Money problems driving sanctuary kills
February 24, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
Many healthy animals entrusted to Dancing Star Foundation’s Cayucos sanctuary have been euthanized in recent months after being placed on a “kill list” — prepared with the help of a veterinarian and weighted heavily by economic considerations.
A top sanctuary employee who witnessed the process is speaking on the record and has provided documents to CalCoastNews including death certificates, medical records, and the actual list of animals slated for the needle. The facility is endowed with $43 million in assets to care for aged and infirm farm animals.
Acknowledging that he’d probably be fired for commenting, maintenance supervisor Jason Hamaker said Tuesday that financial issues were often at the heart of decisions to euthanize specific animals. Hamaker’s charges directly contradict formal statements issued by foundation officials in Los Angeles.
“I agreed to protect these animals,” Hamaker said. “I can’t sleep. I would work there for free. I am sure I will be fired.”
Former and present employees of the Dancing Star Foundation claim that foundation leaders have commenced the systematic elimination of aged and infirm farm animals under the foundation’s care in order to save money. According to the foundation’s IRS filing, the group pays its top three employees a total of $769,500 a year.
The foundation in its statement to Globe Newswire February 21 said the “medical conditions of the animals afflicted were severe” and that financial concerns did not play into the decision to end the animals’ lives.
“The allegations that the Foundation has made end-of-life decisions driven by economic reasons are absolutely untrue, are offensive to us because they are completely contrary to our most deeply held beliefs, and are belied by the facts,” according to the statement.
Hamaker, however, said he watched local horse veterinarian Tristen Weltner and a sanctuary employee, sitting on the tailgate of Weltner’s truck, give horses a number based on the amount of mush (soft food) and hay they required and the cost of their medications. The higher the number assigned to the animal, with ratings ½ to 16, the more the horse cost the foundation, and the sooner it was slated for the veterinarian’s lethal injection.
Weltner did not respond to repeated, detailed requests for comment.
“They are all lying right now,” Hamaker said of foundation spokespeople, veterinarians, and management. “On Sunday, they took all the files from the equine office and put them in the main office in a box they hide special documents.”
Several past and current employees said that younger animals, lower on the list, also were killed in order to vacate a barn thereby reducing the number of employees required to maintain the sanctuary.
“I was told they are putting these animals down in order to keep up with the list,” Hamaker added. ”After getting through the first wave of euthanasia, we were to start getting rid of employees. By that, he meant firings.
Sue Stiles started the foundation in 1993 with a focus on providing a refuge for elderly and handicapped farm animals. Stiles provided animals with medical conditions a clean stall, medical treatment, and medication. She endowed the foundation with more than $60 million to keep her dream alive.” Stiles died in 2002.
In January, more than 200 animals were being cared for at the Cayucos sanctuary.
During the first round of horse eliminations on January 19, Petunia, Dandy, and Siena were euthanized. Their condition was reported as “good” 24 hours prior to their deaths and old/quality of life was listed as the “underlying cause of their deaths.”
On January 27, Miss Henny, Tweety, Snake, and Carmel received the needle due to “old age related issues.” During this round, the horses were all listed as “stable” 24 hours prior to death, according to the animals’ death reports.
The next day, Ormsby and Max were put down. Sources claim Ormsby was struck with sudden hind end weakness and as such required euthanasia, Max, they say, was put down due to the closeness of the two animals.
By February 5, Frac, Squirtle, Amigo, and Veri were reported to be showing signs of “lameness” 24 hours prior to their demise and “quality of life” was listed as the underlying cause of death. During this round, head supervisor Elaine Levine stopped signing the death reports.
On February 12, the deaths of Apache, Grace, Chico, and Star were video taped by an employee of the foundation.
The majority of horses put down during the last few months were reported to be doing well, normal, or good during the weeks and months prior to the decision to euthanize the animals, according to Dancing Star’s own medical records.
Along with the horse reductions, the foundation has ordered the systematic killing of cows. On December 12, Suger and Pickles had a date with the needle. Over the last month, Booger, Sonya, Contessa, Suzie, Sweetheart, Feather, Colleen, Deska, Queenie, Timothy, Josh Ian, Rita, and Sheebe found themselves at the wrong end of the expense list.
Officials of the foundation ordered a temporary halt to the killings following an investigative report by CalCoastNews that spurred a media frenzy and outrage among animal advocates.
“Even if they stop and never euthanize another animal, they need to be made accountable for what happened,” Hamaker said.
Employees at the sanctuary say they were told to move infirm animals out of the barns and onto the muddy hillsides where many of them would fail to thrive prior to foundation leaders issuing a mandate to reduce the herd.
“Jerry (Smith, foreman) kicked Queenie into the herd,” Hamaker said. “She was always kept in a pen so she wouldn’t have to contend with the herd. She was trampled. I think they are trying to make the animals lame.”
Following Queenie’s confrontation with the herd, Levine injected the bovine with 10 cc’s of xylazine and instructed an employee to inject another dose in 10 minutes.
“That’s not an approved drug for euthanasia,” said U.C. Davis school of veterinary medicine and Director of the International Animal Welfare Training Institute. “If they have guidelines, they have passed the point.”
In mid-December, most medications and vitamins meant to improve the quality of life for the foundation’s wards were halted. These medications included joint supplements such as Conquer and Probios, a dietary supplement that soothes the stomach.
“I offered up half my salary, they said no,” Hamaker said. “We offered to buy grain when they said they couldn’t afford to feed them anymore. Again they said no.”
Hamaker says he has a lot to lose by speaking out on the record — the foundation pays him double the amount made by most ranch employees along with providing a complimentary home for Hamaker and his wife, Barbara, at the sanctuary.
“I want some legal entity to come in and take the power away from Jerry and Eileen and then people will tell the truth,” Hamaker added.
More than a dozen current and former employees say that both Levine and Smith have a policy of discrimination and a long history of labor violations.
“Jerry Smith has told me I can’t hire African-Americans,” Hamaker said. “Two ladies were pushed out for going on maternity leave. I met with Elaine, she said she had no business getting pregnant right now and of course she is going to lose her job.”
Amber Reynolds and Colleen Reynolds were forced out (moved to a position that endangered their pregnancies) or terminated for becoming pregnant, said past and present employees.
Though Hamaker says he never complained to the foundation’s top officers, Michael Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison, numerous past employees say they informed the jet-setting couple of the problems at the sanctuary.
Tobias, Morrison, Smith, and Levine did not respond to requests for comment.
“Jane Morrison said on the news that we are adopting these animals out,” Hamaker added. “Then Jerry Smith said we are not adopting any of these animals out.”
Tobias is a world traveler and author of 35 books and more than 100 documentaries focusing on environmental history and animal rights. His wife and vice president of the foundation, Morrison, is an ecologist and filmmaker.
Click on the following link to watch a video, shot by a current sanctuary employee, on a day of killing at Dancing Star animal sanctuary.