July 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

The lady and the tigers

Karie Ross goes to bat for a postal stamp that helps save vanishing species

Karie Ross with husband Tigers president and CEO Dave Dombrowski at a promotional event for Stamp Out Extinction. (The Detroit News)

Unless, of course, one is chasing you, who doesn’t like tigers?

Or rhinos, or great apes, or elephants, or even turtles?

Would you spend a dime to help save them when you mail a letter?

Many of us would. In fact, many of us already have.

For now, unfortunately, we can’t. But people are working to change that — among them Karie Ross, the principal connection between the tigers and the Tigers.

Ross has been, among other things, one of the pioneering female anchors on ESPN. Now she’s married to Detroit Tigers president and CEO Dave Dombrowski, and they both went to Washington, D.C., last year to make a pitch for endangered species.

“It’s just a warm, fuzzy thing,” Ross says. She means the Save Vanishing Species postage stamp, more than the tigers themselves, and it’s hard to argue with her assessment.

In September 2011, the postal service launched what’s officially known as a semipostal stamp to benefit some of the animals that humans have typically devoted themselves to eradicating.

The stamp, featuring the sweet face of an Amur tiger cub, sold 25.5 million copies through the end of 2013 and raised $2,570,965.

It was painless: no fuss, no muss, no taxes, just a 55-cent fee for what would otherwise have been a 46-cent stamp.

Another 74 million of the stamps are in postal service cages, yearning to be set free. But until Congress lifts the gate, there’s only one place in the country besides eBay where you can still buy them:

The gift shop at Comerica Park.

Common in Europe

Semipostal stamps are standard in lots of European countries.

America didn’t dip a toe until 1998, when the postal service launched one for breast cancer research. It’s still available, and at last count, it had raised $78.9 million.

Two others, one aimed at stopping family violence and one collecting money for the families of Sept. 11 victims, have come and gone.

The U.S. Postal Service had been resistant to semipostals, partly because it didn’t want to administer and process them and partly because it prefers to decide what stamps to issue, thank you.

In Detroit, however, postal service retail manager Dan Lesperance is a fan. He has worked with the Tigers on promotions and placed the tiger stamp on a number of collectible envelopes, including commemoratives for Opening Day and Miguel Cabrera’s back-to-back MVP awards.

“We already have the stamps,” he says. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t sell them and raise money to keep these animals alive.”

It's the politics, of course

Where government is concerned, of course, few things are simple.

Last month, a Senate committee approved a bill that would authorize four more years of sales, but the legislation still needs to get through the Senate and then the House.

Since this is an even-numbered year and House members are back in their home districts trying to get re-elected, even the obvious becomes difficult. The only thing backers of the stamp can do is keep leaning on Congress — which Ross turns out to be very good at.

In 2008, she originated Pennies for Paws — essentially, a large, tiger-shaped piggy bank collecting donations near the main entrance of the ballpark.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service contacted her when it began trying to keep the stamp out of hibernation, and to switch sports for a moment, she took the ball and ran with it.

She has lurked, lobbied, leveraged, and even spoken at a press conference last fall when the Tigers were in Washington to play the Nationals.

“Karie has been just amazing,” says Krishna Roy, the chief of global programs for the conservation arm of the wildlife service. “She’s just been a gem.”

It was Roy, meanwhile, who wrote a $4,000 check to stock the Tigers’ gift shop with tiger stamps. But tigers aren’t the only big cats with issues.

“Lions are next on the list. They’re in big trouble,” Ross says. And she has a good idea where to go for help.

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874

Hand-out of Save Vanishing Species stamp.