Wildlife Waystation copes with red tape, green water––other no-kills struggle too

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2000:

LOS ANGELES––Six weeks after the California Department of Fish and Game on April 7 ordered Wildlife Waystation to cease admitting visitors and taking in animals for either rehabilitation or lifetime care, the Waystation remained closed.

Founder Martine Colette told ANIMAL PEOPLE on May 21, however, that she was optimistic that alleged water handling problems were almost resolved and that a hail of other allegations amplified by seemingly everyone she ever had words with was close to blowing over––like all the other storms she has weathered while building the largest and perhaps oldest no-kill sanctuary for exotic wildlife in North America.

Bad publicity issued chiefly by L o s Angeles Times reporter Zantos Peabody and local internet activist Michael Bell had done the Waystation significant economic harm, but Colette was more concerned with the practical aspects of caring for more than 1,200 animals in the southern California spring heat while her water supply was limited.

Because the Waystation was temporarily prevented from disposing of a normal volume of wastewater, Colette said, she was unable to change the Waystation bears’ wading pool water every day, and some of the bears in her custody were consequently developing a harmless but startling green tint from swimming in algae. Colette wondered if she might be accused of horrors because her bears were cool but colored as if radioactive. The same phenomenon is common, however, among wild bears in hot weather in swampy regions.

Assemblyman Tom McClintock (RGranada Hills) has asked California Governor Gray Davis to commission an investigation of alleged DFG misconduct.

“It’s a rogue bureaucracy run amok,” McClintock told Norma Meyer of Copley News Service. “This is what happens when a zealot gets into a position of authority.”

McClintock also demanded the immediate resignation of regional DFG supervisor Mervin Hee, who apparently directed the April 7 raid on the Waystation by a team wearing Hazmat suits in the misinformed belief that HIV-infected chimpanzees were throwing feces around. None of the 50 chimps at the Waystation are HIV-positive.

Hee is believed to have hired consultant Diane Grenados, whose scathing report on the Waystation was initially offered to media as pretext for the raid. Few if any of Grenados’ claims and insinuations withstood point-by-point scrutiny done independently by both Meyer and ANIMAL PEOPLE ( M a y 2000 edition). The DFG was unable to document that Grenados had any credentials for doing a sanctuary inspection beyond having done animal care on a much smaller scale for 16 years at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, California––where she ran a “lending library” of rabbits and guinea pigs.

“Someone recommended we use her,” DFG spokesperson Steve Martarano told Meyer. “She was known to some department personnel.”

A bizarre sidelight of the Waystation debacle was an apparent attempt by California Equine Council founder Cathleen Doyle to exploit the situation to force Colette to bury horses she has euthanized––typically after extensive efforts to save them––instead of feeding the remains to the Waystation carnivores. Doyle admitted to ANIMAL PEOPLE that she had issued numerous allegations about Waystation horse care without ever visiting the Waystation, after bringing her involvement to our attention by first having a supporter call and then calling herself to accuse A N I M A L PEOPLE of “assassinating” her character in a purported conversation with Colette and other Waystation personnel which never occurred. Our most recent previous awareness of Doyle’s existence was in 1998.

Not alone

While Colette waited out the storm, other sanctuaries and shelters around the U.S. ran into all the problems of which the Waystation was ever accused––and then some.

At the Prairie Wind Animal Refuge in Kiowa, Colorado, for instance, home of 13 tigers and 49 other animals, a 28-year-old female volunteer lost her right arm on May 20 when she tried to pet a two-year-old Bengal tiger while escorting a visitor on a tour.

More typical were disputes over permits and zoning, similar to those the Waystation has encountered at both its original site in the Angeles National Forest and a second site, not yet receiving animals, in Arizona.

Such trouble typically begins when would-be sanctuary or shelter operators misassume that rural or commercial zoning allows them to proceed without further permitting. Later, lack of some requisite permit becomes the mechanism by which disgruntled neighbors force relocation or closure.

Near Dos Cabezas, Arizona, for example, Wolfsong Ranch owners Art and Mary Bellis in mid-April received a shutdown order from the Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission. Their 40-acre sanctuary operated for eight years without a required special use permit, but ran afoul of neighbors who alleged that they were disturbed by constant howling, that some of the 160 resident wolf hybrids were breeding, and that some occasionally escaped. After the complaints surfaced, volunteers fixed about 70 wolf hybrids during a weekend neutering bee.

Zoning problems also threatened Wolves Offered Love and Friendship, of LaPorte, Colorado; Haven of the Ozarks in Cassville, Missouri; and For Love Of Cats and Kittens, in Clark County, Nevada. All three at last word were under orders to reduce the numbers of animals in their care.

In Jackson, New Jersey, Tigers Only Preservation Society founder Joan Byron-Marasek pursued a series of appeals of the revocation of her state permit to keep 26 tigers. The New Jersey Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife has been trying to close Tigers Only since a tiger escaped and was eventually shot nearby in January 1999, after attempted tranquilization for recapture failed.

American Sanctuary Association Carol Azvestas, of Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, Texas, said the 27-member ASA was prepared to take in Byron-Marasek’s tigers if she had to surrender them.

Just a decade ago animal sanctuary and shelter closures were so rare that A N IMAL PEOPLE recorded only three in two years. As ever more sanctuaries and shelters start, however, increasing numbers of serious efforts fail, usually from a combination of inexperienced key personnel, inadequate facilities, and insufficient growth capital.

