Port in a storm

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1996:

ELLICOTT, Colorado––A ninemonth
battle with Elbert County officials over
health and zoning code violations ended in
February when, under 30-day notice to either
move, get rid of her animals, or else, Mary
Port, 71, moved the grandiosly named but
essentially makeshift Colorado Animal Refuge
from an allegedly overcrowded 80-acre site
near Simla, where she founded the facility in
1983, to a 44-acre former dairy farm in El Paso
County, a few miles southeast.
El Paso County has no zoning, but
Port is still in violation of the state Pet Animal
Facilities Act, Colorado state veterinarian
Keith Roehr recently told D’Arcy Fallon of the
Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph.

“Basically, nothing has changed,”
Roehr said. “We’ll handle her, whether she’s in
Elbert or El Paso County.” Earlier, Roehr
threatened to charge Port with cruelty for
allegedly letting dogs run loose, potentially
menacing cattle and putting the dogs at risk of
being shot. On December 20, 1995, rancher
Don Hendricks told county commissioner Bob
Morrison that he and a fellow rancher were
shooting some of Port’s dogs for chasing cows.
Despite that, following a Gazette-Telegraph
report on April 7, 1995, that ranchers shot
about 80 of Port’s dogs per year, sheriff Jack
Knous and code compliance officer Mark
Hestand said they found no remains. Port
denied ever having had animals escape.
The Colorado Animal Refuge, called
the North American Wildlife Center until 1991,
first drew extensive public notice on April 3,
1995, when national newswires reported on a
fire––alleged by some observers to be
arson––which killed about 50 animals, including
cats, dogs, and seven monkeys, according
to most accounts.
However, Elbert County planning
director Mary Adami told the Pike’s Peak
Ranchland News that after the fire, she visited
CAR and saw the remains of “about 150 cats,
dogs, and monkeys who had been burned.
There were rats throughout the facility,”
Adami said. “We saw a lot of half-eaten rats.”
Unaware of any problems at CAR,
ANIMAL PEOPLE was among the many
newspapers that published Port’s address, for
anyone who wished to send aid.
Denver veterinarian Jeff Young, of
Planned Pethood Plus, called ANIMAL PEOPLE
to object. Young said he and colleagues
Mike Chamberlain and Erin Russell neutered
102 animals for Port at their own expense several
years ago––and while at CAR, observed
dogs cannibalizing each other, badly housed
wildlife, and “hundreds of sick cats in an old
trailer,” which was apparently gutted by the
fire. Further, Young alleged, Port had for a
time sheltered Vicki Kittles, an animal collector
with legal history in Florida, Mississippi,
Oregon, and Washington, also suspected in the
1988 disappearance of her mother.
Two other ANIMAL PEOPLE readers
including former CAR volunteer Annie
Adam later sent letters of supporting testimony.
Despite the fire losses, Port had an
estimated 300 dogs left, plus other animals––
and after failing to meet repeatedly extended
deadlines to get the animal population down to
100, still had 65 dogs, 20 wolf hybrids, several
burros, a bear, an arctic fox, and a raccoon,
when Elbert County ordered her to move
regardless That was after the Denver Dumb
Friends League took 20 adoptable dogs and
another party took 16, whom she claimed to
have boarded with Port.
Port said she spent $30,000 on
improvements after the fire, and had adopted
out 300 animals, trying to meet the Elbert
County requirements. Colorado Springs feed
store owner Bob Friedman confirmed that Port
had distributed dogs and cats to his customers
one Saturday per month. Roehr, just a day
before the December 21 alleged dog shootings,
asked Elbert County to grant Port an extension
of a deadline she had been given to add perimeter
fencing, arguing that it was 90% completed.
Alleged associates
Others argued, however, that Port
failed to keep adequate records pertaining to the
estimated $40,000 in donations she received
after the fire. She was also sued for alleged
nonrepayment of a $10,000 loan purportedly
received in 1990 from former Colorado Senate
president Ted Strickland and his wife LuAnne,
who has a comparable history.
Editorialized the Denver Post on July
19, 1991, “Under Strickland’s care, more than
130 confined cats died in a fire in 1986. Under
her supervision, more than 200 cats were discovered
in a small, filthy, disease-ridden
house in 1987.” During 16 months in 1990-
1991, the P o s t added, Strickland was “given
custody of 2,012 additional animals” from the
Adams County Animal Shelter, “many of
whom apparently died for lack of decent sanitation
and medical care.” About 600 of those animals
were still alive when discovered at the
Strickland farm that week––along with the
graves of many others. Strickland was eventually
convicted of a single count of cruelty in
that case, while the cost of caring for the rescued
animals forced the closure of the Colorado
Humane Society’s Thornton Animal Shelter.
While Port’s problems were often in
local newspaper headlines over the past year,
the child advocacy group Justice for Children in
May 1995 asked public officials to investigate
Grant Bremer, 28, said to be a CAR board
member, for alleged sexual assault of two nonbiologically
related female children who were
among three girls reportedly in his care.
In November 1995, Bremer was subject
of an “unfit home” complaint filed by
police who escorted humane officer Julie
Young as she served notice that Bremer
allegedly had more animals on his premises
than were legally allowed. The police report
described a brief altercation, said eight dogs
and five cats were seen amid filth, and reported
that four children including a baby were
allowed to remain in Bremer’s custody by
Colorado Department of Social Services worker
Jeanette Varzee and Marty Plassmeyer, identified
as legal guardian of the children.
Officer D.J. Dirschell, said the police
report, “expressed his strong disapproval of
DSS’ decision to leave kids in this home.”

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