Wildlife Waystation founder Martine Colette says sanctuary is broke

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:

LOS ANGELES–The Los Angeles Daily News and KNBC-4 television
on August 30, 2007 amplified emergency appeals from Wildlife
Waystation founder Martine Colette for funding she said was urgently
needed to keep the 31-year-old sanctuary operating.
“We are $1 million in debt, and we have no funds left,”
Colette told Daily News staff writer Dana Bartholomew. “Things as
they are today will not continue for the next week, or two weeks,
without help.”
Colette suggested that if an immediate infusion of cash was
not forthcoming, the 400 Waystation animals would “become the
county’s problem, the state’s problem,” a threat she has issued
before in years of disputes with regulatory agencies.
Closed for 110 days by the Calif-ornia Department of Fish &
Game in 2000, Wildlife Waystation never fully regained the permits
it needed to host donors’ visits, which until then were the
sanctuary’s chief revenue engine. More than just generating
on-the-spot donations, visits tended to inspire new donors to give
regularly, and established donors to give more.
“Trying to obtain a permit is a long process,” Colette told
KNBC. “There are many regulations we have to meet in order to get a
permit, and we cannot meet those regulations at all. In the
meantime we have gone broke trying to run the sanctuary without being
open to the public.”
Colette estimated that Wildlife Waystation operating costs
currently run at about $5,000 a day. This is consistent with the
most recent Waystation filings of IRS Form 990. ANIMAL PEOPLE has
found that determining the balance of Waystation program expense,
fundraising costs, and administrative expenditures has been
difficult, however, because of idiosyncracies in how the forms have
been completed.
“Last month,” wrote Bartholomew, “five of the eight
Waystation board members quit, apparently burned out over troubles
at the beleaguered agency.”
Colette at the end of August laid off general manager Alfred
J. Durtschi, who was paid $107,153 in the most recently reported
fiscal year, and also laid off half of the 48 Waystation caretakers
and groundskeepers.
Colette told news media that Southern California Edison had
threatened to cut off the sanctuary electricity due to unpaid bills,
and that the Waystation was also about to lose propane delivery.
Former Waystation board chair Robert Lorsch resigned on July
1, 2007, after five years of intense involvement.

