What would Dr. Dolittle think of the Dancing Star Foundation?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2009:

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif.–“We have
received a written agreement from Dancing Star
Foundation to enact a moratorium on killing
animals under their care,” e-mailed Farm
Sanctuary communications director Tricia Berry on
February 26, 2009, affirming earlier statements
to ANIMAL PEOPLE by Farm Sanctuary attorney Russ
“We are now monitoring the situation to
ensure that Dancing Star abides by the
agreement,” Berry added. “If they fail to do
so, Farm Sanctuary will have no other recourse
than to contact the California Attorney General
and urge that Dancing Star be investigated.”
Berry forwarded a brief message from
Dancing Star Foundation president Michael Tobias.
“While it is our obligation to our animals to
regularly assess their quality of life,” Tobias
said, “there are no plans to put any to rest at
this time.”

Sue Stiles, an heir to the McClatchy
newspaper fortune, opened the Dancing Star
Foundation sanctuaries near Cayucos and Paso
Robles, California, in 1993. At Stiles’ death
from cancer in 1999, the two sanctuaries
reportedly kept about 320 animals on more than
1,000 acres. The present population is about 265
animals, Mead told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Longtime friends of Stiles told ANIMAL
PEOPLE that she conducted a frantic search for a
successor as her death approached. Tobias and
his wife Jane Gray Morrison impressed Stiles as
the authors and producers of numerous books and
documentaries about animals and ecology.
Within a few years of Stiles’ death, few
if any of her personal hirees and acquaintances
remained involved with Dancing Star. Directors
listed on the Dancing Star filing of IRS Form 990
for fiscal year 2007, the most recent available,
include Robert Radin, Geoffrey Holland, and Pat
Fitzgerald. All three appeared with Tobias and
Morrison on lists of film credits between 1994
and 1999.


