Good intentions lead to bad results for some animals in the care of a fund-strapped southern California animal rescue operation.
My turkey rescue quest led me to the website of an organizations called Animal People (EIN 14-1752216 Form 990), which publishes a newspaper and maintains a web site featuring news about animal welfare issues. In some ways, it's quite good, but the web site is hindered by a clunky user interface left over from the early days of the World Wide Web. It seems to me they have content worth of an outstanding blog, but for some reason they have not achieved their potential in this area.
For example, I found a noteworthy story in Animal People's watchdog section about a troubled exotic animal rescue operation outside Los Angeles called Wildlife Waystation (EIN 95-3190812 Form 990), run by founder Martine Colette and (until recently) LA businessman Robert Lorsch. The organization has been in trouble for years with county officials and the USDA, which permits and inspects facilities where animals are exhibited, for deficiencies in the care and shelter for the animals.
Mr. Lorsch claimed in an article in the Los Angeles City Beat (Marc B. Haefele) to have succeeded in getting county officials to give the organization a break. Nevertheless, Mr. Lorsch and five other board members quit in July, reported the LA Daily News (Dana Bartholomew)(no longer online at the newspaper's web site, but preserved in this blog post). He was quoted:
Martine wanted control over everything, and that has been problematic in the past. I can't speak for the others, but it got tiring.
How bad it got is documented in a consent decision with the USDA in September that outlined some of the deficiencies of care, with examples like this:
Specifically, respondent failed to maintain current detailed, accurate records of respondent's treatment and the condition of a chimpanzee named "Sammy," including reference to the necessary psychological enrichment for this special needs animal, failed to observe and assess Sammy's health and well-being, as evidenced by only four written notations int he keepers' log concerning this animal between may * and September 2, 2003, despite Sammy's severe self-mutilation of this forearms, hand, head and legs resulting in exposure of muscle and tendons in some areas, and failed to convey to respondent's veterinary staff timely information concerning Sammy's condition in order for steps to be taken to alleviate his continuing and active self-mutilation of his forearms, hands, head and legs.
That brings us to this sad video of Ms. Colette making a last ditch appeal to save the organization and its four hundred animals, announcing her intention to let go of half the staff and rely on volunteers. This was back in late August. Then the news reports go silent.
I called the number indicated on the organization's web site this morning. The woman who answered the phone identified herself as an office assistant and said that the organization was still operating. I suggested that the organization should consider keeping its home page updated frequently so that a visitor to the site could tell that the organization has not shut down.
The animal rescue field offers poignant illustrations of the limits of private charity organizations for two reasons:
- the organizations are almost entirely funded from private individual charity—there is little or no government funding and not much foundation funding, and
- compared with human services, there is little outside scrutiny.
Thus the flaws of private charity are highlighted: the widespread inadequate internal controls, particularly on the chief executive, and the operational challenge of obtaining voluntary contributions to provide critical needs.
And going deeper, Wildlife Waystation illustrates how hard it is for a small scale organization to achieve the right balance of heart with head: turning the best of intentions into a sustainable business model.