By LEIGH SPANN
News Channel 8
Published: September 14, 2009
TAMPA - It takes a lot to be a hero, and for one Tampa man it takes a lot of meat.
Scott Lope, director of operations at the nonprofit wildlife sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, helps house and feed nearly 115 large cats every day. Cable television channel Animal Planet has rewarded his work in educating the public about the plight of these animals by naming him a finalist for its Hero of the Year.
One of the volunteers at Big Cat Rescue, Sharyn Beach, wrote the letter that nominated Lope. She says she has been inspired by his dedication.
"Long after we're asleep at night, Scott's still working, and long before we wake up in the morning, he's already working," Beach wrote.
That letter put Lope in the top 10 out of 4,500 entries. In the letter, Beach focused on Lope's ability to educate and inspire others about the animals he cares for. She notes how kids have their birthday parties at the rescue and ask for donations for the animals instead of getting presents.
"One person doing a lot of work is a great thing, but what's really important is getting out there and talking to other people about what's going on with these animals," Beach wrote.
Lope began working at the Big Cat Rescue 11 years ago as a volunteer. At the time, he had a job in the medical field, but he decided to follow his dream of working with animals.
"Really decided that this was more important than some of the material things that really aren't that important. So I quit my job and moved here," Lope said.
It's been an amazing journey, he said, and he considers himself lucky to be able to work with the animals.
And he really hopes he inspires change.
"Just in the last 10 years, here at the Big Cat Rescue, we've worked to get laws changed. We've gotten animals out of a terrible situation all over the country," Lope said.
It is no easy task to feed and house more than 100 big cats. Big Cat Rescue, which is at 12802 Easy St., has a $1 million annual budget. It costs $7,500 a year to care for each of the 23 lions and tigers.
One of the prizes for the person chosen as Animal Planet's Hero of the Year is $10,000 toward his or her animal charity. Lope said that will take care of one of those lions or tigers for a whole year.
The winner of the Hero of the Year contest will be announced Dec. 18 during Animal Planet's Heroes Week. Voting started today and continues through Sept. 27.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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