Waystation copes; problems persist

first_imgSYLMAR – Four months after its operators pleaded for money to help it stay afloat, the Wildlife Waystation has gotten enough donations to keep running but still faces financial challenges, officials said Wednesday. In August, the nonprofit sanctuary had threatened to leave its 400 lions, tigers and other animals to the care of state and county animal regulators if funds weren’t forthcoming. The public responded with enough donations to help pay for the thousands of dollars in monthly operating expenses, Waystation founder and director Martine Colette said. But the operation also needed to lay off workers to help balance the bottom line and still has a $1 million debt incurred over the past year. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champAnd now, a pending decision by Chief Administrative Law Judge Marc R. Hillson on whether to withdraw an exhibition permit in Collette’s name could deal a major blow. Without a permit, the Waystation would be barred from exhibiting tigers and animals at off-site fundraisers and other events. “The issue right now is, we have a complaint against her in court and that issue is still pending,” said Jessica Milteer, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman. “If Martine Colette’s license is revoked, she wouldn’t be allowed to exhibit animals in public or on television.” The 160-acre exotic-wildlife sanctuary in Little Tujunga Canyon has cared for abandoned, abused and injured wildlife for 31 years with the help of volunteers. But over the summer, five of its eight board members quit – apparently fed up with the problems there – and a $100,000-a-year manager was let go. Half of the sanctuary’s 48 paid staff was laid off. In September, a U.S. Department of Agriculture administrative law judge fined the Waystation $25,000 for numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including failing to hire a full-time attending veterinarian, substandard vet care in dealing with animal diseases and injuries, and improper exhibiting of exotic animals to ensure public safety. Waystation officials say fundraising slowed in 2001 after it was closed to visitors by the county and ordered to upgrade its sewage system, widen roads and install a water tank for fighting fires. Tax records show that the Waystation had operated in the black through 2006. Then the agency took a financial plunge this year, something Colette attributes to an incomplete environmental study required by the county to renew a conditional-use permit. “We’ve started it, but we can’t finish it,” she said of the report, adding that she doesn’t have the money to pay for the study. “That’s part of why we are $1 million in debt.” She said she really doesn’t know what happened to the Waystation’s finances after former board Chairman Robert Lorsch assumed operational control in 2002, adding that she hopes to perform a forensic audit. Colette said she will speak with Palm Springs officials about plans – funds permitting – to move part of the sanctuary to a 50-acre site along Highway 111. Despite the financial shortfall, she insisted that the animals are in tip-top condition. On Wednesday, they were given Christmas goodies to munch on as part of a publicity event. “The animals are fabulous. They are cared for,” she said. “The volunteers have stepped up as best they can. The staff deserves a medal.” But critics said it’s time for the 31-year-old Waystation to close. “The general problem of the Waystation is that they’ve taken millions of dollars in donations but have made no improvements in obtaining their county operating permit,” said Victoria VanCamp, a former Waystation volunteer. “They have no sewage system. They have no potable water. No legal electrical system. Their hospital has been red-tagged by the county Fire Department. “The Waystation should be closed,” she said. “The animals should be transferred to other facilities.” dana.bartholomew@dailynews.com 818-713-3730160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more