PIGS and other sanctuaries
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2000:
CHARLES TOWN, W.V.; LOS
ANGELES; BOSTON––Dale Riffle,
cofounder of PIGS: A Sanctuary, is fighting
for his life in a Washington D.C. hospital after
suffering second and third-degree burns over
30% of his body in a June 23 explosion.
Apparently spilled gasoline vaporized,
formed a fireball, and caught Riffle
from behind as he burned debris during a final
clean-up of PIGS’ vacated original location.
Riffle’s longtime partner, Jim
Brewer, told ANIMAL PEOPLE that his
prognosis is optimistic.
The injury to Riffle was the third
catastrophe afflicting PIGS since it relocated in
mid-1999 from its original five-acre site to the
present site 10 miles away.
In November 1999 Riffle suffered a
fractured hip when he fell from a barn roof at
the new site.
Then, in January 2000, a disgruntled
ex-volunteer distributed an attack dossier
on PIGS to board members, other sanctuaries,
and animal rights groups. Brewer and Riffle
countered by inviting animal care experts from
a variety of organizations to inspect and make
recommendations, and relatively quickly––but
not easily––recovered momentum and reputation
with their support base.
Brewer told ANIMAL PEOPLE
that the experience, “really taught us who our
friends are––and who they are not.”
Criticisms of PIGS forwarded to
ANIMAL PEOPLE by both friends and foes
of the organization followed a familiar format:
the management, far more experienced than
any volunteers, was accused of insularity and
of resisting volunteer recommendations for
reasons of ego; animals who arrived at the
sanctuary in the first place because they were
unhealthy or behaviorally abnormal were
described as harmed by sanctuary conditions;
and allowing animals to behave according to
their actual needs and species norms, such as
letting pigs remain outdoors in inclement
weather if they choose, was described as negligence,
even though feral pigs thrive in the
same weather throughout the region.
There was also innuendo, unsupported
by documentation, about fiscal matters.
“Have you seen PIGS’ financial
records?” one attacker demanded.
Indeed ANIMAL PEOPLE h a d ,
every year since PIGS was founded, as part of
our ongoing monitoring of the fiscal affairs of
animal protection charities.
Few animal care facilities and animal
advocacy organizations accepting volunteers
escape occasional hits of a similar nature.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has seen dozens, directed
at some of the best sanctuaries, humane
societies, and zoos in the world, as well as at
some of the worst and many in between.
Ironically, the best tend to get hit more often,
and harder, because they accept activist volunteers
who usually are not welcome at roadside
zoos and other facilities which have reason to
fear trouble over animal care conditions.
How damaging ex-volunteer and
sometimes ex-staff allegations become seems
to depend chiefly upon what others see when
they visit; whether the accountability paperwork
is in order; and whether the directors
have the emotional resiliancy to promptly and
patiently answer questions from donors,
media, and humane investigators whose perception
may be distorted from the outset by the
severity of the charges.
“We are a movement that preaches
and practices veganism, but tends to cannibalize
each other,” observed Brewer.
While activists who had never been
to PIGS ripped it on the Internet, New
England Alive Nature Center operator Lyle
Jensen, 54, in mid-June 2000 surrendered his
animal exhibition license to the USDA Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service, and
Massachusetts SPCA deputy chief of law
enforcement Robert Fennessy told J.M.
Lawrence of the Boston Herald on June 19 that
cruelty charges would be filed against Jensen.
The MSPCA in 1995 removed 24
allegedly neglected animals from Jensen’s petting
zoo and self-described wildlife rehabilitation
center. Jensen paid a $40,000 fine to the
USDA then, but kept his exhibition permit,
got more animals, and continued the business.
The new charges against Jensen
were based largely on 21 pages of affidavits
sworn out by Emily Connaughton, 19, who
worked for five years at New England Alive,
beginning soon after Jensen reopened.
Supporting her testimony with photos,
Connaughton accused Jensen of allowing a
potbellied pig to freeze to death in bad weather
to dispose of him, of killing birds and a fox by
refrigerating them, and of drowning baby raccoons
and rabbits brought to him by members
of the public.
MSPCA investigator Martha Parkhurst
told Boston Herald reporter J.M.
Lawrence that the MSPCA “made numerous
offers to take the animals,” during the eight
months that the latest USDA charges were
pending. Instead, Jensen sold from five to 15
animals to slaughter, claiming he needed the
money to send other animals to sanctuaries.
Connaughton’s favorite potbellied
pig, named Elmo, reportedly fetched $10 and
was rendered for grease at Blood’s Farm in
Groton. Told of the sale, Connaughton raced
to the rendering facility but arrived too late.
“It’s little piggie went to market,”
Jensen told Lawrence.
“It’s the food chain,” said Jensen’s
daughter Jennifer Jensen.
At Little Tujunga Canyon, near Los
Angeles, the world-renowned Wildlife
Waystation sanctuary remained closed to the
public and barred from accepting animals
through another month. The 160-acre
Waystation was shut down on April 7 by the
California Department of Fish and Game, acting
on the purported strength of a nasty report
by consultant Diana Grenados.
The Grenados report consisted largely
of rhetorical questions about matters
Grenados did not actually inquire into, mostly
easily answered and often going well outside
DFG jurisdiction. Grenados was a former animal
care staffer at the Lindsay Museum in
Walnut Creek, California, but lacked sanctuary
experience and professional credentials.
However, though the Grenados
report fell apart, it brought headline attention,
amplified by activists and ex-volunteers with
longstanding grudges against Waystation
founder Martine Colette, and brought repeated
inspections not only by the California DFG but
also by many other regulatory agencies.
