Something stinks at Turpentine Creek
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1998:
EUREKA SPRINGS, Arkansas––“Turpentine
Creek should be called Death Row,” says Los Angeles
animal care consultant Kathi Travers.
Formerly in charge of wildlife rescue for the
American SPCA, and later employed in a similar role with
the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Travers
visited Turpentine Creek twice in mid-to-late 1996, in part
to verify that improvements pledged after the sanctuary
formed links to DePaul University in Chicago were actually
made. Each time Travers left in tears––and called ANIMAL
PEOPLE before the shock wore off.
“It was the worst so-called sanctuary I’ve ever
seen,” Travers reaffirmed on February 9, 1998. She
hasn’t been back, but––like ANIMAL PEOPLE– – h a s
heard often from others who have visited more recently.
“It’s really a bad roadside zoo,” Travers added.
“They say it’s 430 acres, but all the big cats are crammed
into just a few acres. The only animal I saw there who was
even properly secured was a monkey. I’d rather see animals
euthanized than be put at Turpentine Creek. How
often have you heard me say that about anywhere?”
Interviewing Travers dozens of times over the
past 10 years, about substandard zoos and sanctuaries all
over the U.S., Central America, Mexico, and the
Caribbean, ANIMAL PEOPLE has never heard Travers
say anything of the kind before. Nor has ANIMAL PEOP
L E ever had more different people call with objections
about the care of animals at such a remote facility, whose
impression sharply conflicts with the glowing self-portrayal
on the Turpentine Creek Foundation web site.
Tried to give place a break
Extensive complaints by animal rights activists
and other exotic cat rescuers were initially affirmed by veteran
environmental reporter Elaine Hopkins of the Peoria
Journal-Star, who has written often about animal sanctuaries
and the problem of big cats proliferating in private
hands. However, ANIMAL PEOPLE delayed writing
about Turpentine Creek after Hopkins’ visit, upon learning
of the then new DePaul connection.
DePaul president John P. Minogue now heads
the Turpentine Creek Foundation board. DePaul professor
Dolores McWhinnie directs an Exotic Cat Management
program featuring internships at Turpentine Creek, which
in February 1998 claimed to keep more than 90 exotic cats.
Instead of proceeding with an expose, A N IMAL
PEOPLE began filing requests for the Turpentine
Creek filings of IRS Form 990 financial disclosure statements,
and for any USDA Animal Welfare Act enforcement
reports about the sanctuary. Either a before-and-after
“good news” story or an expose might have resulted,
depending on what the DePaul input accomplished.
The USDA data still hasn’t come, but the IRS
told us on December 29, 1997 that it could find no
Turpentine Creek Exotic Animal Refuge filings, from any
year. We reported the IRS statement in the January/
February 1998 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE, as part of
our eighth annual abstract of Form 990 data from noted
animal protection societies.
That brought a prompt objection from Turpentine
Creek Foundation accountant and board member
Kerry M. Kerstetter, who faxed copies of the first page of
Turpentine Creek filings of IRS Form 990 from 1994,
1995, and 1996, and mailed us the complete 1996 filing.
Yet the documents raised more questions than
they answered. Turpentine Creek claimed assets of
$540,435 in 1996, for instance, after claiming a cumulative
deficit of $35,647 in 1995. The assets increased by
$152,315 more than the income figures could explain.
Declared program spending rose from $154,327
in 1994 to $365,436 in 1996, but Turpentine Creek
claimed to spend nothing on either fundraising or management
in all three years.
The 1996 filing claimed that all funds were spent
on “Care and maintenance of ill, abused, neglected and
unwanted animals.” Yet it acknowledged that Turpentine
Creek attracted revenue through activities including
“Education and information to the public on the animals
cared for by the refuge, membership support newsletter to
inform of status of the refuge and animals, (and) sales of
Income from those activities was declared, but
the amounts invested to raise the income were not. The
National Charities Information Bureau, a private watchdog
whose guidelines ANIMAL PEOPLE uses in reviewing
Form 990 filings, considers most investment in
income-producing activity to be “fundraising” expense.
Financial statements attached to the 1996
Turpentine Creek filings listed amounts spent on ads and
promotion, and for running a bed-and-breakfast, which
the NCIB would also consider to be mostly fundraising.
In addition, the statements listed expenditures for vehicle
use, insurance, licenses and permits, office supplies,
legal and accounting service, and property taxes, much or
all of which the NCIB would regard as management cost.
Statement 9 explained, “Title of refuge land is in
the name of the foundation president, and is leased from
her at the same cost as her mortgage payments.”
Although animal shelters and refuges often lease
space from officers and directors, a jury in Travis County,
Texas, on September 20, 1997 found that a seemingly
similar mortgage-paying arrangement by Texas Exotic
Feline Foundation founder Gene Reitenauer constituted an
illegal comingling of assets. A federal court upheld the
ruling on December 8, 1997. Reitenauer was evicted from
her house at the TEFF site in January 1998.
Has run afoul of law
Turpentine Creek refuge cofounder Tanya
Alexenia Syrenia Smith on October 20, 1997 pleaded
innocent to one count of felonious theft of public benefits,
for declaring on a series of applications for food stamps
and Medicaid benefits that she and her son had no income
other than the son’s Social Security payments, and that
they were without other resources. According to the
charges against Smith, she had actually received $5,000
per month rent from the Turpentine Creek Foundation
since April 1, 1994; had received annual income of
$20,000 plus 5% interest, 1992-1994; and had received
income of $34,122 from January 1995 to the date the case
was filed. In addition, Smith received income from leasing
a van and a pickup truck to the Turpentine Creek
Foundation until July 1, 1997.
ANIMAL PEOPLE at deadline had requested
but not yet received comment and/or updates from
Kerstetter, Turpentine Creek Foundation director of
advancement Michael Gibbs, and/or Turpentine Creek
attorney John Libby