Money problems driving sanctuary kills

February 24, 2009
Friends of Sue Stiles, shown here with friends, say she would have been dismayed by reports of animal killings at her sanctuary.

Friends of Sue Stiles, shown here with friends, say she would have been dismayed by reports of animal killings at her sanctuary.


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.

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Member Opinions:

By: coasty on 2/26/09

Karma, where exactly were the facts you mentioned regarding Harry???

By: KARMA on 2/26/09

Response to "coasty" 2/25/09 post… hmmm you seemed to leave out comment to the use and administration of "xylazine." What do you think, the DSF employees just went down to the store and bought it?! Even UC Davis claims Weltner was in the wrong using this drug. And DSF employees are not to be administering this drug to animals on their own. Wake up coasty! Distinguished equine veterinarians/surgeons reviewed the euthanasia video and were disappointed in Weltner's conduct, to say the least. Coasty, you are entitled to your opinions. Dr. Tristen Weltner IS "WAY OUT OF LINE" and the real judge and jury will prove it. As I state, FACTS ARE THE FACTS.

By: Princess1 on 2/25/09

Check out this weenie who is acting as the official spokesperson (paid prostitute) for dancing star.He represents big oil companies when they spill millions of gallons of oil.Tobias and his motley crew have some strange bedfellows.Birds of a feather flock together.

By: Cindy on 2/25/09

I'll submit the following question to Dr. Evans and likewise to Dr. Weltner.

Regarding the animals that you put down…. If any of these animals had been your beloved pets, how many of them would you have euthanised rather than allow them to continue to live their lives with good care while eating "affordable" mush and taking meds ?

By: coasty on 2/25/09

First I'd like to say that I consider myself an animal lover, environmentalist and a REALIST! I also have worked at Dancing Star in the past.

Starting off:

1. Tobias and his crew=absolutely horrible that they were making in excess of 1 million dollars a year (tribune article quotes them as saying they have taken "voluntary pay cuts" (to get down to 720,000) and are trying to dupe the public and the veterinarians into thinking that the foundation was out of money and that for the sake of the majority of the animals they must sacrifice the significantly geriatric/orthopedically challenged animals.

2. I would also like to emphasize that while everyone appears to be crucifying the veterinarians did they ever stop to consider that they were probably trying to do the best for the animals that are still able to have a quality of life? Have they ever been close enough to a euthanasia to see the tears in the veterinarians eyes?

3. I have known and used Gary Evans as a veterinarian for a number of decades and have found him to be one of the most compassionate and caring people that I have ever met. He doesn't take the decision to euthanize animals lightly. I would assume that he made the judgment that these were the animals that could least cope with tough times and were not able to move freely, maintain weight or some other reason (hard to be a backseat quarterback without having been there isn't it?)

Addressing the "Harry the donkey" comment from another cal coast comments section…Having driven by where he lived numerous times and having seen countless adoring fans of Harry…KILLING HIM WITH KINDNESS I'm sorry but I would bet that he foundered due to people feeding him treats day in and day out rather then something that Dr. Evans did. And how is the veterinarian guilty of the owner neglecting Harry??? I failed to see the logic of the commenter other than trying to come up with a way to smear a truly good man.

3. Regarding Dr. Weltner. I have never met her, however I have heard nothing but good things about her and her treatment of other's loved ones. I don't have any experience with the Creston Farms/trebek issue, however after doing some record searching I have found a few things: From the few articles that I found it appears that she stated that she had not been to Creston Farms the day that the horse was "euthanize". Therefore I'd like to know how she is implicated in this crime…Oh and by the way couldn't find any documentation that either Dr. Weltner or Dr. Evans have been charged, convicted, suspended or otherwise in conjunction with either of the "crimes" that were brought up. We live in the U.S. where "guilty" comes AFTER a jury trial, right?

Come on people this strikes me as deliberate slander to sensationalize an issue.

Where was everyone when there were over 500 animals at dancing star and the ground looked like a feedlot? Environmental disaster? Great environment for already compromised animals?

I would bet that the heroes of this story (Jason, Sheldon and Jenny) would agree with me about the character of the veterinarians. What say you the masses. In my humble opinion.

By: turquoisequeen on 2/25/09

I know of the vet in the video, Tristan, and I am absolutely shocked! I have 3 older horses that require "xtra" care but never would I go this far and I don't have a 3 figure income, so why ????????

By: saveourfriendsplease on 2/25/09

now is the time for all the employyees at the cayucos to take a stand. I understand the thought of losing your time with these animals is devastating, imagine how Jason feels. Think about all his trips on his day off to Alamo pintado to visit doobie. Months of visits. And when buddy was at Alamo he went down and visited him too. Take a stand. How will you face the others on that list. Johnnie cow and madonna cows pone homer flashy mr linebacker b&e. What will you do when the euthanising resumes. You can only keep your head in the sand for so long. Because according to michael and their rep. THE KILLINGS WERE RESCHEDULED. I love them all as well and you must help make it stop

By: feministcat on 2/25/09

In Defense of Animals is located in Mill Valley and they are a nonprofit group of attorneys that may help with this. There web address is I would love to help in anyway necessary as things continue. I hope Tobias and his greedy partners are all fired and that this place is taken over by the true caretakers of this place. I am sad that Jason was fired. I listened to him on the Dave Congalton show and was so impressed with his heroic actions, but I feared that the powers that be would fire him. Our eyes are all on you Tobias and your evil crew. Don't think for a minute you will get away with this.

By: Laura on 2/25/09

I hope these Employees contact an "Employment/Discrimination Law" Attorney. These attorneys often take these cases on a contingency and collect their fees from the Employer. It's a good place to start and get some direction on all the matters that are involved here.

