The Wildcat Sanctuary

Open Letter to TWS in Response to the Attorney General's Investigation

Hello again,

I just wanted to express my great joy that the Attorney General's investigation uncovered what it did. All of you who continue to stand behind Tammy at this time are only making it worse for the cats. The best thing for TWS would be for Tammy to step down and allow the former keepers to pick up the pieces.

Your pride, arrogance, and deceitfulness is just poisoning an organization that so many people love for its mission. Tammy is not the "heart and soul" of the Sanctuary, the cats are. Until you understand that, it's the cats who suffer.

And Gail... I just want to say that I think you're a heartless coward for spurning the former volunteers (who you terminated) in your recent communications by saying that the volunteers who continue to stand behind Tammy are the dedicated ones. The real core group of volunteers spoke out because we are dedicated to the cause. It takes sincerity and courage to stand up for what is right, regardless of the obstacles that may stand in the way. You are not a leader, you are not compassionate; you are nothing more than a venomous viper who blindly lashes out at anyone who disagrees with you. Someday the boot will come down on your head and you'll have to deal with the consequences of your lies.

I continue to support the cats, maybe you all should do the same and vote Tammy and Gail out.

Considering that you don't even have a Board of Directors page on your site any more, I'm not entirely sure if all of you are still on the board. Regardless, I hope some of you are still around to make a difference.

Katherine Block
Volunteer since 2010

An Open Letter to the TWS Board of Directors, Pt. 3

Dear Tammy, Gail, and the TWS Board of Directors,

You may be relieved to know that this is the third and final open letter that you will receive from me for the foreseeable future. Regretfully, I feel like this practice has been a significant waste of my time as I have yet to hear a respectable answer from anyone on your side. Based on my experience and what I have heard from others, silence has been your universal MO during this self-inflicted crisis you have brought to an organization many people, including myself, have come to love and value as a major part of their lives. 

Although my letters (part 1 and part 2) have not received responses, I feel like I have gotten to know each of you very well over the past 3 weeks. Your treatment of this situation says a lot about your personalities, your ethics, and your leadership abilities. I’d like to take this opportunity to give The Wildcat Sanctuary’s Board of Directors an unofficial performance review. 

I don’t really know where to start with this because your communication skills have been a disaster from the beginning, well before the KSTP report aired. Donors and Volunteers had a right to know about the allegations brought against Tammy the week the Dorsey & Whitney report was delivered to you. Since then, the silence has been deafening. Not only have questions gone unanswered, but you have supplied outright lies to the public, seeking to defame the former staff who were simply trying to protect the organization when they brought their concerns to the board. What else have you been lying about? 

Decision Making
By terminating the entire staff, you demonstrated that you are more interested in covering something up then admitting to the truth and seeking forgiveness through transparency, not to mention the best interest of the cats you claim to be serving so well. As this situation continues to evolve, you move farther and farther away from any hope of forgiveness and trust, thereby causing irreparable damage to the sanctuary’s image. When the truth is known, the rest of its supporters will leave in droves because they will have tied Tammy’s wrong-doings to TWS itself. I know many of you are new to the board, but even if you were not directly involved with these recent actions, you must be held at least partially accountable for them if you continue to ignore the questions that are being asked of you. How long can you hide the truth?

Using the TWS website to post propaganda seeking to clear Tammy’s name is truly low. You give a skewed perspective of a situation to hide what has actually happened. You are lying to supporters by sugar-coating problems that may have catastrophic repercussions if they are not handled correctly. Deleting comments and questions from concerned supporters is another one of those “no-nos” that they tell you about in Social Media 101. Not only did you leave the feeling of concern nagging at the back of everyone’s mind, allowing it to fester into uncertainty, but you personally insulted anyone whose comment you deleted. How long will the organization survive as you continue to disrespect everyone’s loyalty and intelligence like this?