Lorsch, recounted Los Angeles Weekly “City Beat” columnist
Marc B. Haefele in January 2007, “founded a big phone card company
called SmarTalk that cratered in the [2001] dot-com meltdown with
accusations of insider trading. Bill Gates reportedly claims Lorsch
helped make Microsoft Windows 1.0 a huge success. He’s a friend of
astronauts and wants to sell billboard ads on space shuttles. He
donated a pavilion at the Museum of Natural History, and this season
has given high-end political fundraisers at his vast Mulholland Drive
mansion for politicians including presidential aspirant and
right-wing U.S. Senator Sam Brownback of Oklahoma.”
Haefele reported that Lorsch’s father and Colette dated and
lived together.
Before Lorsch became involved, Haefele summarized,
“Wildlife Waystation was investigated by a special county interagency
task force that included planning, fire, and health officials,
presided over by the County Counsel’s office, looking into allegedly
deficient animal care and unsecured animal exhibitions, inadequate
fencing, sanitation that put waste in a local stream, plus
persistent fire safety problems. Critics of Wildlife Waystation
allege that Lorsch’s high-level intervention caused the county to
dissolve this force. Lorsch didn’t acknowledge he had done so, but
characterized the force as ‘a horror,’ and said, ‘Every time the
Waystation tried to fix something, they were hit with a citation.'”
Haefele recounted federal court testimony by Lorsch about the
extent of intercessions with public officials he acknowledged, in
his efforts to keep the Waystation open. The hearing was held after
the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service charged that
Wildlife Waystation had repeatedly violated the federal Animal
Welfare Act while on probation due to past violations.
“Deputy U.S. Attorney Colleen A. Carroll said that if her
findings were upheld, the Waystaton would lose its federal operating
permit and its officials–including Lorsch and founder Martine
Colette–might be fined,” Haefele wrote. “Lorsch and Colette
maintain that if they lose, Wildlife Waystation must close.”
“Martine wanted control over everything, and that has been
problematic,” Lorsch told Bartholomew after resigning. “I can’t
speak for the others, but it got tiring.”
“My job now is to find a solution to this crisis and
dilemma,” Colette said. “And to save the animals at the
Longtime board member Peggy Summers on September 17, 2007
took an optimistic view. “We still have some regulatory issues,”
Summers acknowledged to ANIMAL PEOPLE. “We have lost board members,
but people are coming out of the woodwork to volunteer very important
fund development services. Martine has stepped up to the plate and
taken over many aspects of things, and is doing a great job. USDA
was just here for a full facility inspection,” Summers said, “and
we passed with flying colors. We are developing other very promising
ideas as well. We are going to come out of this somewhat
changed….but even better. The animals are depending on us, so the
three board members left are giving it our all.”
But at least some of the “promising ideas” may not
materialize quickly, if at all.
One much discussed possibility was that Wildlife Waystation
might partially relocate to Palm Springs. Dean Seymour, who
succeeded Lorsch as the Waystation board president, told Stefanie
Frith of the Palm Springs Desert Sun in early August 2007 that the
Waystation hoped to obtain 80 acres of donated land and $300,000 with
which to build a modular office and habitats for chimpanzees, lions,
and tigers. Reported possible land donors included two Native
American tribes and actress Suzanne Somers, whose attorney confirmed
her interest to Frith.
“Most of the [Waystation] animals would relocate to Palm
Springs,” including most of the chimpanzee colony, Frith wrote,
“while the Waystation would keep 20 acres of its 160 acres in Los
Angeles County for other animals,” according to Seymour’s plan.
“Mayor Ron Oden is enthusiastic about the Waystation, and
introduced the idea during the July 25 city council meeting,” Frith
added. However, while Seymour hoped to be ready to move the animals
by the end of the year, Oden indicated that the permitting process
alone might take up to a year.

Special master speaks

“The county has appealed to the public for donations to help
support the place,” former court-appointed Waystation special master
Gini Barrett told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “A new benefactor may step in,
although it is difficult to imagine who that might be. The public
may cough up enough money to keep the place open a few more months.”
But Barrett was not optimistic.
Barrett, then western regional office director for the
American Humane Associ-ation, was in September 2000 named special
master to supervise efforts to bring Wildlife Waystation into
compliance with California Department of Fish and Game regulations.
“I spent three years negotiating the settlement of the Fish
and Game case and initially was very supportive of the Waystation and
Martine,” Barrett said. “Yes, they had many, many, many
environmental, health and safety code violations and problems. But
the animals were in pretty good shape, even if they were living in
old-fashioned cages, rather than more modern habitats. The only
real horror show was a big chimp facility, meant to be a temporary
place when the chimps arrived quickly,” following the 1995 closure
of the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery In Primates
at New York University.
“The Waystation had tried to build a new and modern
facility,” Barrett recounted. Unfortunately they sited it on
someone else’s adjacent land,” specifically part of the Angeles
National Forest, within which the Waystation is an inholder, “and
did not have the required inspections or permits. They got shut down
and went no further.
“When I got involved there had been no progress on this
project for several years. Martine seemed to have lost interest when
she could not do what she wanted to do. No further efforts to
relocate those chimps had been made–either onsite or at other
facilities,” Barrett alleged. “I focused a lot of attention on
trying to get new cages built for those animals. This eventually got
done, but it was a really difficult struggle, and I have to admit,
county employees worked overtime to block progress on this much
needed improvement.
“I have been in politics a long, long time,” Barrett said,
“but I learned a lot in the process of trying to get some decent
housing for these chimps about the use and abuse of power by
government agencies. I was disappointed, disillusioned and often
disgusted by the tactics of a number of county employees. I
understand getting frustrated with a facility operator. I don’t
understand channeling that frustration into tactics that harm the
animals more than they harm the operator.
“In addition to everything else, the County and the
Waystation were at a major legal juncture,” Barrett explained. “The
Waystation’s long standing conditional use permit had expired.
Technically, the county could have closed the place.”
The Los Angeles County administration “was rightly
horrified,” Barrett conceded, “by the aging, junky, illegal mess
the Waystation had evolved into. In addition, all the government
agencies that had struggled with Martine over the years were now
comparing notes and sharing information. As each agency learned more
about the problems other agencies were having, that affected each
agency’s willingness to work collaboratively with, or believe or
trust, Martine.
“Additionally there was a simultaneous campaign of complaints
to each of these agencies, especially the county, by a collection
of former volunteers and others, even a former board member.

