has been interested in saving them from a young age, she has garnered attention to the plight of captive big cats to local media outlets and many more national and international programs.

Baskin drew public attention when she was featured in the 2020 Netflix true crime documentary series Tiger King, which follows both Baskin and Joe Exotic's escalating feuds over exotic animals in private zoos. Following the release of the series, Baskin received abuse online due to the third episode of the series featuring the conspiracy theory that Baskin was involved in the disappearance of Don Lewis, her second husband. Baskin refuted these claims in a post on the Big Cat Rescue Website. Her catchphrase "Hey all you cool cats and kittens!" also became a meme as a result of Tiger King.[3]

Baskin is also well known for her appearance on Dancing with the Stars, featuring her dancing to a cover of the song "Eye of the Tiger".[4] She and her husband Howard also appeared in the 2021 Louis Theroux documentary Shooting Joe Exotic.

Early life

Carole Stairs Jones was born on June 6, 1961, on the Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas.[5] She expressed an interest in saving cats when she was nine, but she decided against pursuing a career in veterinary medicine after she learned that veterinarians euthanize animals.[6]At age 14, Baskin reports having been gang raped by three men who lived across the street from her house, claiming that she received no emotional support from her conservative Christian family.[7] She dropped out of high school and left home with a local roller rink employee.[6][8] Baskin then hitchhiked back and forth between Florida and Bangor, Maine, sleeping under parked cars.[8] She later purchased a Datsun truck and slept in the back with her pet cat.[8]



A tiger at Baskin's animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue in 2012

At the age of 17, Baskin worked at a Tampa department store. To make money, she began breeding show cats;[8] and also began rescuing bobcats, and used llamas for a lawn trimming business.[6][8] In January 1991, she married her second husband and joined his real estate business.[6] She and her husband Don founded Wildlife on Easy Street, an animal sanctuary near Tampa for big cats, in 1992. Originally, she and Don bred tiger cubs and show cats, but stopped after realising the harm it was doing the animals.[9] Baskin remains the current chief executive officer of the sanctuary, which she renamed to Big Cat Rescue sometime after Lewis's disappearance in 1997.[10][11][12] She has used social media such as Facebook and YouTube and her "The Cat Chat" podcast to promote activism against private zoos.[13]

Dancing with the Stars

In 2020, Baskin was cast in season 29 of Dancing with the Stars.[14] On the series' September 14 season premiere she danced a paso doble with partner Pasha Pashkov to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" and they received a 11 out of a possible 30, the lowest cumulative score of the evening.[15]

Week # Dance/Song Judges' score Result
Inaba Hough Tonioli
1 Paso doble / "Eye of the Tiger" 4 4 3 No Elimination
2 Viennese waltz / "What's New Pussycat?" 6 5 5 Bottom two
3 Samba / "Circle of Life" 5 4 3 Eliminated

Personal life


She moved in with Michael Murdock, her boss at the department store where she worked, when she was 17.[8] The couple married on April 7, 1979. Baskin has said that she never loved him and married him only because her parents were disappointed that they had been living together outside of marriage.[16] She became pregnant soon after,[8] and daughter Jamie Veronica Murdock was born on July 16, 1980.[17]

According to Baskin, in 1981, when she was 19, she threw a potato at Murdock as he attempted to attack her. She ran out of their home barefoot and met her next husband, Don Lewis, on 50th Street in Tampa.[8][18] She and Lewis engaged in an affair while both were still married.[18] She became one of Lewis's many girlfriends and substantially grew his wealth by helping him buy and sell real estate in 1984.[19] The pair divorced their respective spouses and subsequently married in 1991.[6]

According to Baskin, Lewis was obsessed with sex and would frequently fly to Costa Rica, where he had substantial real estate holdings, to have affairs – timing the trips for whenever she was menstruating.[20][21] In July 1997, Lewis filed a restraining order against her, claiming that she had threatened to kill him; the restraining order was rejected.[22] Baskin claims that he filed the restraining order because she would haul off some of his "junk" property whenever he visited Costa Rica.[21] Lewis continued to live with Baskin afterwards.[23] Lewis told her multiple times that he wanted a divorce, but she did not think he was ever serious about it.[24] She claimed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder months before he vanished.[25]

Lewis disappeared in August 1997[23] and was declared legally dead in 2002.[11][26] A dispute ensued between Baskin and the children of Lewis over his estate, with Baskin prevailing as the primary beneficiary.[22] The case of Lewis’ disappearance is still active as of 2021.[27] In September 2020, during the broadcast of Baskin's appearances in Dancing with the Stars in select Florida television markets, including Tampa, Lewis' family and their attorney ran and appeared in a commercial spot asking for anyone with information on his disappearance to come forward and offered a hundred-thousand dollar reward.[28]