People Skills
As a volunteer who has dedicated hundreds of hours to help TWS through on-site construction, off-site events and online resources, with both manual labor and professional services, I have never felt so devalued or insulted until you cut off all the volunteers without explanation. You poured salt on the wounds when you refused to answer my questions or the questions asked by my friends and fellow volunteers. Three weeks into this situation and we continue to be under the volunteer moratorium with no idea as to when it will be lifted. It is impossible to believe everything is going smoothly on the sanctuary grounds when you have cut off all of the experienced volunteers who made the organization what it is. When the volunteers finally are allowed back, I wonder how many of them will actually return after being treated with such complete disrespect. Can the sanctuary survive without a strong network of dedicated volunteers who unwaveringly support the mission and values of TWS?

At this point, I think you know where this is going to end. I feel like I have painted an adequate picture of how thoroughly you have failed all of us: the donors, the volunteers and the cats. In fact, your failure on this situation is almost so magnificent as to be applause-worthy. Quality leadership would have provided direction and sought to help supporters understand what the changes were and why certain decisions were made. Yet you all hide behind misdirection and lies. When was deception ever a respectable or desirable quality to have in leadership?

Overall Assessment
As it stands, I don’t see much hope for the current leadership and I definitely don’t see any action being taken on the promise of transparency. While you may be successful in putting off the inevitable, I only see your actions as having a poisonous result for the organization and the cats which it claims to protect. This situation can easily become an example of animals being harmed because of your human error. 

Recommendations for Improvement

  • Explain the entire situation from your perspective; if not publicly, at least provide it to the volunteers and key donors.
  • Host an open-forum “town hall” style event where volunteers, staff, and former staff may voice their concerns and receive answers without hostility or evasion.
  • Introduce yourselves and explain your qualifications and roles in the organization, be it in person or online via the still negligently empty Board of Directors web page.  
  • Above all, stop treating this situation so lightly in your public communications. After the coming extensive investigation, it could easily become the death of the sanctuary and should be treated with gravity.

We continue to wait for the answers we deserve as people who have donated time and money for something we passionately care about. I may be done bothering with you; however, I’m not done looking for the truth. I know the truth will be found soon; it’s just unfortunate that you were not wise enough to provide it yourself. 

Katherine Block

An Open Letter to the TWS Board of Directors, Pt. 2

To Tammy and the Board of Directors of The Wildcat Sanctuary,

It’s been over a week since the KSTP report aired. That has given you time to react to the situation and allowed the public a chance to assess your behavior. Instead of getting answers, the week has only inspired more questions. Because I have yet to receive a response to the first letter I sent you, I thought I’d follow up and give you an update on what I think. 

No answers
Unlike my first letter, I don’t think I’ll have many questions for you here because I think you’ve heard them all. You’ve heard, and chosen to ignore, all of the relevant questions that key supporters have asked. You have told us that all of your time is being spent taking care of the cats, and while I am grateful that there has been “no break in the continuity of their care”, I have to wonder why the board can’t draft a summary of the real situation and answer our questions. The board is not involved in the care of the animals. They are the leadership behind the organization and they are the key decision makers that have brought us to this point. 

Since the report aired last week, volunteers and donors have heard nothing but vague references to a "time of transition”, and “a team of professionals” who are dedicating “all time and energy” to the care of the cats. We still don’t know what the “transition” is or why the original staff is gone. We know that allegations have been brought against Tammy which state she has been embezzling funds from the Sanctuary and now it seems she once again has complete control of the TWS as Executive Director. These allegations have been backed by a Dorsey & Whitney report that has not been released to the public. Communications have refuted this claim by saying an undisclosed independent audit was done and it supposedly found nothing. However without the 2012 annual report, which has not been posted as it should be, we have no way of verifying any of these claims. 

We know that the board has experienced a 100% turn over in the past year and that dedicated members of the board have removed themselves one by one without explanation for their resignation, or recognition for their service. We also know that internships were terminated early and winter internships have been canceled. 

