POTH, Others, Irresponsible Care Masquerading as Sanctuary for Wild Animals
For Immediate Release
March 18, 2023
Contact: Hannah Thompson-Garner, Director of Advocacy and Mission Advancement, Northwest Animal Rights Network, firstname.lastname@example.org
Predators of the Heart, others, are irresponsible animal care masquerading as responsible wildlife rescues
Updated on March 18, 2023
Seattle, WA – Many people want to support organizations that contribute to the care and well-being of nonhuman animals and sanctuaries, and animal rescues are widely viewed as safe alternatives to exploitative zoos and aquariums. Those who love wildlife and other nonhuman animals care deeply for them and would never directly contribute to their suffering. However, before choosing which wildlife rescues or encounters to support, it’s important to do research; otherwise your dollars may ultimately be doing more harm than good. Learn how to spot legitimate and accredited sanctuaries versus animal exhibitors that purport to be sanctuaries or rescues but actually end up harming nonhuman animals.
Part of the confusion is due to the fact that roadside zoos, animal-display exhibitors, and other wild-animal attractions are frequently able to capitalize on the terms sanctuary or rescue by using what should be a straightforward concept and twisting it for profit. By using terms broadly associated with a specific level of care and reverence for their animal inhabitants, companies, including nonprofit corporations, are able to craft a narrative for the average consumer that they are sharing a mutually beneficial relationship with their rescued animals. For example, companies exhibiting questionable and harmful animal display practices will state that animals would have otherwise died had they not been “rescued,” or that the animals will ultimately be put down if the company is forced to close, justifying harmful practices for the sake of making a profit. Alternatively, legitimate sanctuaries prioritize animal care above all else, and will not engage in harmful company policies or practices toward the animals in their care.
Many people are familiar with the harm that tourist-driven animal exhibits cause around the world. Tiger Temple, a highly criticized Tiger petting zoo in Thailand, is one of the most high-profile examples of “safe spaces” for animals that are anything but safe, both for humans and nonhumans. Another roadside animal attraction featuring direct interaction with wild animals was the infamous zoo featured in Tiger King, a Netflix documentary about Wynnewood Zoo, which bred and sold Tigers; thankfully, it has also lost its animals. Tiger King revealed the extreme cruelty behind what must happen to wild animals for humans to approach them, pet them, take selfies with them, and then post on social media. These practices are not unique to Wynnewood Zoo, Tiger Temple, or even to Tiger roadside attractions and other profit-driven animal-handling exhibits. In fact, roadside zoos and attractions fronting as safe spaces for animals are rampant across the United States—and Washington state. Below are three examples of animal exhibitor organizations local to Washington that do not prioritize animal care.
Predators of the Heart, Anacortes, WA
One of these exhibitors masquerading as a sanctuary is Predators of the Heart, aka Because We Matter Wildlife Sanctuary. Predators of the Heart is a good case study on how to spot the differences between harmful and helpful animal care practices at wildlife attractions. It has received much publicity lately over the public vitriol that the humans of the organizations now face. Wolves are its star attraction and are heavily featured throughout its website and advertising, though POTH has claimed in an ongoing legal case that human-Wolf interactions had only occurred between customers and “wolfdogs.” The gravest offense POTH was guilty of, before having to suspend operations due to permitting issues, was allowing humans to directly engage with—as in pet, cuddle, and take selfies with—its wild animals. NARN considers these “wolfdogs” wild animals; POTH also calls the animals “Wolves,” and it admits that they are in fact wild as well. “Wolfdogs” sometimes go by the name “Wolf-hybrid.” POTH has also participated in breeding wild animals, including “wolfdogs,” under their care in the past.
No reputable wildlife sanctuary would ever, under any circumstances, allow visitors inside wild-animal enclosures or allow visitors to handle their wild animals. Reputable sanctuaries do not participate in breeding their animals; instead, they focus on giving the best possible care to those already
housed within the sanctuary. A change in recent ownership has led some to believe that POTH is working to reform its harmful ways. The aforementioned ongoing permitting issue has made these claims difficult to independently verify because POTH has not been operating for the past year. Inside sources at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) also confirm that POTH is not a rescue partner, and is ineligible for a rehabilitation or scientific collections permit, meaning that POTH is not eligible to acquire native wild animals from inside Washington.
