By Ashley Gebb
Kirshner Foundation founder denies noncompliance
BUTTE VALLEY >> A routine inspection of the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation identified several areas of noncompliance, including failing to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, lack of access to clean water, and feeding animals contaminated and improper food, according to the inspection report.
The unannounced April 3 inspection by a federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service veterinarian identified seven areas of noncompliance that needed to be addressed either immediately or by May 25. Areas of noncompliance will be followed up by an unannounced visit.
"We are not there necessarily to fine an exhibitor or an institution," said Carol Bannerman, public affairs specialist with APHIS. "It's to make sure the regulated animals are receiving the care that is required."
The foundation, started in 1994, provides around-the-clock care for about 80 sick and special-needs animals, birds and reptiles. Bears, exotic species and large cats like tigers, leopards, lynxes and bobcats call the Kirshner Foundation home, which moved to a new 19-acre property on Durham-Pentz Road in fall 2010.
Bannerman could not confirm whether the April inspection stemmed from complaints filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in February that alleged abuse and neglect. She said inspections are often annual but also done on a risk-basis analysis, so facilities with prior noncompliance might be more frequent.
According to the report, the facility has no written program of veterinary care, which is required in order to document agreed standards for preventative health, diet and other issues to ensure the animals' well-being. It also identified direct noncompliance regarding adequate veterinary care, including a tiger suffering from a recurring eye problem, two grossly obese cats whose weight had not been addressed, and a 5-year-old lynx who appeared to have untreated pain in her limbs.
Several issues were identified related to feeding, including raw meat left out without refrigeration, bears fed moldy fruit and Cheez-Its, and an unrefrigerated box of deli meats, tandoori chicken burritos, Lunchables and crackers that a volunteer indicated could be fed to bears and coyotes. In addition, produce stored without refrigeration was significantly moldy, and some food is stored next to chemicals such as bleach, paint and cement.
"What was being fed was unclear, as it seemed to depend somewhat on daily donated foodstuffs," the report stated, noting a lack of a feeding plan by species approved by the veterinarian.
The report also noted the only source of drinking water in two bear enclosures was water troughs large enough for the animals to enter, with brown and opaque water. With regard to sanitation, the report also noted noncompliance where food receptacles were cleaned and there was evidence of mice infestation. Also in noncompliance was the lack of a written program of environmental enhancement for two lemurs, as is required to promote their psychologic well-being.
Founder and director Roberta Kirshner is adamant the center is in full compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
"I am really shocked. A lot of things that were said were not what was going on," she said. "It's very hurtful because I have a wonderful staff and we give our heart and soul to taking care of these animals."
The foundation works to meet all standards set forth for it and sets high standards for itself, Kirshner said. She said she thinks the inspector was not familiar with the center's work.
Many of the animals have special needs and volunteers do the best they can to provide care, Kirshner said. The inspectors may not have realized conditions of some animals pre-existed their arrival at the center.
"Once they come here we do our very, very best," she said. "It's just like a nursing home. Some people make it and some people don't. We do the best we can."
Kirshner also denied the report's details about feeding.
"Because food is in a box to be put into a Dumpster, don't assume we are going to feed it," she said. "We buy food that is the best for these animals. We check everything at least three times before we feed it. The animals wouldn't be in the condition they are in if any of it was bad stuff."
Kirshner declined to address further specifics of the report, saying she was waiting for the USDA's next visit. She looks forward to the next inspection so she can clear up the misunderstandings, she said.
"We are inspected every day by the public and agencies all the time. We have always been in compliance," she said. "If this stuff was the way it was represented, we wouldn't be here."
The APHIS website includes five inspection reports of the foundation dating to June 2012. Of the four prior reports, three had no issues of noncompliance and last Setpember's report had one issue related to handling of animals, when a member of the public was allowed to get in an enclosure with a large cat.
Bannerman noted only one area of noncompliance was a direct violation of the Animal Welfare Act. The others are indirect, which are still important to correct but do not have an immediate impact on health and wellness, Bannerman said.
The goal of the Animal Welfare Act is to ensure daily compliance with regulations for housing, handling, sanitation, feeding and care of regulated animals to ensure animals are well-cared for and not suffering in any way.
In situations where identified noncompliant items are not corrected by the specified time, APHIS takes appropriate enforcement action. Violations of the Animal Welfare Act can lead to penalties, including official warnings, fines, and license suspensions or revocations.