DULUTH — In 2009, a former news director for the Duluth News Tribune wrote a column about the death of a Proctor family’s cougar — a pet procured nearly 20 years earlier after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper.
Tasha used to hang out on top of the O’Connor family’s refrigerator. Then she stopped eating and showed signs of diabetes, according to the column.
It’s a piece that caught the eye of a woman who has gone from fame within big cat circles to the mainstream.
“This cat’s life did end on a sad note, but what’s even more sad is that the column may have left some people thinking it’s OK to breed wild animals for life in cages,” Carole Baskin wrote in a letter to the editor published in February 2009.
Baskin, an animal activist and meme-target, is among the featured exotic animal keepers in the Netflix series “Tiger King.” The founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., is Joe Exotic’s nemesis. The hit he put out on her is the reason he’s in prison.
Within “Tiger King,” Baskin is a foil to Joe Exotic’s style of tiger-keeping. But the show takes a spin when it drifts into the tale of her long-lost husband, rumored — but never proven — to have been fed to her tigers.
Baskin had a relationship with the News Tribune before Robin Washington wrote about the late cougar — and the ocelot he kept as a kid.
Baskin first appears in the News Tribune in 2006 after a northern Minnesota woman was mauled by her tiger. Cynthia Gamble was a seasoned keeper of exotic animals and kept a 60-acre spot near Sandstone.
There was, even before it was TV-ready, much back and forth between who could and shouldn’t keep big cats. Baskin, who was approached by the News Tribune’s editorial board, didn’t know Gamble. No one, she said at the time, has any reason to own big cats.
“I don’t believe these animals belong in private possession,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to change the law.”
In 2007, the annual Mighty Thomas Carnival included an exhibit from Zoo Dynamics. For $2, visitors could check out the tiger tent and its four newborn tiger cubs, which all died when they were two days old.
Baskin weighed in on the deaths , offering the opinion that the law had been broken.
“You can’t use (cubs) before eight weeks and you can’t use them after 12 weeks old,” she said.