Montana Large Animal Sanctuary becomes largest-ever sanctuary failure

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2011:

HOT SPRINGS,  Montana–The 400-acre Montana Large Animal Sanctuary,  among the largest in the world,  once regarded as a showplace,  is finishing a 15-year existence as the subject of the largest sanctuary evacuation ever undertaken.

Starting with almost 1,000 animals in urgent need of care and better homes,  AniMeals founder Karyn Moltzen,  the on-site rescue coordinator,  had only 249 of 603 llamas left to place after almost a month of camping on site.  Herds of horses,  goats,  sheep,  donkeys, two bison,  two camels,  and 11 emus were all either moved out to other sanctuaries or were “spoken for,”  Moltzen told ANIMAL PEOPLE.

But more than 70 animals died at the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary from malnutrition,  exposure,  and prolonged lack of other care,  Moltzen said,  despite the best efforts of volunteers to save them.  Hardest-hit were creas,  newborn llamas whose emaciated mothers were unable to protect them adequately from the elements before the rescuers brought them all indoors and gave them heat lamps.

“I believe all of the females are pregnant,”  Moltzen blogged earlier,  “We have babies born every day.  We have separated males from females,  but there are males still jumping fences.  We have gathered all the llamas out of the hills–it took us four days–and have given them some shelter.  We hung tarps to break the wind and have bottle-fed babies every four hours through the night.  We came up here on December 21,  expecting to stay for seven days,  putting our holidays on hold,   and never left,”  Moltzen said.

Spring snowmelt is expected to reveal the remains of animals who died before help arrived.  Moltzen told ANIMAL PEOPLE that neighbors had reported deteriorating conditions at the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary for several years,  but local law enforcement did not respond,  and word did not reach the outside animal rescue community.

Funded almost entirely by health care executive Susan Rawlings,  the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary was cofounded by Brian and Kathryn Warrington,  then a couple. Later divorced,  they continued to run the sanctuary together.  As they took in growing numbers of animals,  they twice relocated to larger premises.  But they resisted advice from several directions to diversify their donor base.

ANIMAL PEOPLE warned Kathryn Warrington in 1999 that excessive reliance on a single funder is characteristic of shelters and sanctuaries that deteriorate into hoarder/enabler situations after ill fortune overtakes the founders.

But for years all seemed to be good fortune.  As the sanctuary grew,  Rawlings moved from Health Net to Cigna to PacifiCare Health Systems to Aetna Life & Casuality to WellPoint. Rawlings contributed $392,500 in 2006,  augmented by $50,000 from the WellPoint Foundation and $12,500 from the Aetna Foundation, according to IRS Form 990.  As recently as 2008,  Rawlings contributed $272,429 and the Wellpoint Foundation gave the sanctuary $38,763.  But then,  Rawlings told Vince Devlin of The Missoulian, “My boss retired.  Her successor wanted his own team.”  Leaving WellPoint in April 2008,   Rawling in June 2008 became CEO at Leprechaun LLC,  at much lower pay.

Rawlings last visited the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary in mid-2008,  she told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  Rawlings said she had already advised the Warringtons that she would no longer be able to underwrite the sanctuary to the extent that she had.  Kathryn Warrington meanwhile developed multiple sclerosis,  diagnosed in 2007.  “With the animals’ food supply down to three days’ worth,” recounted Devlin of The Missoulian,  the Warringtons at last sought help.

“The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries put together an ad hoc team to help resolve the situation,  GFAS executive director Patty Finch told ANIMAL PEOPLE.

“I believe I was the first to file a complaint with the sheriff,”  Finch added.  But six weeks later no one had actually been charged,  and it was not clear that anyone would be,  despite neglect of hoof care,  in particular,  that many of the rescuers agreed was the worst they had ever seen.

AniMeals–a small dog-and-cat emergency feeding and rescue organization,  with no previous large animal experience–was first to arrive,  and was the only outside organization to remain on the premises after a conflict between Brian Warrington and others who publicized the lack of hoof care.

Habitat for Horses founder Jerry Finch [not related to Patty Finch] arrived right behind Montana Horse Sanctuary founder Jane Heath and Montana Animal Care Association president Phyllis Ruana. “The main part of the horses were in a pasture several miles from the actual sanctuary,”  Jerry Finch posted to the AniMeals web site. There Jerry Finch,  Heath,  and Ruana found “Horses with hooves so long that in one case the hoof made a complete circle over itself.” A black pony had a broken hip.  “Another horse ran on three legs, the fourth held up because the hoof looked like a spike.”

At the main part of the sanctuary the rescuers found camels and cattle who were almost immobilized by severe foot problems. Veterinarian Charmaine Wright flew in from Park City,  Utah,  to look after the camels.  Heath and Ruana began the evacuation by removing 31 donkeys.  Humane Society of the U.S. senior director for wildlife response Dave Pauli,  who lives in Billings,  Montana,  took in a family of cavies.  Llama rescuers around the U.S. combined efforts as the Camelid Rescue Committee to look after approximately as many llamas in need of homes as the sum of all others in sanctuary care.

HSUS and the American SPCA contributed some funding to the rescue effort,  but most of the rescuers covered their own expenses and hoped for reimbursement after the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary is legally dissolved and the assets are sold.  Rawlings estimated that the land and facilities might fetch $1.2 million.  IRS Form 990 filings indicate that about half would go toward paying off the remaining mortgage on the property and outstanding debts for hay and supplies.  Rawlings told ANIMAL PEOPLE that the rest of the proceeds from the sale would be donated to charities of compatible mission, including those involved in the rescue.   –Merritt Clifton

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