Getting things fixed

“I saw my role as getting things fixed,” Barrett said.
“Unfortunately, there were some real logistic and physical realities
that Martine could not easily solve and would not deal with
realistically. The Waystation acreage is extremely hilly and rolling
and the cost to bring a piece of land like this up to current codes
on road improvement, hillside stabilization, water supplies and
storage for fire protection, sewage disposal, etc. is just way too
prohibitive for a nonprofit animal facility. While I was involved,
the estimates for infrastructure improvement, not including any cage
or habitat improvements, were in the $30 million range, and would
likely be higher now.
“From an animal care and welfare point of view,” Barrett
observed, “this facility is old, founded in the 1970s and still
stuck in the type of caging that was common then. We have learned a
lot about animal behavior and needs since then. Zoos across the
country are being forced to sink lots of money into better and more
modern caging and habitats to improve the well-being of their animal
residents. Sanctuaries, while having more limited funding, should
also be providing better facilities. To my knowledge, the Waystation
never considered these issues seriously. Martine’s emphasis.”
Barrett charged, “seemed to be focused on building more small cages
so more animals could be saved.
“The only practical thing to do would have been to sell this
land,” Barrett opined, “and work out a move to a flatter location,
where all the legal requirements would be at least economically
feasible, and–hopefully–build all new, larger, more humane animal
Colette told Bartholomew of the Daily News that she has been
offered between $2.5 million and $3 million for 120 acres of the
“I had the impression,” Barrett continued, “that the longer
term board members and Martine felt that Lorsch would somehow come up
with the millions to put in all the roads and infrastructure. I
don’t know if Lorsch initially thought that it might be possible to
raise that kind of money or not. Certainly as he gained insight into
the facility, the obstacles, and this type of nonprofit fundraising,
I am sure he came to realize what an immense hurdle this would be.”
As of 2000, the Waystation housed nearly 1,200 animals.
Under pressure to reduce the population, Colette removed horses and
cattle from the premises.
“She also lost her native wildlife rescue and rehab permits,
so all of those animals and related traffic were eliminated,”
Barrett said. “While other wildlife rehab organizations grew, none
are as centrally located or as well known as the Waystation, so
injured native animals have lost an important resource.
“Age and attrition have further reduced the population. No
large rescue operations have brought animals to the Waystation in
recent years,” Barrett said. “The place has been better managed in
the last few years than in decades.
“I have a lot of respect for what Martine has accomplished,”
Barrett said, “but I also have come to understand that many of the
Waystation’s problems are of her own making. She does exactly what
she wants to do, whether or not it meets regulations–and often
regardless of whether it benefits the animals. I have never come to
understand her reasoning, but I have come to understand how she has
developed such a long list of people who are angry with her.
“I hate to see the place fail,” Barrett concluded. “Los
Angeles can support this needed work. There was no good reason for
this place to fail. It has taken concerted and consistent effort.”
Colette did not respond to ANIMAL PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.