AG asked to probe Dancing Star animal slaughter

March 23, 2009
Sue Stiles' dream was to take care of sick and elderly animals after she was gone.

Sue Stiles' dream was to take care of sick and elderly animals after she was gone.


Systematic killing of protected animals at the Dancing Star Foundation’s Cayucos sanctuary and excessive salaries of a husband-wife team of self-proclaimed environmentalists may violate the non-profit corporation’s filings with the state of California.

Lucy Sheldon, with assistance from the Animal Place Sanctuary, applied to California’s Secretary of State for the non-profit corporation’s filings and said she will send them to the Attorney General with a request seeking an investigation.

Sheldon and the Animal Place will join complaints of numerous animal welfare groups from throughout the nation who have asked the Attorney General’s office to determine if Tobias and Morrison’s management of the Dancing Star Foundation violates non-profit corporation and IRS laws.

Dancing Star officials have not responded to requests for comment.

Many healthy animals entrusted to Dancing Star Foundation’s oceanside 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. These factors included individual animals’ costs relating to food and medication needs.

During the past few months, 30 of the sanctuary’s 200 wards were slaughtered.

Sue Stiles started the foundation in 1993 with a focus on providing a refuge for elderly and handicapped horses, cows, and burros. She reportedly endowed the foundation with more than $60 million to keep her dream alive.” Stiles died in 2002 after putting her mission statement on record:

“The purpose of this corporation shall be (1) for the prevention of cruelty and the provisions of care for domestic animals and, (2) to make grants, donations, gifts, and contributions from its net income or assets, exclusively for charitable, scientific, literary, artistic, or educational purposes…” according to amended bylaws Stiles submitted during her illness, on March 11, 1998.

Former and present employees of the Dancing Star Foundation claim that its top officers, Michael Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison, have vacillated between claims that either economic issues or quality of life concerns prompted their kill policy. According to the foundation’s 2007 IRS Form 990 filed Oct. 6, 2008, the group had more than $43 million in assets. Tobias, as president, receives a yearly salary of $285,500; Vice President Morrison, $244,000; and Vice President of Finance Don Cannon, $240,000.

These salaries may conflict with Stiles’ original plans, according to state filings.

“The property of this corporation is irrevocably donated to charitable sources and no part of the net income or assets shall ever inure to the benefit of any director, officer, or member thereof or to the benefit of any private person,” according to Dancing Stars’ 1993 Articles of Corporation and a 1998 version Stiles amended.

Laws prohibit running a nonprofit to advantage an individual. Tax laws passed in the 1990s give the IRS authority to require excessively-compensated executives, compared to median incomes of executives of similar profit entities, to repay a portion of their income, along with a 25 percent penalty.


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Member Opinions:

By: sierrablu on 3/28/09

War Horse where have you gone?

By: sierrablu on 3/28/09

Hey Karma, I tried to get your email from

calcoast but they never responded. Really want to keep in touch with you, need someone to bounce ideas off of.

By: KARMA on 3/28/09

Newsome – Glad you are connecting the dots. When the last dot is connected, the current DSF Board will be replaced as well as Levine and Smith. The investigation has always continued, and there will be a positive resolution whether Ms. Karen Velie posts updated stories or not.

By: sierrablu on 3/26/09

No matter what happens, as long as Elaine Levine and Jerry Smith are employed at the Sanctuary the remaining animals are in danger, and ALL you guys past and present at Dancing Star know it!! Do something about it and come forward.

By: Newsome on 3/26/09

I missed Princess1's post before it was removed, but rest assured, I am not on Dancing Star payroll. For one, I think the "mission" of the sanctuary is sheer lunacy, and for two, I have a family to support.

But I am pleased that I am connecting the dots well enough to appear as an imformed insider.

By: SensitiveGuy on 3/25/09

By: Princess1 on 3/25/09

ok… Obviously there are a few in here on the payroll.(newsome and sensitiveguy).


Your barking up the wrong tree sweetie.But,believe that which you choose.

By: fanofbarbaro on 3/25/09

Kudos Karen! Thank you for following this story and not letting it die, like those poor animals did! Hopefully the AG will follow up on this! It has to stop, permanently!

By: JorgeEstrada on 3/25/09

It appears that Karen has corralled three horses / asses and they should be show stock for their breed.

By: cowgirl on 3/24/09

Thank you Karen for helping us push every angle and keep this moving forward. NEWSOME: if you go to: you can read about what jane and michael did to the natural habitat in New Zealand. The electric fence they put up and the deer, possum and wildlife they're kiling it's pretty horrible.

By: sharibaby on 3/24/09


Spot on! I do love it when academic folks talk about comparable salaries in the private sector. "We could leave here and make millions more in the private sector but we choose to teach." Hooey

By: Gsan on 3/24/09

Roger –

I agree!

By: rogerfreberg on 3/24/09

I have sat on a few non profit boards over the years and the amount of money spent on the top salaries has always been a bone of contention with me.

Funny how non profits and university administrators would like to be compared with business folks… managing a budget and making money is two different things. I mean… don't you love it when folks like Cal Poly say they are having a 'budgetary shortfall' when what they really mean to say is that 'they didn't get all the money they asked for.'

They got the world upside down.

By: sunnyhaven on 3/24/09

Glad to hear that people are still working on this. Hope the AG follows through with an investigation.

By: CuriousGeorgia on 3/24/09

There's all kinds of interesting info on how they claim they spend money on Dancing Star's 990 Form. You can see it at:

(The site requires free registration.)

By: Newsome on 3/23/09

Regarding comparing exec pay with comparable pay in for a for-profit enterprise: I suspect people that run $60 million companies routinely make $275,000/year. In that light, the salaries are probably not out of line.

What ELSE does dancing star foundation do? Feeding out 200 old animals doesn't require that calibre of leadership, but perhaps running the rest of the operation does.

CCN: How bout looking in to other operations of the foundation?

By: SensitiveGuy on 3/23/09

That Starvingmexican dude offerred to take care of the animals and eliminate the problem but you blew him off as a nutcase.Looks too me that he was right.These animals would make food for the Great American Immigrant from South of the border but they are being denied.Shameful.

By: rack-n-blurb on 3/23/09

Someone is going to ask someone else to give up a non-profit's records, so they can then send it to yet another person and then perhaps have an investigation? How about waking us up when something has actually happened? Come on! At least wait until an investigation is actually occurring.

By: ponieswork2 on 3/23/09

Bravo Karen! And also to those employees who had the courage to speak up and who kept digging….Those directors sound like the Barny Madoff's of the envirnonmental movement…just pick a good cause and who will notice? Let's just hope the Atty.General's office isn't as reluctant as the S.E.C. in looking into this matter!

By: mulegirl on 3/23/09

My opinion is: HOORAY!!! I can hardly believe it…I'm so happy if this investigation goes forward. Thank you to all who didn't let this go!! Thank you Karen Velie for keeping on this story!