Animal sanctuary sold to the Resnicks, deforested
July 27, 2016
By KAREN VELIE
Trustees of a San Luis Obispo County animal sanctuary sold 1,100 acres of the reserve to Justin Vineyards and Winery, a company owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, CalCoastNews has learned. Specifics about what happened to the animals for which the sanctuary was created, is not known.
Michael Tobias, president of the Dancing Star Foundation, did not respond to requests for an interview. His attorney, George Phillips Jr., said the animals were moved from the Paso Robles reserve before the end of escrow, but not where the animals were moved to or how many animals remain at the Dancing Star sanctuary off Highway 1 near Cayucos.
“In response to your inquiry, be advised that all animals that had been on that property were properly relocated to other sites prior to the close of escrow,” Phillips wrote in an email. “As to any other matter, we have no comment.”
The Resnicks are known for clear cutting thousands of acres of oak trees to expand their vineyards and attempts to corral massive amounts of water at a time when north county farmers and ranchers have been dealing with a long-term drought.
The Dancing Star Animal Sanctuary was the focus of CalCoastNews stories five years ago when reporters discovered that a husband and wife team of environmentalists in charge of caring for the animals were, instead, slaughtering them. The killings were done for economic reasons, Michael Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison reportedly told sanctuary employees.
But, the foundation did not appear to be in economic trouble at the time. It had sizeable assets and was able to pay its top officers handsomely. In 2007, according to the foundation’s IRS Form 990, the Dancing Star Foundation had more than $43 million in assets. Tobias, as president, received a yearly salary of $285,500; Vice President Morrison, $244,000; and Vice President of Finance Don Cannon, $240,000.
After CalCoastNews broke an exclusive on the slaughter of the animals, along with a disturbing video, and amid public outrage, the killing of sanctuary animals stopped.
In 1993, Sue Stiles created the Dancing Star Foundation, a nonprofit with a focus on providing a refuge for elderly and handicapped farm animals. She opened one sanctuary in Paso Robles on Sleepy Farm Road for burros, and another in Cayucos on Highway 1 for horses, cows, dogs, burros, pigs, and a goat.
Stiles’ aunt, one of the owners of the [McClatchy] Bee newspapers, left her an inheritance of more than $60 million, sources said. Stiles chose to dive into philanthropy with a focus on providing a safe haven for aged and infirm farm animals and endowed the foundation with more than $60 million to keep her dream alive.
Stiles died in 2002 after putting her mission statement for the animal sanctuary 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.
Stiles choose Michael Tobias to preside over her non-profit foundation. Tobias is a world traveler and author of 35 books and numerous documentaries focusing on environmental history and animal rights.
After taking the reins, employees of the sanctuary said Tobias ordered the elimination of multiple animals. Ranch hands claimed foundation officials were killing viable animals including a wild horse named Carmel.
Because Carmel was a wild horse, her euthanasia required the use of a squeeze (a cage that tightens around an animal’s body). When Carmel fought and fell in the squeeze, her legs caught in the bars. The vet carrying out the euthanasia tried to inject enough drugs to drop the winter-coated mare, but Carmel continued to fight and only part of the killing drugs could be administrated on the first try. During Carmel’s long and painful death, sanctuary workers stood by weeping.
Since then, the foundations assets have shrunk to $25,190,667, according to the foundation’s 2014 IRS Form 990. In addition, Tobias’ salary in 2014 was $108,130, less than half of what it was in 2007. At $77,236, Morrison and Cannon’s salaries are less than a third of what they were in 2007.
On Oct. 1, 2015, Justin Vineyards and Winery purchased approximately 1,100 acres of land, which included multiple parcels at Sleepy Farm Road west of Paso Robles, from the Dancing Star Foundation for $4 million. Following the purchase, Justin Vineyards began clearcutting the land, removing thousands of oak trees.
Amid public outrage over the Resnick’s clearcutting of oak trees, the couple sent out an apology and announced plans to donate 380 acres of the property on Sleepy Farm Road to a land conservancy.
Of the remaining more than 700 acres, the Resnicks said they planned on “implementing measures to permanently protect oak woodlands from being removed on at least 100 acres of our property.”
But, new county regulations require land owners who want to remove more than 10 percent of a tree canopy to get a conditional use permit. Those wishing to remove less than 10 percent, need a minor use permit. The Resnick’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.