Money crunch brings another leadership change at Wild Animal Orphanage
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2010:
SAN ANTONIO–Under new management for the second time since
September 2009, Wild Animal Orphanage remains mired in litigation
pertaining to the leadership transitions, and in a cash flow crisis
coinciding with the national recession of the past two years. But
ANIMAL PEOPLE was told by sources with conflicting views about a
variety of other matters that many of the most alarming rumors about
the sanctuary circulating in early May 2010 appeared to be
“Our office has taken no legal action against this San
Antonio facility nor do we anticipate any, at this point,” Texas
Office of Attorney General spokesperson Tom Kelley told ANIMAL
PEOPLE. “We are monitoring their efforts daily, nothing more.”
“We have made the proper arrangements, are currently in good
standing, and are in no way getting foreclosed,” acting Wild Animal
Orphanage director Jamie Cryer told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“The Wild Animal Orphanage properties are not in
foreclosure,” confirmed Elise Matthes, director of Sarasota In
Defense of Animals, who served temporarily on the WAO board with her
husband Sumner during the most recent leadership change. The original
property, purchased in 1990, was fully paid off in 2008, Elise
Matthes said. Larger properties acquired in 1999 and 2001 are 62%
and 84% paid off, respectively, with about $93,000 remaining to
pay, according to figures Elise Matthes provided.
Wild Animal Orphanage founder Carol Asvestas, who lives next
door to the original property, told ANIMAL PEOPLE that she had not
heard the foreclosure rumor, and knew of no reason to believe it.
Asvestas directed Wild Animal Orphanage from 1993 through
September 2009, assisted by her husband Ron, but after years of
controversies inflamed by the San Antonio Lightning news web site,
Asvestas was ousted on October 4, 2009 by a coup d’etat led by her
daughter Nicole Garcia. Telling ANIMAL PEOPLE that much of the
Lightning reportage was accurate, Garcia dropped a libel suit
against the Lightning filed by her mother on behalf of the sanctuary.
ANIMAL PEOPLE learned on April 26, 2010 that Wild Animal
Orphanage board members had begun seeking a replacement for Garcia.
“On April 30, 2010 Garcia was terminated,” 13-year Wild Animal
Orphanage board member Sumner Matthes said. “We learned that the
board was not truthfully informed about numerous important issues,”
Matthes explained, alleging that Garcia had “opened a secret bank
account,” and had “not advised the board that Wild Animal Orphanage
was broke.” ANIMAL PEOPLE did not succeed in reaching Garcia to get
The situation went public on May 1, 2010, when KENS 5 News
in San Antonio reported that “Volunteers at the Wild Animal Orphanage
showed up to feed the animals but found the locks had been changed.
Police were called and eventually opened the doors so that the
animals could be fed.” Garcia said “the animals are not in danger
and will not be euthanized,” added Christopher Heath of KENS 5 News.
Appealing to animal advocates and other animal charities for
emergency help, Sumner Matthes on May 5, 2010 announced that Jamie
Cryer, husband of Wild Animal Orphanage board member Michelle Cryer,
would succeed Garcia on an interim basis.
Said Matthes, Jamie Cryer “willingly agreed to work without
compensation to assure the feeding and care of the 400 resident
animals,” including 57 tigers, 24 other big cats, 219 monkeys, 22
bears, and 16 chimpanzees.
“Compassionate caregivers are still reporting to work to
feed, clean, and care for the animals,” Sumner Matthes said.
“However, six caregivers are temporarily working without
Jamie Cryer, 41, has started and sold three businesses,
Sumner Matthes told ANIMAL PEOPLE, and “says he does not have to
work for compensation.”
“I have worked for Wild Animal Orphanage since Hurricane
Katrina,” Jamie Cryer told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “during which time I
spent months in and around Louisiana rescuing all kinds of animals
and transporting them to the Best Friends temporary shelter in
Mississippi. I still transport dogs and cats from Mississippi to no
kill shelters in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Arizona and
California. I have also done rescues with the International Fund for
Animal Welfare and Big Cat Rescue,” a sanctuary in southern Florida.
The Wild Animal Orphanage facilities are near the Friends of
Animals subsidiary Primarily Primates, Wildlife Rescue &
Rehabilitation, and the Born Free Primate Sanctuary. Sumner Matthes
confirmed that “We have been in contact with several organizations to
seek options,” but this initiative ran into conflict with the Texas
Office of Attorney General, Elise Matthes told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Elise Matthes questioned “continuing to run up huge debts
with attorneys” in response to wrongful dismissal litigation brought
by Carol and Ron Asvestas, with litigation also expected from Nicole
Garcia. Elise Matthes said more than $100,000 had already been
spent, with $19,000 owing in cases involving Wild Animal Orphanage.
“To spend these astronomical monies on legal fees with donations made
by generous contributors to feed and care for the animals
is unconscionable,” Elise Matthes said, but did not say what
options Wild Animal Orphanage might have to avoid legal fees after
Sumner and Elise Matthes resigned from the Wild Animal
Orphanage board on May 12, 2010, requesting repayment of a personal
loan to the sanctuary of $2,000, made on May 4. “Two weeks ago
there was $400 in the bank,” Elise Matthes said, “but thanks to
that plea we sent out, $13,000 came in. So, there is a little
money to pay animal caregivers and purchase animal food. I haven’t a
clue what the future will bring.”