“Extreme makeover” contest wins give shelter and sanctuary founders extreme headaches
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2009:
ST. LOUIS, Mo.; PHELAN, Calif.–Hoping to win a shelter
renovation through a makeover contest?
Stray Rescue of St. Louis, Rocky Ridge Refuge of Gassville,
Arkansas, and the Forever Wild Tiger Sanctuary of Phelan,
California all did. Each found that the outcome was not really what
“I’m just glad it’s over and glad to be back on the streets
where I am most comfortable,” Stray Rescue founder Randy Grim told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. “One day we will have our shelter. The dog gods will
In June 2008 Stray Rescue won a $1 million shelter makeover
offered by the zootoo.com social networking web site. The makeover
contest required supporters of as many as 1,000 shelters competing
for the prize to go to zootoo.com, register, and vote, thereby
boosting zootoo participation.
On April 13, 2009 Stray Rescue and zootoo.com founder
Richard Thompson reached a legal settlement of misunderstandings
developing out of the contest victory.
“They refused to provide any details of the settlement,”
reported Susan Weich of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Grim had
claimed that he was misled by zootoo to believe Stray Rescue had won
a $1 million cash prize. But according to zootoo’s contest rules,
the makeover could comprise in-kind services and donations. In the
wake of news coverage about the makeover prize, Grim said,
donations fell off sharply because people believed the shelter was
awash in money.”
Reported Associated Press writer Cheryl Wittenauer, shortly
before the settlement conference, “Stray Rescue founder Randy Grim
said his group wired zootoo $170,000 of its own money–which it had
budgeted for animal care–and that Thompson pressured him into
begging subcontractors, suppliers, and labor unions to donate their
goods and services for the shelter makeover. Grim said he understood
the $170,000, which helped pay for some preliminary work, would be
“We’ve yet to see one penny,” Grim told Wittenauer.
Thompson told Wittenauer that zootoo had provided $400,000 to
the makeover, to that point. Stray Rescue countered, Wittenauer
wrote, that “most of that is in donated goods and services, or its
own $170,000 that it wired to zootoo.”
Thompson, formerly chief executive of the cat food maker
Meow Mix, “said Stray Rescue’s vision for a shelter exceeds what can
be done for $1 million,” reported Wittenauer. But general
contractor Dan Green, a builder for 30 years, told Wittenauer that
Thompson “agreed to a $2 million budget and then solicited donated
goods and services. When they didn’t come through, he scaled back
the project to $1.7 million. Green dropped out,” Wittenauer
continued, “after Thompson said $600,000 worth of electrical,
plumbing and other work had to be donated.”
“I’m not their donation solicitor,” Green told Wittenauer.
“I’m not calling these guys and twisting their arms harder.”
Rocky Ridge Refuge founder Janice Wolf told Wittenauer that
“Thompson promised her on the Ellen Degeneres show to build a barn
and keep her in critter food for a year. She got the barn and some
of the food,” but under awkward circumstances in her small community.
“He pressured local businesses to donate everything,” Wolf
recalled. “He made a lot of enemies.”
$1 million road
Joel and Chemaine Almquist founded the Forever Wild Tiger
Sanctuary in 2002, “Joel Almquist works a second job to support the
shelter and Chemaine works to raise funds from the community,”
reported Hesperia Star staff writer Beau Yarbrough in January 2009.
“The family lives in a double-wide trailer without heat or
air-conditioning, partially held together with duct tape.”
The ABC program Extreme Make-over–Home Edition soon
thereafter sent the Almquists to Costa Rica for a brief vacation and
built them a new home, improved animal housing, and a visitor
center. The job was featured on the March 29, 2009 Extreme
Makeover–Home Edition broadcast.
However, reader Cheri Edwards e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE,
“When the compound was ready to open the County of San Bernardino
posted staff at the gate to turn people away,” including Edwards,
she said, “because they required the 1.5 mile road to the compound
to be completely paved. Even though the Extreme Makeover people
graveled and graded the road, making it accessible, the county felt
it wasn’t enough.
“We have a regulation that you pave to the nearest paved road
if you have people coming in,” San Bernardino County director of
land use services Julie Rynerson Rock told Yarbrough. “It’s not just
a matter of them getting in; it’s also a matter of getting safety
personnel in and out. Obviously if you have children there, it’s a
Rock estimated that paving the road would cost about $1 million.
ANIMAL PEOPLE confirmed the county position with several
different county officials, and confirmed the cost of paving the
road with an independent contractor.
“Pave to the nearest paved road” rules usually apply to
developers of housing tracts, shopping malls, and industrial parks
that may attract more traffic than dirt roads normally handle. They
are rarely applied to small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
The Almquists did not respond to an ANIMAL PEOPLE inquiry as
to when exactly they first learned of the paving requirement. None
of the San Bernardino county officials with whom ANIMAL PEOPLE
communicated could recall informing the Almquists about it on any
specific date–but ANIMAL PEOPLE was told that the whole project
proceeded so rapidly that word of it barely had time to circulate
among all the relevant offices before it was finished.