Unfortunately, WDFW sources also stated that POTH’s past owner, Dave Coleburn, had been under investigation for trapping wild animals inside Washington, possibly for POTH, and that the department will not send wild animals to the facility. Dave Coleburn is the father of POTH’s current Executive Director, Ashley Carr. In fact, one Wolf who had escaped her enclosure was killed via euthanasia once back in confinement because she had killed a neighborhood companion animal Dog. Wildlife placement agencies will not risk placing wild animals in facilities not capable of adequately housing the animals and meeting their needs. (If in doubt over the credibility of an animal exhibitor, it always helps to call one of the state regulating authorities, who may be able to provide information not immediately searchable on the internet. POTH is permitted by the Washington Department of Agriculture and by the USDA.)
We contacted POTH and attempted to arrange a conversation with them to discuss these issues, but the process stalled due to a lack of follow-up response on their side.
Olympic Game Farm, Sequim, WA
Overt offenders may be more obvious to spot even for those not well versed in the wildlife trade industry or in wildlife care. The Olympic Game Farm has had numerous USDA citations, even though this U.S. agency is known for its lackadaisical (at best) approach to animal welfare. On the occasions the USDA did uncover and consequently chose to report animal welfare violations, it documented extremely concerning behavior, such as staff not giving animals prescribed medication and ignoring veterinary care instruction (disturbingly, the USDA designates these violations as “non-critical”). A 2019 Seattle Times article further detailed the problems found at OGF and also revealed that WDFW refuses to send animals to this facility.
Enclosures at the game farm are too small, and WDFW staff have denounced the living conditions that animals are housed in. Animals are forced to live in dirty, run-down, cramped housing. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sued OGF, alleging animal cruelty among other abuses. The case has been taken up by the Washington State Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear it because there is enough evidence to make the argument that OGF may have violated the Endangered Species Act. The complaint also alleges that OGF failed to give adequate veterinary care to injured animals.
The game farm is set up as a drive-through animal-entertainment facility. Bears are tossed slices of bread from cars rolling by their cages. Animals considered less dangerous walk up to cars and stick their tongues or heads through open windows. Close proximity of wild animals to moving vehicles and human passengers presents a marked risk for injury to both humans and nonhuman animals.
Additionally, depending on the species, Bears and other wildlife either should not or cannot digest processed human foods, such as the wheat bread the OGF Bears have been trained to perform for, as it deviates from their natural diet. Animals trained to perform for food handouts often suffer from malnutrition, and animals are frequently starved or left unfed before visitors arrive in order to force them to perform for the handouts.
The Reptile Zoo, Monroe, WA
Another serious animal exhibitor offender is the Reptile Zoo. The attraction allows for visitors to pay an additional fee in order to “pet” various reptiles, such as a Tortoise and an Alligator. The zoo also facilitates no-fee “adoptions.” The zoo allows its wild animals off of its facility grounds in order to “attend” birthday parties or other private reptile encounters available to consumers. (Similarly, POTH has pledged to begin only taking reptiles—who are still wild animals—off its facility grounds for human entertainment purposes, acknowledging that moving mammals around is stressful for the animals.) The Reptile Zoo purports that all venomous reptiles have been surgically de-venomized, so as not to harm humans who handle them and to safeguard anyone who may be in the vicinity of an escaped venomous Snake. De-venomized Snakes, called venomoids, have been surgically altered. This surgical intervention is controversial, and Snakes may suffer from serious health concerns and side effects. The Australian Association of Veterinarians actively discourages veterinarians from performing the procedure.
Of course, mammals should not be the only nonhuman animals afforded the luxury of avoiding forced human engagement for entertainment purposes, even purposes that purport to be educational. Notably, there is a lack of research correlating an inclination toward conservation and other positive learning effects with participation in “educational” live-animal exhibits. Even less research has been done on the long-term welfare consequences to the animals on display. Furthermore, reptiles are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA); therefore, they do not enjoy the same protections and regulatory measures as mammals do. Consequently, the Reptile Zoo is not beholden to the USDA, the agency in charge of enforcing the AWA, for permitting, and is not issued citations for any USDA violations of care regarding its reptiles. Lack of oversight for reptiles in general makes them a convenient way for animal exhibitors to exploit wildlife for profit.
Parading animals for the purpose of entertaining humans, especially children, which appear to be the Reptile Zoo’s targeted demographic, leads to the misconception that reptiles and other exotic animals make good pets and are easily suited for life within human environments. Demand for exotic reptiles has fueled the illegal wildlife trade and contributes to instances of abandoned, abused, and neglected exotic animals that require specialized care. Reputable rescues and sanctuaries take every precaution against fueling trade demand for the species in their care. It is important to only patronize responsible reptile organizations, not those operating for human-entertainment purposes.
