Baskin began rescuing cats in November 1992 and transformed her passion into Big Cat Rescue, “one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world dedicated to big cats,” according to its website. BCR houses more than 50 exotic cats, including tigers, lions, cougars and bobcats.
The mother of one has been no stranger to the exotic animal scene since the '90s when she and her then-husband, Don Lewis, founded the sanctuary, formerly called Wildlife on Easy Street in Tampa, Florida.
And she’s also no stranger to the spotlight, which shone on her when Lewis disappeared in 1997, roughly six years after the pair married, according to a People Magazine report from 1998.
Baskin insisted to People she was innocent.
“The worst thing I ever did was threaten to report him to the IRS," she told the outlet at the time.
Lewis went missing before a planned business trip to Costa Rica, investigators said shortly after his disappearance. His van was found near a Pasco County, Florida, airport. Deputies searched the wildlife sanctuary he ran with his wife, but he was never found in Florida nor Costa Rica.
Baskin was never charged in connection to Lewis' disappearance, but his presumed demise prompted a slew of speculation among her foes and the public.
The Hillsborough County, Florida, sheriff’s office is once again seeking leads in the case as a result of the popularity of the Netflix show.
She and her third and current husband, Howard Baskin, called the docuseries “as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers” in a post on her Big Cat Rescue Facebook page, accompanied by a link to a longer webpage refuting the claims.
“Tiger King” chronicles the life of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who goes by the name “Joe Exotic” in the show, and several other exotic animal owners, with a heavy focus on his hatred of Baskin.
Maldonado-Passage was convicted in April 2019 of federal murder-for-hire charges in connection to attempts to have Baskin killed for allegedly trying to force him out of business for years.
In November 2017, Maldonado-Passage paid a zoo worker cash to kill Baskin. Instead, the worker took the money and ran. In a second attempt, he hired another hitman who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, prosecutors said.
“Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off,” said Maldonado-Passage in a recording played at trial.
He was sentenced to 22 years behind bars.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.