November 15, 2013
The Wildcat Sanctuary Board of Directors wants all supporters of the sanctuary to know that without you, we could not provide the quality care we do to our more than one hundred captive cat residents. “Thank you” is not adequate and we know it. We need your support and good thoughts more than ever now. For those of you who may have seen it, we also want to respond to an article that ran in this morning’s Star Tribune regarding allegations aimed at the TWS executive director.
When The Wildcat Sanctuary Board of Directors received various complaints from certain staff last spring, they retained legal counsel to advise the Board. A memorandum, based solely on interviews with staff, was produced by this legal counsel. This was meant to give the board a sense of where there were potential issues and what areas required further investigation by the Board. Just because a group of people say something and someone writes it down, doesn’t make it true. And that is exactly what we learned.
In the board’s initial meeting upon receipt of the memorandum, the discussion led to outright invalidation of any animal care allegations. The TWS medical director said in no uncertain terms that he was knowledgeable about all animal issues and that at no time had the executive director been responsible for harming or neglecting any animal under our care. But taking fiduciary responsibility seriously, the board deemed it the right thing to do to further investigate any potential financial issues.
A subsequent independent financial investigation (special audit) determined that no money had been stolen from The Wildcat Sanctuary, resulting in the determination that the executive director had not been responsible for any misuse or theft of funds. This was a true independent investigation that relied not only on staff interviews, but the examination of financial records. This audit report is part of a personnel review and cannot be shared publicly.
The Board has worked diligently to address all of issues since they were raised, but in a manner that would ensure the cats and TWS were protected and not compromised. Money donated to TWS has been and will continue to be used for the benefit of the cats at TWS, whether that is habitats being built or upgraded, more cats being sheltered and provided a permanent home or programs developed to bring attention to the captive wild cat crisis and what must be done to end it.
One allegation that has been sensationalized and widely repeated, stated the director used TWS funds to purchase a $200 skydiving lesson as a gift for her husband. Anyone using PayPal or other online payment processes understands that a payment will default to the last credit card used on a given computer. It was this very circumstance that occurred in the case of this purchase. The director brought this to our attention and made cash repayment.
There were also allegations that a variety of small purchases at stores like Wal-Mart were for personal use. Purchases of many items that could appear to be for personal use are likely for use in on-site housing for unpaid interns, the TWS office or other needs as TWS needs a wide variety of items, however, as noted above, on any occasion in which a TWS employee accidentally purchases a personal item with TWS supplies, cash repayment is provided.
The board believes it is important to point out that for many, many years, Ms. Thies almost single-handedly ran the sanctuary with the support of a small and dedicated group of volunteers. At the same time, she also worked at a full-time outside job to support herself and her family, while contributing tens of thousands of dollars of her own income to keep the organization afloat. It was years before the board granted her a modest salary for her sanctuary work.
The Wildcat Sanctuary has expanded its operations significantly in the past few years and has understandably experienced growing pains. This and other experiences are not uncommon with non-profit organizations and TWS is no exception in facing those challenges. Some of the identified issues have required the Board to evaluate and adjust certain procedures and policies related to operations. We outsourced our accounting function; strengthened policies requiring documentation by all staff; and increased board approval authority over expenditures. Again, this is just good business, not because anyone had been stealing from the organization.
The Wildcat Sanctuary posts all annual reports on its website to ensure our donors understand how donations are utilized in support of the cats and TWS. While Minnesota law does not require annual audits until a non-profit organization earns a state-prescribed level of revenue, TWS has always commissioned audits to ensure transparency to our donors.
The Wildcat Sanctuary is one of the most respected sanctuaries in the entire country. Superior animal care, spacious and natural habitats, willingness to facilitate rescues around the country, and sustainability make TWS a model for others. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the American Sanctuary Association have both given TWS their highest endorsement after rigorous on site reviews.
The cats are of utmost priority for us and we can assure you we have had very knowledgeable professionals at TWS caring for them. Pat Craig, executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, which is home to some 300 carnivores, as well as some of his most skilled keepers have been on site. They will continue to be on site until we have our own expert staff in place to take over. Additionally, veterinarians in this field are, and always have been, heavily involved in ensuring the health of the cats. This will, of course, continue.
Out of respect for the professionals who have come to assist TWS during this transition, we have put a moratorium on having volunteers on site. They do not need any distraction as they work 24 hours a day to ensure the best care possible for the cats.