The professionals who have been brought in to care for the cats come from many non-accredited sanctuaries from out of state. We do not know what qualifies these individuals to take care of the cats at the Sanctuary, many of whom have very special needs and do not respond well to high stress situations. It is impossible for us to know whether the standards which were established by the former keepers are being maintained to the level that made TWS so admirable in the first place. 

Silencing Tactics
During the initial shock of learning about the report, many volunteers, donors, and supporters had questions about what was happening. They did what is natural to people these days and took to social media to get answers. These questions were not disrespectful, they were honest and concerned. Instead of being treated with dignity and respect, questions were promptly deleted and ignored. By deleting the comments, you not only showed that you would rather maintain the veneer of innocence than get the situation under control but that anyone that cares enough to dig deeper does not matter to you. 

There’s nothing like saying “There’s nothing to see here” to inspire curiosity. Hiding so many questions and concerns with such rabid ferocity only makes an already bad situation worse. 

Give to the Max Day
Because of the behavior which I have described above, I will not be donating to TWS for Give to the Max day this Thursday. Please know that it pains me to say this because I want the cats to continue receiving the absolute best care and I continue to believe in the stated mission of the Sanctuary. However I must put my money where my mouth is. I cannot support the leadership that has chosen to treat their supporters so poorly. I demand that serious consideration be given to management and that stakeholders (donors and volunteers) be given a chance to evaluate, nominate, and vote for leadership who truly represents the values of the organization. As of now, we still don’t know anything about the board members, other than their names. This is unacceptable given the current situation.

Instead of donating to TWS for Give to the Max day, I will be giving money to Renee Radziwon-Chapman’s memorial fund. She should not have been left alone at Wild Cat Haven and expected to maintain the sanctuary on her own while leadership helped TWS during this self-inflicted crisis. 

Tiger Fleet
Since late 2010, I have participated in what is known as the "Tiger Fleet", a group of supporters who promote TWS by having vinyl decals of the tigers Titan and Lilly attached to their car. I have faithfully answered questions and encouraged individuals to learn more about TWS. As this situation continues to unfold, I cannot condone the current leadership by continuing to support an organization that has treated people so poorly and used its mission to rescue animals to justify this behavior. I will be removing the decals from my car within the week. 

Finding the Truth
In a recent email from Tammy, she told me “It may be easy to make some assumptions given the silence and receiving only one side of the story…” but I want to take this opportunity to assure her and everyone on the board that my opinions are based not only on the news report, but also on the experiences of many individuals over the past year. My own experience during this crisis is enough to formulate my opinion on the current leadership. Please do not belittle our concerns by weakly deflecting the argument. 

I have heard many sides of this story and eagerly await hearing the full truth, be it from you or an investigation made public. 

It should be clear to you by now that those who have expressed concern during this crisis do so for the cats. Ultimately we want The Wildcat Sanctuary to succeed, but we question the current management and feel that a different kind of restructuring should be done to help TWS maintain its high standards and sustainability. 

~ Katherine

P.S. If you have an ounce of humanity in you, you will encourage your network of supporters to consider donating to Renee's family during their time of need... just a suggestion. 

An Open Letter to the The Wildcat Sanctuary Board of Directors

 To Gail Plewacki and the rest of the TWS Board of Directors,

As recent news articles and broadcasts have indicated, there have been allegations brought against The Wildcat Sanctuary that have caused a great deal of concern among volunteers, donors, and the general public. As this topic continues to evolve, I have questions that must be answered before I can, in good conscience, continue to support the organization. These questions focus on the management of the Sanctuary, specifically as it pertains to how leadership is selected, how issues are handled, and how we have come to this situation.

I have been a dedicated volunteer with the Sanctuary since February 2010. From the beginning, I became as involved as I possibly could because I supported the stated mission to provide a safe haven for exotic cats, most of whom have been purchased and raised by private owners who could not support the needs of such large and complex animals. 