By: Cindy on 2/25/09

To Jason Hamaker

They can't make you vacate the residence in 24 hours. You have an established residence there regardless of if you pay rent or it's part of your salary. It's illegal to force you out without reasonable notice (which is usually 30 days). You can legally stay there until your legally evicted. They also can't lock you out of access to the property or shut off your utilities etc. There are severe sanctions against this but these folks obviously seem to think they are above the law.If they give you a problem call the police. The police know these laws. In the mean time I suggest that you and the Employees who were discriminated against join together and seek out an attorney collectively. Many attorneys have free consultations.

P.S. I started to watch the video but couldn't continue past a couple of minutes. It's too cruel. Thank you for speaking out, you have paid a high price and I commend you.

By: bullprof on 2/25/09


Does anyone know the identities of the two men picture on the website, under 'photos'?


By: appalled on 2/25/09

I surely hope these 3 top people in this organization are investigated & then prosecuted!! NO FUNDS??? then maybe they should have their salaries that allow them to flit around the world reduced to $15,000 yr, & the ones actually caring for these horses salaries increased.

I am so sorry about Jason … Jason, if you read this, I think it spells lawsuit – I am sure you can even find an atty that will take it pro bono if needed. Best of luck to you.

By: bullprof on 2/25/09

I came across this information from the website under 'privacy statement'. This is for those of you who will act and not just post concerns.

7. Contacting Us

If you have questions regarding our Privacy Statement, its implementation, failure to adhere to this Privacy Statement and/or our general practices, please contact us at 310-966-1424, fax us at 310-966-1425 or email us at You have also send your questions, comments to:

Dancing Star Foundation

Attention: Privacy Statement Personnel

11835 West Olympic Blvd., Suite 650E

Los Angeles, CA 90064

By: saveourfriendsplease on 2/25/09

just want to let everyone know that jason hamaker was terminated this morning by jerry smith and given 24 hours to vacate the property.

By: KARMA on 2/25/09

Just read Karen Velie's updated report posted 2/24/09… Xylazine HCI injection is an analgesic/sedative designed to be administered to horses, deer and elk. This drug is to be used "ONLY" by or under direct supervision of a veterinarian. DSF head supervisor, Elaine Levine who injected "Queenie" (bovine) should "ONLY" have administered this under "DIRECT" supervision of a vet. So was the vet there at the time of injection? AND, Levine has "NO" legal authority to instruct a DSF employee to give any injection of this medication to a DSF resident animal period! Sounds like some more illegal and unethical implications here. Even UC Davis vet school agrees with the conditions Levine and DSF employee used this drug. Dr. Tristen Weltner, another RED STRIKE against you. Instead of suspension, looks like Weltner may be having her vet license terminated for good! JUST THE FACTS!!!

By: animalhelper on 2/25/09

Hooray for Jason for speaking out! Jason, Sheldon, Jen, you should be proud of yourselves for standing up to these people and for doing what is right.

By: warhorse on 2/24/09

hey everyone standing along highway 1 in front of dancing star… you are all phenomenal people

watch for the cbs5 broadcast …. check out the youtube- a day at dancing star and keep fighting the good fight… lets all help save the rest of dancing stars animals….

By: Princess1 on 2/24/09

Mulegirl….Will do…Jason,your my hero you handsome S.O.B….

By: mulegirl on 2/24/09

I have been trying to figure out how best to participate, too, insider. I've signed the petition, sent the information on to a large number of people, and notified the Animal Legal Defense Fund. princess1, they offered their assistance if there is legal action that can be taken. Could you let Jason know that, please? And a huge round of applause for Jason for speaking up, at ENORMOUS personal risk.

By: Princess1 on 2/24/09

I am a current employee at deathstar.And I know for a fact that every word that Jason Hamaker has said is the Gods honest truth.

By: R.Hodin on 2/24/09

I might imagine that substantial expenses are being billed to the Dancing Star Foundation for Tobias' & Morrison's official overhead, including travel and book and film production & promotion expenses, if one were able to dig into the financials…

By: mandm040 on 2/24/09

This is just VILE.

I couldn't stand to watch most of the video.

ANYONE involved in these HEINOUS ACTS should be PROSECUTED! Esp. the "sanctuary" owners and the Vets involved.

Good god. If you are going to put down a horse through lethal injection, at LEAST do it right and humanely. The HORROR that horse went through is just not acceptable. And those horses were NOT candidates for euthanasia. Saving a BUCK? YEAH.



By: insider on 2/24/09

I'm not a animal lover nor even particularly compasionate however that was one of the cruelest and most unnecessary things I've ever seen. How could anyone participate?

By: mulegirl on 2/24/09

I agree Nona. I'm afraid Tobias is going to be able to hide behind his reputation. Wanna know the ultimate irony? Tobias and Morrison wrote a book called "The Mystique of Equus Asinus" (donkeys, in other words). Then they had several donkeys killed in this, too. Yeah. Real animal lovers they are. And the two running the place are just as bad. I heartily and LOUDLY applaud Jason Hamaker. HE is a true hero and should hold his head VERY high for speaking out like he has.

By: Nona on 2/24/09

I am not impressed by Tobias's credentials as this is a person who has no soul or heart. I hope the IRS will take a close look at the accounts and see where the money is actually going. Why isn't the money being used for what it was originally intended? I hope all readers pass on this article to friends and websites worldwide. This is NOT a sanctuary but rather a killing field. They are no better than a slaughterhouse. Absolutely disgusting and low-life!