She met Howard Baskin in November 2002 at a kick-off party for the newly formed No More Homeless Pets organization.[29] He joined Big Cat Rescue soon after as chairman of the advisory board.[29] He proposed to her in November 2003,[29] and they married in November 2004.[29]

In October 2020, Baskin came out as bisexual.[30]

Feud with Joe Exotic, appearances in Tiger King and Shooting Joe Exotic

Baskin had a long-running feud with Joe Exotic, the former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.[31][32] The feud began in 2009 when Big Cat Rescue volunteers initiated an email protest campaign against shopping malls that hosted Exotic's traveling cub-petting shows, prompting many malls to cancel the events.[33] Faced with a loss of income, Exotic responded with a pattern of harassment against Baskin, culminating in rebranding his shows with unlicensed facsimiles of the Big Cat Rescue name and logo and a false Florida phone number; in response, Baskin pursued legal action, alleging that Exotic's trademark infringement damaged the reputation of her organization.[33] In 2013, a court ordered him to pay Baskin $1 million in damages, leading to his bankruptcy.[6] In 2020, he was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman to kill her.[34] Baskin was grateful about his imprisonment, but stated in a video on the Big Cat Rescue website that other big cat owners got prosecuted as well.[35]

In November 2019, Universal Content Productions announced that they were adapting a Joe Exotic podcast for television, with Kate McKinnon portraying Baskin.[36]

In March 2020, Baskin was featured in the Netflix documentary Tiger King.[37] While filming, she and Howard were told that the series would be "the big cat version of BlackFish" and would help stop cub abuse. They were also told that, while Exotic and the disappearance of Don Lewis would be featured in the series, they would not be the focus.[38] The third episode of the series caused viewers to suspect that Baskin murdered Don Lewis by feeding him to the tigers. Several of the zookeepers featured in the documentary, including Exotic (who had previously made a diss-track referencing Lewis's disappearance in 2015) and Tabraue, believe that she was responsible for his disappearance. After Tiger King was released, Baskin was cyberbullied over her speculated involvement in Lewis's disappearance via Internet memes,[39] including a viral TikTok song parody of Savage referencing Lewis's disappearance and sung by someone doing an impression of Exotic.[40]

In response to the abuse she received over being suspected of murdering Don Lewis, Baskin posted an article on the Big Cat Rescue refuting the claims made about her in Tiger King.[41] She called the documentary "salacious and sensational", and criticized directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin.[42] Baskin and her husband Howard felt betrayed by filmmakers, stating she was told the discussion of Joe Exotic and Baskin's missing husband were just for context.[43] In a post on the Big Cat Rescue website, Baskin said that the show "has a segment [in the third episode] devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago" and that the series "presents this without any regard for the truth".[44] Baskin has never been charged with anything related to Don's disappearance and has always denied having anything to do with it. To defend his wife, Howard released a message on the DailyBigCat YouTube channel, stating that the claims about her being involved in Lewis's disappearance are nonsense and that Goode and Chaiklin "did not care about the animals or the truth".[45] In response to Exotic's supporters who posted "free Joe Exotic", the Baskins remarked, "If you sincerely believe that a man who shoots five healthy, beautiful, majestic tigers in the head to make money deserves to be free, we are proud to have you as enemies."

In June 2020, a federal judge granted Exotic's former zoo property to Baskin and Big Cat Rescue on the basis that Exotic fraudulently transferred the zoo's real estate to his mother to avoid creditors, particularly Baskin's judgment against him. Jeff Lowe's zoo operation on the property was given 120 days to vacate the property.[46][47] Following his licence being suspended in August 2020, Lowe closed the park and denied being responsible for the vandalism.

In February 2021, Baskin revealed that she had been asked to feature in a planned second season of the show, but she refused and told the producers to "lose her number".[48][49] A month later, she was interviewed alongside Howard Baskin by British filmmaker Louis Theroux for the BBC documentary Shooting Joe Exotic, during which they discussed Tiger King and the allegations Baskin murdered Don Lewis, which she denied.[50]


Baskin, through her company Big Cat Rescue, has lobbied Congress to ban the private trade and ownership of exotic cats.[51]

Baskin gave exclusively to Democratic candidates from 2005 to 2016, but since 2017 all but one of her contributions have gone to Republicans. Her only donation to a Democrat between 2017 and 2020 was to Cory Booker's 2020 presidential campaign.[52]



Year Title Role Notes
2011 Fatal Attractions Herself Animal Planet documentary
2020 Tiger King Herself Netflix documentary
2020 Dancing with the Stars Herself Season 29 contestant
(3 episodes)
2021 Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic Herself BBC documentary


  1. ^ Yuhas, Alan; Cramer, Maria (April 2, 2020). "What Happened After 'Tiger King'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 2, 2020. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
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