My involvement has included Awareness and Outreach events, print and web design support, gift shop product creation, Domestic Animal Care support, enclosure building, Crisis Communication team on-site support, recruitment of new volunteers, and promoting the Sanctuary with my car by being part of the Tiger Fleet. I have seen firsthand the amazing care that is given to each and every animal. All of the residents have the respect they deserve after starting their lives with countless challenges. 

All of that being said, I have been extremely dissatisfied with how the leadership has handled this situation and I require answers to the following questions:

  • Are the results of the independent investigation available to the public? What were the specific allegations brought against the Sanctuary and how does the evidence support your public stance? 
  • What is the explanation for the rapid turn-over of board members over the past year? Almost the entire board has changed in the past 12 months and former board members have completely removed themselves from the organization.
  • What is the process for nominating and appointing new board members? Having been a volunteer for three years, I have never been aware of open positions, opportunities for nomination, voting arrangements or qualifications of current or potential members.
  • Are board meetings open to the public, and are agendas posted in advance to provide the opportunity for volunteers and donors to be involved?
  • After the snow crisis that occurred in late April, the Sanctuary claimed that “Approximately $100,000" in damages were sustained. As one of the volunteers that were the first to respond to the crisis, I helped repair many enclosures so that they could continue to be used by residents. Over two weeks, we restored at least 7 permanent enclosures and the quarantine enclosure to functional status. These repairs were made using many of the supplies that were already on hand. Very little had to be rebuilt from the ground up. How did the organization come to the $100,000 amount, how much was actually raised, and what specifically were those funds used for?

Volunteers, donors, and concerned citizens deserve transparency on these issues and your recent responses have lacked the detail needed to earn my trust back. 

Thank you and I look forward to your timely response,

Katherine Block

Follow up Information: 

Anyone with concerns is encouraged to contact the office of the MN Attorney General (651) 296-3353 or 1-800-657-3787.


Trikked Out

In the Spring, I organized an event for The Wildcat Sanctuary at a local coffee shop. The event was called Musical Notes and Brush Strokes and it featured a gallery of art donated by TWS supporters. We also encouraged artists to submit their own Trikky doll to help raise money for TWS. My contribution was inspired by one of my favorite online comics, Lackadaisy Cats. The character's name is Rocky, and he's a delightful bit of chaos in the comics. I had a ton of fun working on this project and setting up the event. I can't wait to do another Trikky doll, they're a fun and unique challenge! [gallery link="file"]

Gettin' Trikky with it

As some of you may or may not know, I've been working on setting up an event called Musical Notes and Brush Strokes for The Wildcat Sanctuary this coming Saturday (June 18th) at the Excelsior Dunn Brothers from 8-10pm featuring the fabulous Dana Thompson. We'll also be displaying a gallery of art by local artists that have donated their work for the benefit of TWS's residents. Not only that, but we'll have live painting by my beautiful and talented friend Mandi Bettenhausen. How exciting is that? Part of the art show will involve the display of these great Trikky dolls that will have been painted and decorated to the heart's content of the artists that make them. Mine is coming along pretty well, although not nearly quickly enough... really I should be working on that right now, but I'm rather enjoying hanging out blogging out on my friend David's porch. It would be a SHAME to get paint on his swinging porch chair...a shame...

So for now, here are some progress images of my doll. His name is Rocky and he's from my most favorite web comic ever, Lackadaisy cats. Perfect for our upcoming Jungle Boogie event when the theme will be the Roaring 20's :)

He's starting to look a little crazy... so it's perfect!

Hangin' with the cool cats

Yesterday I made my second trek up to The Wildcat Sanctuary. The two hour drive wasn't as bad as I was thinking it would be. It was nice to just relax, listen to music and ponder what's going on in my life right now. Always good to have some "me time", it seems that my introverted nature is lashing back at me and telling me to chill with the socializing.