The Dancing Star Foundation assets,
according to IRS Form 990 filings, stood at
$46.4 million at the end of 2007, including just
under $10 million in land, buildings, and
equipment. Program-related spending was $3.1
Tobias was paid $285,000, Morrison was
paid $244,000, and accountant Don C. Cannon was
paid $240,000.
Though not open to the public, the
Dancing Star Foundation spent $391,728 on
“educational outreach” in 2006, and $359,317 on
“educational outreach” in 2007. These amounts
may have been the cost of producing videos and
books by Tobias and Morrison under the Dancing
Star imprint.
The Dancing Star Foundation has also
spent more than $200,000 annually in recent years
on conservation projects in New Zealand.
“Former and present employees of the
Dancing Star Foundation claim that Tobias and
Morrison intend to focus on endangered animals,”
and have “commenced the systematic elimination of
aged and infirm farm animals under the
foundation’s care,” reported Karen Velie of
CalCoastNews on February 17, 2009.
“Both horse veterinarian Tristen Weltner
and cattle veterinarian Gary Evans assert that
all the animals that have been put down have had
health problems,” Velie added, “though both
have also noticed a change in the treatment of
animals at the sanctuary during the last month.”
Said Evans, “I was told they were out of
money. Sue Stiles would not approve of the way
things are being done. Her whole deal was
rescuing animals.”
Asked by CalCoastNews why animals were
being killed and staff were being laid off,
Dancing Star manager Jerry Smith responded,
according to Velie, “These questions have
nothing to do with you. This doesn’t concern
you. It is none of your business.”
Kathe Tanner of the San Luis Obispo
Tribune reached Morrison the following day.
Morrison “did not address specific allegations,”
Tanner wrote, “but made a blanket denial.”
Dancing Star has “a lot of animals whose
time has really come,” Morrison told Tanner.
“We’re actually adopting some animals out, ”
Morrison added, “and have tried to find
sanctuaries or homes for other animals where
they’d have a safe haven. We’d absolutely love
to find homes,” Morrison said, but lamented
that other sanctuaries are “either not taking
animals in or are going out of business because
of the economy.”
Within the next 24 hours, “The
foundation brought in mouthpiece Roger Gillott to
deal with press inquiries and protesters,” wrote
San Luis Obispo Tribune columnist Bill Morem–who
found Gillott’s answers “underwhelming.”
Explained Gillott of the apparent drift
of the Dancing Star mission, “Our founder, the
late Sue Stiles, was instrumental in enlarging
the scope of the foundationŠto embraceŠ funding
and encouraging a broad range of environmental,
cultural and animal care activities. At the
sanctuaries,” Gillot said, “we are unwavering
in our commitment to compassion and to sound
conservation strategies needed to restore and
preserve healthy free populations–both farm
animals and rare and endangered species, as well
as safeguarding precious habitat.”
Applied to farm animals, the phrase
“free populations” seemed incongruous–until
allegations surfaced from now ex-employees that
Dancing Star was killing animals who needed barn
Continued Gillott, “We recognize that
when an animal’s quality of life has
significantly deteriorated and the animal
requires permanent medication or invasive
surgical procedures, difficult decisions must
sometimes be made. Neither has the foundation
been immune to the prolonged economic downturn
that is affecting individuals, companies and
other nonprofit foundations around the world,”
Gillott acknowledged. “This has forced the
foundation to make significant reductions in
operating expenditures, including reductions in
workforce and salaries.”
Gillott told Los Angeles Times reporter
Steve Chawkins that the salaries paid to Tobias,
Morrison, and Cannon “have been cut twice” since
the most recent Dancing Star filing of IRS Form
Assessed Morem, “If large numbers of
animals are being put down as a cost-saving
measure, contrary to Stiles’ written wishes,
the foundation should lose its nonprofit status
and its assets should be placed in a
court-appointed trust.”
The Dancing Star Foundation web site
mentions that Tobias and Morrison have done
“research and documentation” at the Farm
Sanctuary location in upstate New York.
“Farm Sanctuary emphatically condemns the
killing of any animal whose quality of life
remains at a reasonable level. It has been
reported that animals are being killed for the
wrong reasons at Dancing Star and that confounds
us,” said Farm Sanctuary publicist Berry. “We
do not want to enable sanctuaries to lightly
unload their charges any time their animals
become inconvenient. Dancing Star is one of the
wealthiest farm animal sanctuaries in the nation,
with the financial resources to care for these
Flying to California to meet with Tobias,
Farm Sanctuary attorney Mead “urged Tobias to
stop killing the animals,” Berry summarized.
Mead also visited both Dancing Star locations.
Mead, a longtime employee of the Best
Friends Animal Society before joining Farm
Sanctuary, told ANIMAL PEOPLE that he “never saw
better physical facilities. They are at the
Farm Sanctuary or Best Friends level. I didn’t
see anything hinting at extermination of
non-native species,” Mead added. “The place is
set up as a sanctuary, with nothing native about
the habitat.”