Not to be confused in most instances with “animal hoarder” situations, in which disturbed individuals accumulate animals with little provision for their well-being, recent serious start-ups seem to fail mostly because people with background in animal care underestimate what they need by way of fundraising, promotion, and personnel management skills. Learning as they go leads to costly mistakes. Partnerships can bring skills into a young organization, but may not last due to conflicts of personality, perspective, and priorities.

Organizations which start out with their own real estate tend to be those most likely to succeed. Of particular importance is that they have collateral, meaning the ability to borrow money to make the site improvements necessary to attract donors, dog and cat adoptors, and community sympathy.

Understanding that, Colette started Wildlife Waystation in 1977 by purchasing the land. Most failures and closures are associated with loss of lease.

Closures due to loss of lease in April 2000 alone reportedly included Mountain States Horse Rescue in Waverly, Colorado; the no-kill Sav-A-Pet shelter in Columbus, Ohio; and Pals for Pooches, another no-kill, in Humble, Texas. Loss of lease is also forcing Colorado Horse Rescue to relocate soon from Broomfield to Longmont.

Spring 2000 closures due to dilapidated facilities and lack of means to rebuild or repair included the Mat-Su Humane Society in Palmer, Alaska, and the Amarillo SPCA, in Amarillo, Texas. “The Amarillo SPCA is still viable,” vice president Beneita Trnka said. “We just don’t have a kennel,” after the old kennel was damaged by a broken water line.

Animal Rescue of Labelle, Florida, was reportedly closing from a combination of zoning and financial problems.

Killing issues

A 1994 ANIMAL PEOPLE survey of 219 public disputes over animal sanctuary, shelter, and animal control operations occurring during the preceding 10 years found that about half concerned sanitation, record-keeping, veterinary care, and other animal handling; one case in four resulted from allegations of animals being killed unnecessarily or with avoidable cruelty; and most of the rest involved problems between labor and management, including inadequate training, lack of supervision sometimes leading to misconduct, and lack of attention to employee safety.

That rough breakdown was echoed among the 50-odd disputes in the A N I M A L PEOPLE “active” files as the Waystation case evolved. But public attitudes have greatly changed since April 1994, when publication of our first abstract of “What makes a scandal?” coincided with the first month that the Adoption Pact was in effect in San Francisco. Few people believed then that the San Francisco SPCA really could find a good home for every healthy dog or cat received by the San Francisco Department of Care and Control.

Six years later, the Adoption Pact is not only saving all healthy dogs and cats received by SF/DCC, but also saving all the recoverably ill or injured. Many other cities have embarked upon plans to go no-kill.

The issue now in many cities is not lack of progress but rather the speed of progress. In Phoenix, for example, the Arizona Humane Society adopted out more than 18,000 animals in 1999, the second-highest total in the U.S., and––working in cooperation with PETsMART and Maricopa County Animal Control––managed to lower the regional shelter killing rate by 10% in just one year, from 22.3 per 1,000 residents to 20.3. This was still slightly above the U.S. average of about 18.1, but less than half of the killing rate in Tucson, the nearest comparable city. Nonetheless, Animal Control director Ed Boks is under fire from Tina Singer of German Shepherd Rescue of Arizona for allegedly classifying too many dogs as unadoptable for behavioral reasons.

The dossier Singer sent to ANIMAL PEOPLE to present her case relied not on the anecdotes of disgruntled ex-volunteers and employees, as such dossiers inevitably did just a few years ago, but rather presented a detailed statistical analysis of 10-year trends.


But even as expectations and activist presentations become more advanced, old problems persist. Since the early 1990s, however, official responses tend to be stronger once the problems come to public attention.

In Long Hill, New Jersey, for example, the private animal control contracting firm Garden State Kennel, owned by Rahway city business administrator Peter H. Pelissier, was fined $18,715 in January 2000 for allegedly using illegal injections to kill 922 animals during 1998.

In Colchester County, Nova Scotia, the longstanding practice of shooting nearly 400 dogs per year and crushing them into trash bales was suspended in mid-May 2000 and placed under municipal review.

In Paris, Kentucky, police officer Robert Workman, 33, resigned under pressure in November 1999 after someone sent police chief Ted Florence a photo of him posing and grinning with four cats he had shot.

In Topeka, Kansas, the city council on May 9 appointed a panel of overseers to investigate the injection killing technique practiced by the Helping Hands Humane Society, which holds the Topeka and Shawnee County sheltering contracts.

The most noteworthy recent example of nonresponse to public concern about how animals are killed may be the Animal Humane Society of Hennipin County, Minnesota, possibly the largest shelter in the U.S. still killing dogs and cats with carbon monoxide.

When AHS executive director Alan Stensrud was hired, his use of a gas chamber was considered progressive because decompression chamber killing was still common.

At about the same time, Colette was considered a flaming radical because she proposed not only to shelter species whom conventional wisdom insisted could only be kept in a zoo, but also insisted upon providing nokill care-for-life.

Wildlife Waystation is now considered, as Carol Azvestas puts it, “The mother of all no-kill sanctuaries.”

Though it has never handled dogs and cats, it may also have helped inspire the no-kill dog-and-cat sheltering movement––as a model of compassionate dreaming, and of dauntlessness against trouble.

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