Editors Note: What is happening at the animal sanctuary is criminal. Sign the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/animal-sanctuary-becomes-killing-field or pay the management a visit or call them to discuss the issue with them.
The people who are killing the animals put in their care make obscene wages: The president receives a yearly salary of $285,500; Vice President Morrison, $244,000; and Vice President of Finance Don Cannon, $240,000.
Several former employees at a North Coast sanctuary for aging burros, horses and cattle say the animals are being systematically euthanized at the rate of about five to 10 a week, perhaps so sanctuary managers can save money.
Some of the animals that have been put down, the former workers say, could have been offered for adoption to live out their lives peacefully, the way sanctuary founder Sue Stiles intended.
Management of the nonprofit Dancing Star Foundation vehemently denies there has been any arbitrary killing of the animals.
The sanctuary has “a lot of animals whose time has really come,” said Jane Morrison, vice president of the Dancing Star Foundation. “We’ve known for years it would come, possibly gradually, possibly in a wave … and the wave hit.”
She and her husband, Michael Tobias, run the foundation, founded in 1993 by newspaper heiress Stiles. On the North Coast, Stiles was known as “the donkey lady,” who would occasionally bring the animals into Cambria in the back of her truck. She established an endowment to continue her work before dying in 1999.
Since then, as many as 200 animals are estimated to have roamed about 700 acres, supported by a foundation with assets of $44 million in 2007, according to a public IRS filing.
Morrison acknowledges the foundation is cutting back its operations and reducing staff because of the effect the economic crisis is having on animal sanctuaries. She could not immediately say how many employees remain at the sanctuary.
In a news release issued Wednesday night, Roger Gillott, a spokesman for Dancing Star, said, “The Dancing Star Foundation has been and remains committed to vital environmental issues around the world. … This includes our animal sanctuaries near Cayucos and Paso Robles in Central California.
“At the same time, 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.”
Gillott said the economic downturn “has forced the foundation to make significant reductions in operating expenditures, including reductions in workforce and salaries.”
The Tribune interviewed four former Dancing Star employees, a current employee and one former volunteer, each of whom support the allegations.
Among those interviewed was Sheldon Rowley, a sanctuary employee laid off Feb. 6. He said recent actions go against the foundation’s mission.
He said the animals being put down have had a range of issues, from simple old age and lameness to more serious problems. “But that’s what a sanctuary is. That’s what it’s for. Sue Stiles wanted them to stay there as long as they lived.” According to the Dancing Star Web site, www.dancingstarfoundation.org, “It was the vision long ago of the founder, Sue Stiles, that these animals be loved and that their independence and free spirits honored.” Jennifer Smith, 36, worked with the sanctuary’s cattle for nearly four years, and also cared for six pigs and a goat. She said in January she was told to “get rid of anything that needed special care” and empty out two of the three cattle barns that had housed about 50 animals.
Then, Smith said, the order came down to start euthanizing the animals. She said she was told to prepare a list of 15 more cows to be euthanized within a short period. She felt the decision was too tough to make alone and called a veterinarian for advice.
She said she was suspended for 10 days for doing that and, at the end of her suspension, her employment was terminated. In an interview with The Tribune, Morrison did not address specific allegations about a euthanasia list but made a blanket denial of the allegations.
Even in the tight economy, Rowley said, a big, new shelter was built within the past year on the property at 4025 Highway 1, two miles south of Harmony, and other buildings have recently been painted.
Morrison, the foundation officer, said, “We’re actually adopting some animals out and have tried to find sanctuaries or homes for other animals where we knew they’d have a safe haven. We’d absolutely love to find homes” for the adoptable animals, but most sanctuaries are “either not taking animals in or are going out of business because of the economy.” McClatchy-Tribune