On May 26 the California DFG
finally gave Colette a 58-point list of required
improvements. Most are minor “housekeeping
items,” Colette said. One point, demanding
that Colette roof a half-acre coyote pen, has
been a longtime point of dispute over whether
or not the DFG rules for captive carnivores
make any sense.
May 26 was a particularly bad day
for Colette, who was convicted that morning
of illegally transporting a tiger in Arizona, a
Earlier, on May 12, the Arizona
Game and Fish Department refused to issue
Colette a permit to convert a ranch zoned for
residential development into a long-planned
drive-through sanctuary, which was to have
relieved crowding at the California premises,
and would have allowed the larger animals
much more room to exercise.
Colette reportedly intended to
appeal, and was meanwhile talking with the
Tribal Council of the Mojave Nation about
possibly building the new sanctuary on reservation
land alongside the Colorado River.
Other agencies cited 30 alleged violations
of various codes at the Waystation in a
June 8 joint report. As the report was pending,
Los Angeles County deputy district attorney
Robert Miller asked Newhall Superior Court
Judge Floyd Baxter circa June 1 to reinforce
the series of fix-it orders by imposing penalties––probably
to be suspended on condition of
compliance––for allegedly violating a threeyear
probation imposed in 1997 for allowing
animal feces to enter stream beds.
Compliance is not easily accomplished
in part because the whole of Little
Tujunga Canyon is technically a stream bed.
Most of the new violations pertained
to on-site housing for about 70 employees and
members of their families: fire hazards, lack
of flush toilets and running water, and more
mobile homes than the eight allowed under a
1984 conditional use permit.
The focus of the Waystation case
had clearly shifted from unsustained allegations
about animal care to conditions involving
humans, corollaries of which could probably
be found––if the regulatory agencies cared to
look––at farm labor camps, military housing,
public housing projects, and low-rent apartment
blocks throughout California.
No one, including Colette, said the
deficiencies should be excused. Colette just
wondered where the money would come from
to make improvements while visitors were
barred, limiting her possibilities for fundraising
and increasing the difficulty of just meeting
the basic food-and-care costs.
Elsewhere: • Former volunteer Mark Kostich in
May sued the Carnivore Preservation Trust, of
Pittsboro, North Carolina, seeking medical
costs and punitive damages in connection with
neck and abdominal injuries he suffered in
1998 when a puma mauled him as he tried to
clean the cat’s cage. In June the family of an
unnamed 14-year-old female volunteer sued
site manager and volunteer supervisor
Christopher Evan Sheppard for allegedly committing
sexual assault and statutory rape
against her in January and February 2000.
Representing the family, attorney Don
Dickerson of Hillsborough, North Carolina,
said the girl had recently required counseling
and hospitalization as consequences of the
events. “I am denying any accusations made
by the family,” Sheppard said.
• A Bengal tiger bit a 14-year-old
volunteer on the leg on May 16 at the Bassett
Wild Animal Farm in Harwich, Massachusetts,
as she tried to feed the tiger without
authorization or adult supervision. The tiger
pierced her right calf in four places with his
fangs, but immediately released her and
allowed her to scramble over a fence to safety.
• USDA Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service agents testified on May 26
in obtaining a warrant to search the Prairie
Wind Wild Animal Refuge near Kiowa,
Colorado, that the facility had repeatedly been
cited for “failure to provide an adequate diet.”
The warrant was sought after a tiger tore the
right arm off of volunteer Renee Black, 28, as
she tried to pet him. Prairie Wind owner
Michael Jurich earlier barred the USDA, contending
unsuccessfully that since he surrendered
his exhibitors’ permit in January, the
federal inspectors no longer had jurisdiction
over how the refuge is managed.
• Five five-and-six-year-olds who
visited The Farm petting zoo owned by Ben
and Carol Krause of Everett, Washington,
over the Memorial Day weekend developed ecoli
poisoning, apparently from touching fecal
matter and then touching their mouths. A sixth
child was apparently infected by contact with
one of the ailing visitors. All of the children
were reportedly treated successfully, and
improved handwashing facilities were expected
to prevent recurrence of the problem.
• A three-year-old black bear
named Sophie in early June bit volunteer handlers
Ryan Caromone, 22, and Galen
Timothy Bennon, 48, in separate incidents a
week apart at Safari’s Exotic Animal
Sanctuary near Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
After the second attack, Sophie was killed for
mandatory rabies testing.
• Responding to complaints by other
staff, the Oregon Zoo on April 28 fired a keeper
for allegedly abusing an elephant 11 days
earlier. The keeper, whose identity the zoo
concealed, filed a grievance through his
union; the zoo, in turn, referred the case to
the Multnomah County district attorney’s
office for possible prosecution of cruelty
charges. As of mid-June the D.A.’s office was
still reviewing whether or not to file charges.
• New Jersey environmental protection
commissioner Robert C. Shinn Jr. on June
19 allowed Joan Byron-Marasek to continue
keeping 24 tigers at her Tigers Only Preserve
while she appeals his revocation of her license
to keep exotic wildlife. Byron-Marasek had 26
tigers when the license was pulled, but two
cubs died earlier in June. Tigers Only ran
afoul of the law in January 1999, when a tiger
escaped into a residential suburb that grew up
around the reportedly badly maintained sanctuary,
and was later shot.
• The board of supervisors in
Cochise County, Arizona, on June 19 denied
an appeal of an April 12 closure order issued
to the Wolfsong Ranch sanctuary. However,
the supervisors gave Wolfsong Ranch a threemonth
extension of time to relocate the 160
wolf hybrids now in custody. They are now all
to be gone by January 1, 2001.