Baskin in 2019
Carole Stairs Jones
June 6, 1961
Bexar County, Texas, U.S.
(m. 1979; div. 1990)
(m. 1991; legal d. 2002)
Baskin drew public attention when she was featured in the 2020 Netflix documentary series Tiger King about Oklahoma-based private zoo operator Joe Exotic. The Netflix series follows both Baskin and Joe Exotic, as well as exotic animal owner Doc Antle, filming their ongoing and escalating feuds over exotic animals in private zoos. Following the release of the series, Baskin has been the subject of internet memes and conspiracy theories related to the disappearance of Don Lewis, her second husband.
Carole Stairs Jones was born on June 6, 1961, on the Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas. 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. She dropped out of high school and left home with a local roller rink employee. Baskin then hitchhiked back and forth between Florida and Bangor, Maine, sleeping under parked cars. She later purchased a Datsun truck and slept in the back with her pet cat.
At the age of 17, Baskin worked at a Tampa department store. To make money, she began breeding show cats; she also began rescuing bobcats, and used llamas for a lawn trimming business. In January 1991, she married her second husband and joined his real estate business.
As Carole Lewis, she and her husband Don founded Wildlife on Easy Street, an animal sanctuary near Tampa for big cats, in 1992. She is the current chief executive officer of the sanctuary, which she renamed to Big Cat Rescue sometime after Lewis's disappearance in 1997. She has used social media such as Facebook and YouTube and her "The Cat Chat" podcast to promote activism against private zoos. The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter have described her as an animal rights activist.
In 2020, Baskin was cast in season 29 of Dancing with the Stars. 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. Meanwhile, during the broadcast 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.
Dancing with the Stars (Season 29)
|Week #||Dance/Song||Judges' score||Result|
|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|
She moved in with Michael Murdock, her boss at the department store where she worked, when she was 17. 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. She became pregnant soon after, and daughter Jamie Veronica Murdock was born on July 16, 1980.
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 Nebraska Avenue in Tampa. She and Lewis engaged in an affair while both were still married. She became one of Lewis's many girlfriends and substantially grew his wealth by helping him buy and sell real estate in 1984. The pair divorced their respective spouses and subsequently married in 1991.
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. In July 1997, Lewis filed a restraining order against her, claiming that she had threatened to kill him; the restraining order was rejected. Baskin claims that he filed the restraining order because she would haul off some of his "junk" property whenever he visited Costa Rica. Lewis continued to live with Baskin afterwards. Lewis told her multiple times that he wanted a divorce, but she did not think he was ever serious about it. She claimed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder months before he vanished.
Lewis disappeared in August 1997 and was declared legally dead in 2002. A dispute ensued between Baskin and the children of Lewis over his estate, with Baskin prevailing as the primary beneficiary. The case of Lewis’ disappearance is still active as of early 2021.
She met Howard Baskin in November 2002 at a kick-off party for the newly formed No More Homeless Pets organization. He joined Big Cat Rescue soon after as chairman of the advisory board. He proposed to her in November 2003, and they married in November 2004.
|2011||Fatal Attractions||Herself||Animal Planet documentary|
|2020||Tiger King||Herself||Netflix documentary|
|2020||Dancing with the Stars||Herself||Season 29 contestant|
Joe Exotic feud and Tiger King
Baskin has a long-running feud with Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, the former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, who goes by the nickname Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic claimed that Baskin was involved in the disappearance of Lewis. Exotic engaged in a pattern of harassment against Baskin, including trademark infringement. In 2013, a court ordered him to pay Baskin $1 million in damages, leading to his bankruptcy. In 2020, he was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman to kill her.
In June 2020, a federal judge granted Joe Exotic's former zoo property to Baskin and Big Cat Rescue on the basis that Joe Exotic fraudulently transferred the zoo's real estate to his mother to avoid creditors, particularly Baskin's judgment against him. Jeff Lowe's current zoo operation on the property was given 120 days to vacate the property with their animals.
In November 2019, Universal Content Productions announced that they were adapting a Joe Exotic podcast for television, with Kate McKinnon portraying Baskin. In March 2020, Baskin was featured in the Netflix documentary Tiger King. She later spoke out against the series, calling it "salacious and sensational", and criticized directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin. Baskin said that the filmmakers lied about the nature of the series when they approached her about it, claiming that they told her that they were going to be making "the big cat version of Blackfish". After Tiger King was released, several Internet memes targeted Baskin and her speculated involvement in Lewis's disappearance.
Baskin, through her company Big Cat Rescue, has lobbied Congress to ban the private trade and ownership of exotic cats.
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 in the past three years was to Cory Booker's 2020 presidential campaign. She has also praised Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and called out Ron Desantis for not doing enough to fight COVID-19.
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