Animal sanctuary sold to the Resnicks, deforested

July 27, 2016
Deforestation by Justin Vineyards

Deforestation by Justin Vineyards


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.

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I can’t believe that video. I never watched it the first time. If I had been present, I would have threatened to kill every single one of those people. They could throw me in jail, I wouldn’t even care. Every one of those people is SICK and not one of them has the integrity to try and forcibly stop this? Ridiculous

They sold the Land….and the new land owner had the Freedom to do with it as they pleased.

This ridiculous piling on to the Resnicks is disgusting.

Here’s hoping your neighbor wants to put in a hog farm, or garbage dump next to you, hey it’s their land and they can do with it what they want, right?

These people are lucky Sue Stiles isn’t around to see this. I knew that generous but tough lady and their lives would be in danger about now.

Like the product they pimp….they are NUTS.

Calcoast news: Stay on the Resnicks. If you can continue digging up grime on that company you will get worldwide attention. The whole world has been watching this company, but the press and politicians are all paid off where they do business. You can make a difference.

As a former doner, I have known the team at dancing star foundation for a while. They have so much love and respect for the animals they save. I believe the property was sold, and the animals were relocated to a new home. To the best of my understanding the allegations against Michael are false, this is a man who has dedicated his entire adult life to preserving animals and will continue to save these animals for as long as he has a living breath in him.

Perhaps. But $285K a year in salary. For an animal rescue. Tobias is in it for the money, not the animal’s welfare. I suspect the head honcho at the San Diego Zoo makes less than Tobias.

petaaus, can you please justify Tobias’ $285K salary? What about the salaries of his minions?

Three people, $750K a year in salary, all paid for by generous donors. What a scam!


ha ha ha….it wasn’t an Animal Rescue…it as a Profit Center….halarious.

It goes without saying that Resnick’s are greedy, evil people. Like most of you, I will never again buy another Wonderful Company product.

But what about these characters running the animal preserve? This guy Tobias got a yearly salary of $285,500. For doing what? And these other two bozos, Morrison and Cannon, earn $240K apiece. Who are these people? Are they local?

Crooks, all of them.


This is so very sad, and such a shame to say the least. The Dancing Star Sanctuary was not to be sold, but to go on helping cows, horses, goats, etc. Does anyone know what happened to the animals?

A big BBQ Maybe?

Now who really believed that when Stewart and Lynda Resnick “donated” the other land they destroyed it was for the good of the county and it’s residents?