Everybody must get stoned, even Wildlife W aystation

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1995:

Wildlife Waystation, founded by former Hollywood costume
designer Martine Colette, is the biggest wildlife rehabilitation
center and sanctuary in the U.S.––and perhaps the world.
Forty of the most recognized names in show business help
Colette raise the annual budget of circa $1.5 million.
Occupying 160 acres in Tujunga Canyon, Wildlife
Waystation has 14 paid staffers, 32 volunteers who live on
the premises, and 175 commuting volunteers, of whom
about 35 are active regulars. It answers 50,000 telephone
calls a year, handling more than 4,000 animals annually,
including wildlife and exotics picked up by many local and
regional animal control departments. The biggest of these is
the Los Angeles Board of Animal Regulation, serving the
third largest human population of any animal control depart-
ment in the country.

Colette started young. Born in France, she was
pushed toward show business by her mother, who stressed
dancing and music lessons, but preferred traveling with her
father, a Belgian diplomat and amateur naturalist. “Dad was
the kind of person who would buy a snake to save it from
Asian vendors, and tip natives for bringing in sick or injured
animals,” she remembers.
Colette began rehabilitation work in earnest in
Africa, where “As soon as the village people realized I liked
animals, everyone began bringing offerings to us. We had no
veterinarians and very little in the way of medicine to help
sick animals. Our basics were penicillin, iodine, tincture of
violet, sulfur powders, and goat’s milk. If these did not
work, the animals died.”
Colette continued wildlife rehabilitation as a hobby
in Hollywood, until a menagerie of more than 40 exotics in
need of permanent care forced her to choose between her
career and her avocation in 1976. The avocation won.
Selling her home and business, she invested $250,000 in
building the Wildlife Waystation. Even from an economic
point of view, the gamble paid off; Colette now earns
$60,000 a year as board chairperson, comparable to the
salaries of humane society and animal control department
executive directors whose budgets are in the same range.
Size no protection from flak
Success, however, has not exempted Wildlife
Waystation from many of the same problems afflicting small-
er sanctuaries. In 1989, for example, it handled 2,400 ani-
mals, with 453 animals in residence––only about half the
workload of the past two years. The volunteer staff grew
rapidly to meet the increasing need for help. As often hap-
pens, personality clashes came along with the extra hands,
exascerbated by the practice of putting all volunteers who
were appointed to head programs on the board of directors.
Standard nonprofit management advice holds that putting an
employee or volunteer in a position of supervisory authority
over the working head of an organization is a recipe for crisis.
A textbook example occurred at Wildlife
Waystation on July 29, 1994, when sponsor chair Diana
Higashi resigned after three years of friction with Colette and
other board members over the record-keeping. According to
Bob Wenners, a former volunteer who was hired effective
January 1, 1994 as business administrator and corporate sec-
retary, Higashi had resisted “initial directives to change the
program to raise more funds.”
Meanwhile, Wildlife Waystation prepared its most
aggressive holiday fundraising campaign to date, citing an
urgent need to renovate animal holding facilities by February
25, to comply with California’s new law governing captive
wildlife care. Publicist Pat Kramer hit all relevant media with
eight press releases and a photo packet on November 14,
coinciding with the mailing of the appeal letter.
Behind the scenes, the Higashi resignation apparent-
ly heated up an existing board conflict. On November 29,
five more board members resigned, including the treasurer.
That left just eight members––although among them,
Wenners pointed out, “are the president, the secretary, and
others who have been involved since Wildlife Waystation was
first incorporated.”
Days later, as Wildlife Waystation animal sponsors
received the November 14 appeal, many also also got copies
of a December 1 letter from Higashi. “I feel I must let you
know that I did not resign willingly,” she said, “but was com-
pelled by my conscience to do so. I will no longer give any
financial assistance to Wildlife Waystation or participate in
any fundraising activities for their benefit.”
Giving no further detail, Higashi left recipients to
wonder. Colette herself called Higashi’s remarks “puzzling”
in a December 8 response. Certainly Wildlife Waystation fil-
ings of IRS Form 990 show little cause for concern over finan-
cial management. In fiscal 1993, Wildlife Waystation spent a
relatively high 43% of its budget on overhead, including 28%
for administration and 15% for fundraising, and in fiscal
1995, according to Colette, 49% is to go toward overhead,
including the same 28% for administration plus 21% for
fundraising. However, hands-on animal care facilities gener-
ally have higher overhead costs than other animal-related
charities. In Wildlife Waystation’s case, the tilt is more pro-
nounced because of the very heavy use of volunteers to fulfill
program services. Extra fundraising expenditures for fiscal
1995 are in line with necessity, and while Colette herself is
well paid, the next highest salary in the organization is the
$31,487––well below the norm––paid to chief veterinarian
Silvio Santinelli, for fulltime and on-call duties.
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