While humans often do not recognize poor animal welfare standards at wildlife attractions, there is a significant need for discussion around and awareness of the different types of wild-animal attractions. Humans must be vigilant and approach all animal tourist activities and attractions with extreme caution. Most of these activities are exploitative toward the nonhuman animals they claim to help. Furthermore, promoting selfies (by both staff and visitors) with wild animals that subsequently get shared online is contradictory to promoting animal welfare. Social media has had a massive impact on how humans now perceive wildlife, and a plethora of selfies of humans cuddled up with nonhuman wild animals only helps to perpetuate demand for harmful wildlife encounters as well as spark demand for exotic “pets.”
The good news is that telling real sanctuaries from fake ones is much easier once you know what to look for. See below for a comparative list on what the practices of a legitimate sanctuary are and what they’re not.
|Real Sanctuaries||Petting Zoos/Attractions|
|Will never allow the public to handle, pet, or make contact with nonhuman animals. Why? Because sanctuaries witness firsthand the problems that arise with the exotic pet trade, which is perpetuated by social media’s obsession with wild-animal selfies, supplied by fake sanctuaries and other zoos.
Make every effort to be truly educational—without the petting and pizzazz. Wild animals are dangerous. Accredited sanctuaries understand that healthy and well wild animals do not gravitate toward human interaction. These sanctuaries do not remove wild animals from their grounds in order to attend public events, such as state fairs or school programs.
Care about their human visitors and the nonhuman animals in their care. They do not allow handling because both children and adults have been seriously harmed by wild-animal handling attractions. Furthermore, real sanctuaries would never put their animals in jeopardy of being harmed, a very real possibility if a human/animal interaction goes wrong and the animal must be subdued or killed to protect humans on the property.
Are a response to the harmful exotic wild animal trade, not perpetrators of it. Sanctuaries will never participate in the breeding and sale of animals in their care to other facilities/attractions. The point is to house and care for harmed animals, not to profit from breeding or trade programs.
Will be accredited and will hold themselves to a high standard of care. They take seriously what it means to be a sanctuary for hurt animals. Always check to see if the wildlife attraction is accredited by someone other than the USDA, which does not differentiate between sanctuaries and other attractions. A good accreditation to look at for sanctuaries is the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
|Allow close-contact selfies, entrance inside wild animal exhibits, and handling of wild animals. These practices perpetuate the false and harmful notion that wild animals make friendly pets and belong in captivity for the benefit of humans.
Will have an “education” component (if they have one at all) intended to obfuscate what they really are—unaccredited wild-animal attractions. They may also feature “educational content” in order to solicit donations but have nothing to show for their efforts in terms of true conservation initiatives.
Must often kill or tranquilize wild animals if they attack humans at these attractions. There is very little accountability from the companies housing the animals. These attractions will drug wild animals, remove their teeth, claws, or other dangers to humans, and/or starve their animals so that they are more receptive to human contact, among other practices. POTH had to euthanize one Wolf who escaped her enclosure and killed a canine companion animal.
Frequently have a “draw,” often including young or baby animals for cuddling or selfies. If they admit to participating in breeding programs, they should be immediately suspected of contributing to the harmful exotic-animal trade. Additionally, any attraction that always has a steady supply of young animals, for example Wolf puppies or cubs, is not legitimate. Sanctuaries do not have a steady supply of babies because they are not relying on babies to drive sales.
Will not be accredited by relevant reputable institutions and will not make efforts to acquire such accreditations. They often face permitting issues and multiple citations from presiding agencies.
This is not an exhaustive list of what sets a real sanctuary apart from petting zoos and other attractions that claim to provide sanctuary for animals. Alarmingly, the designation sanctuary is not even particularly regulated. Just about any company can slap “Sanctuary” onto their name.
One very valid concern people have over moving away from exploitative animal exhibits is what may ultimately happen to the animals if their housing facilities are shut down and the companies go out of business. As mentioned previously, many unreputable “sanctuaries” claim that animals held in their care will be put down if they are unable to turn enough profit. However, reputable and reliable sanctuaries have been filling the role of rescuer to animals in pseudo-sanctuaries for quite some time. Just like domestic companion animal shelters, sanctuaries work with other organizers in the area to rehome animals once a facility has been shut down. Fish and Wildlife agencies often help facilitate the rehoming process.
It’s our responsibility to promote work that actually helps animals, as well as to call out companies or attractions that profit off the suffering and exploitation of animals. Please be a responsible consumer and avoid harmful animal attractions, both for your health and safety and for the animals’ health and happiness. Don’t donate to, promote, or visit exhibits that violate one or more of the rules of thumb above. If you’re looking for a real sanctuary to visit or want to be a responsible consumer, there are several in Washington that allow visitors, including Pasado’s Safe Haven and Heartwood Haven.