To my surprise when I got to the sanctuary I was told I would get to spend the day taking care of the Bengals, something I wasn't expecting to get to do until next week when I'm getting officially trained in for it. That was an excellent surprise. Trista showed me around the prep room and gave me a quick overview of that area. Then we went to each of the Bungalows and met the cats, talked about any special needs they had and she let me have at it.

The residents of the first Bungalow gave me the warmest greeting, Tiger ran up my leg and climbed onto my shoulders, purring in my ear and rubbing his adorable furry head on my face, while the others scurried around mewing curiously at the new person in their home. Most of these guys were super friendly and enjoyed human company. Now, I should say that the work I did was not glamorous, cleaning up poo, getting mucked up in the rainny gloom and sniffling from the different kind of cat dander that I'm not used to wasn't fun by itself. But it felt good helping the cats and making their homes more comfortable.

In the third bungalow I met Spartacus and Ciega, their stories are really amazing and it's good to see these animals overcoming the challenges of the life they were given so unfairly. Both of them have examples of the potential birth defects that occur when people try to breed Bengals. As heart breaking as it was to see them initially, it was motivating to see them getting along just fine with their challenges. Ciega always knew when I was in the room with her and paced the perch impatiently until I petted her and said hello. She eagerly butted heads with me when she found where I was. It was so amazing to watch her move from perch to perch with such familiar ease. The third bungalow is also where I met Maui, another cat that is fond of shoulder perching. Unfortunately, he's a little unsure of his footing because of bad knees (something we have in common, I feel for him) so I have some nice scratches on my neck from where he lost his balance a little. It's all good though!

Jumping ahead to Bungalow 6, I got to meet some of the earlier generations of Bengals and the Jungle Cats. This one was particularly intimidating...the cats were bigger than the others (being F1s they were less domestic than most of the ones in the previous areas). I was greeted by Ty, the Chausie who impatiently paced the fence as I approached, hoping I brought more chicken, which I didn't. When he established that I didn't have anything interesting, he left me alone for the most part. Here I also met Ledger, appropriately named for the markings on his face that make him look terrifyingly like the Joker from the recent Dark Knight movie. He let me know that I was not welcome near him as he hissed at me from his corner where he was snuggled up with another cat. His eyes were fiercely intelligent and he watched me as I cleaned their boxes, swept and mopped their enclosure. As scared as I was of Ledger, I had to realize that he was more scared of me. Later, as I was putting the linens back in the heated room, Ty had decided to lay on them while I was cleaning so convincing him to move was rather challenging...and terrifying when I insulted him by pulling them out from under him. He hissed and moved indignantly.

This trip was super exhausting but worth every minute of the long drive. I can't wait until next week when I get to do it again. I'm pondering the idea of making the trip every Saturday instead of just every other like the original plan was. I might be able to carpool with Trista some weekends so that should help cut down on the gas bill... I hope.

On another note, I talked to my Externship bosses last week about the next steps now that I'm at the half way point and they agreed that they want to bring me on as a more permanent member of their team. I'm super excited because I absolutely love what I've been doing there. The environment is welcoming and encouraging, the people are helpful and inspiring, and the work is stimulating and exciting. I've been so remarkably lucky to have had this opportunity and am happy to get a job in the field that I went to school for. I have some things to work on, but John is happy to work with me and give me any pointers I need.

To celebrate the new job and the fact that I'll have reliable income out of graduation, I splurged and ordered myself a new 15" MacBook Pro complete with the Adobe Master Suite CS4 and a fancy wireless Magic Mouse. I am so beyond excited to play with the new toy and get it all set up. I'll have to come up with a name for it...any suggestions?

Anyway, time for bed, gotta wake up early in the morning to go running. Trying to make it a point to go three times a week before work and run 40 minutes. Already done one week, so hopefully I'll keep it up and make it a habit. Hoping to start the TEAM Fitness program they have soon and get down to my goal weight (lose ten pounds) by the time my performance is. Should be no problem, just have to watch what I eat a little more closely and keep up with the working out. Good times!