Care regimen changed

Former Dancing Star maintenance manager
Jason Hamaker and other former employees allege,
however, that the Dancing Star sanctuaries’
animal care regimen changed in late 2008,
beginning by “cutting back on medications and
feed for some of the older animals,” summarized
Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Chawkins of
Hamaker’s statements.
“They said they wanted a total of 50 gone
within a couple of months, and then another 30
after that,” Hamaker told Chawkins.
Agreed former Dancing Star employee
Sheldon Rowley, who was fired on February 6,
2009, “They said if we didn’t thin out the
herd, animals wouldn’t get the care they needed.
First we were told it was financial. Then we
were told it was a quality-of-life issue.”
Hamaker told Kathe Tanner of the San Luis
Obispo Tribune that he was ordered “to clean
house, get rid of all the old animals, the ones
being fed mush, because they were paying too
much for grainŠMost of the animals who were put
down,” Hamaker alleged, “were brought in with
the same symptoms” for which they were later
Another former Dancing Star employee,
Jennifer Smith, told Tanner that in January 2009
she was told to ‘get rid of anything that needs
special care,’ and empty out two of the three
cattle barns. She called a veterinarian for
advice. She said she was suspended for 10 days.
At the end of her suspension, her employment was
“Hamaker said he watched local horse
veterinarian Tristen Weltner and a sanctuary
employee give horses a number based on the amount
of mush and hay they required and the cost of
their medications,” added Velie of CalCoastNews.
“The more a horse cost the foundation, the
sooner the horse was slated for lethal injection.
Employees at the sanctuary say they were told to
move infirm animals out of the barns to muddy
hillsides where many would fail to thrive. In
mid-December, most medications and vitamins
meant to improve the quality of life for the
foundation’s wards were halted.”
Velie obtained “death certificates,
medical records, and the actual list of animals
slated for the needle,” she wrote. According to
the documentation, 15 cattle and 17 horses were
killed on the Dancing Star premises between
December 12, 2008 and February 19, 2009. The
last three horse killings, including one in
which the horse vigorously resisted, were
videotaped by witnesses, and the video was
posted online.
“After getting through the first wave of
euthanasia, we were to start getting rid of
employees,” Hamaker said.
Within a week of dismissing Rowley,
Dancing Star began requiring former staff “to
sign a stringent agreement prohibiting them from
talking publicly about the sanctuary before
receiving a severance check equivalent to about a
week’s pay,” reported Vellie and Daniel
Blackburn of CalCoastNews. “The four-page
‘severance and general release agreement’ was
first distributed to cashiered employees on
Friday the 13th [of February]. The agreement
seeks to prohibit former employees from ‘making
disparaging statements or remarks about the
foundation, any of its officers, directors,
employees or any of its activities.’ It also
attempts to limit contact with the mediaŠAlso
contained is a prohibition against former
employees ‘assisting or engaging in any
litigation against the foundation, except as
compelled by order of a court or as necessary to
participate in an investigation or proceeding
conducted by [governmental agencies].'”
After Hamaker spoke to Velie, Dancing
Star foreman Jerry Smith on February 25, 2009
“ordered Hamaker to vacate the ranch home he
occupies within 24 hours, and fired the
outspoken employee,” Velie wrote.
Hamaker obtained representation from San
Luis Obispo attorney Jeff Stulburg.
“It is my general practice not to discuss
pending civil cases with the media,” Stulberg
Rob Bryn of the San Luis Opispo County
rural crime unit told Tanner that Dancing Star
apparently did not break any laws by killing the
animals. San Luis Obispo County Animal Services
chief Eric Anderson told Tanner that the animals
were “either beyond treatment or had conditions
for which euthanasia would be at least one of the
considerations that could responsibly be made.”
Rowley acknowledged that the animals who
were killed had required special care, “But
that’s what a sanctuary is for,” he told Tanner.
“Sue Stiles wanted them to stay there as long as
they lived.”
Writing Dolittle author’s bio
Among the five titles listed as
“Forthcoming Books” at the Dancing Star
Foundation web site, all by Tobias and Morrison,
is The World Of Doctor Dolittle: The Life & Times
of Hugh Lofting, scheduled for “late 2009”
Lofting, while enduring World War I
trench warfare, in his letters home created the
fictional character Doctor Dolittle. Lofting
went on to write 12 volumes of Doctor Dolittle
stories between 1920 and 1948, which have
inspired at least 14 film, stage, and radio
Trained as a human physician, Doctor
Dolittle gave up his medical practice to become a
veterinarian and naturalist, who learned to
converse with animals in their own languages.
Dolittle’s premises were always
quasi-sanctuaries, but Lofting depicted him and
his animal friends making ends meet by operating
a post office, a circus, and a zoo.
Dolittle didn’t kill any animals, even
when broke, and despite having to become “a
reluctant but sincere vegetarian,” as Rex
Harrison sang in the 1967 musical film based on
the Lofting stories.

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