Former Wolf Haven International Executive Director Susan Sergojan broke her silence Thursday, disputing charges she let a 15-year-old wolf named Akela suffer needlessly before he was euthanized Jan. 10 at the Tenino area wolf sanctuary.
In a more than one-hour news conference in the Olympia law office of her attorney, Larry King, Sergojan leveled a wide variety of charges against Wolf Haven board members and employees, ranging from ongoing animal neglect to mismanagement to financial wrongdoing.
"Wolf Haven needs drastic change -- it needs to be redirected," she said. "My only crime was trying to give Akela a few more days on Earth."
The treatment of Akela has triggered an animal cruelty investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is not yet complete.
Here are some of Sergojan's allegations, and responses by some of the parties involved:
- Akela was clearly near the end of his life, but was not suffering in those final weeks and days.
"On Jan 4 Akela was up and around, sniffing at the bushes," she said. "He took water and he was alert with no apparent pain or distress."
The animal care supervisor, Wendy Spencer-Armestar, expressed doubts about the need to euthanize the wolf, and board President Michael Peters told Sergojan to call off plans to put Akela down, she said.
Spencer-Armestar said Thursday she had no doubts the wolf was suffering for several days before USDA veterinarians intervened and ordered the wolf euthanized.
"It was time for him," she said. "There was no quality of life. He had renal failure, and he hadn't eaten in weeks."
- Wolf Haven veterinarian Jerry Brown had little involvement with the wolf and hadn't spoken to Sergojan since July.
Brown said Thursday that he examined the wolf as early as November, did blood work on the animal in December and determined the end was near for Akela.
Brown said he arrived at Wolf Haven on Jan. 5 to euthanize the wolf. Sergojan came up to the car and told him it was not going to happen that day. Spencer-Armestar said she witnessed the encounter between Brown and Sergojan.
- Brown severed relations with her in July because she blew the whistle on a practice in which Wolf Haven employees took their pets to Brown's clinic for veterinary care and had the bills sent to Wolf Haven for payment.
"For her to say that just blows me away," Brown said. "It's not our practice to bill second parties."
He did acknowledge one incident last year in which a Wolf Haven employee brought his dog to the clinic for surgery and the bill was forwarded to Wolf Haven with the understanding that the discounted cost of surgery would be deducted from the employee's paycheck.
Board member Dave Imas said Thursday that he was aware of the one incident and that the board issued a directive to halt any billings of pet care to Wolf Haven.
Imas also denied that he or board President Michael Peters supported Sergojan's decision to keep Akela alive.
"We've always left those decisions up to animal care and the vet," he said. "I wasn't aware of the Akela situation until four days after Akela was euthanized."
Peters was out of state on business and could not be reached for comment.
- Peters called Sergojan on Feb. 8 and asked her to resign. Sergojan refused. Then she met with Peters and Imas on Feb. 9 and they again asked her to resign and ordered her not to talk to the news media. The board issued a news release Feb. 10, announcing Sergojan had resigned.
"I was fired," she said.
"The board gave her an option to resign or be terminated," Imas said. "She resigned."
- Sergojan was promised a severance package when she lost her $45,000-a-year job.
The contract she signed when she came on board, in April 2004 calls for two weeks pay, which still is forthcoming, Imas said, adding that no severance package was promised.
- Other wolves have died at Wolf Haven because of improper treatment, including a female named Kuani, who was mauled to death by other members of her pack Feb. 21.
Sergojan said she had recommended separation of the pack members as early as December because of aggressive mating season behavior, but was ignored.
"She didn't recommend splitting them up," Spencer-Armestar said.
The 52 animals, including 46 wolves, at Wolf Haven, are continuing to receive proper care, Imas and Spencer-Armestar said.
- Sergojan tried to halt the practice of bringing live animals on the property to be killed and fed to the wolves. She mentioned a case last summer in which three horses were slaughtered at Wolf Haven.
"Yes, it has happened," said Imas, who joined the board in February 2004. "I was a little surprised."
He said the case with the horses involved a Shelton man with three 37-year-old horses he did not want to send to a rendering plant. They were shot in the back of the property after Wolf Haven was closed.
"It was a one-time event," Imas said. "It never happened before or after, and Susan approved of the event."
Sergojan said children were present and heard the shots, something Spencer-Armestar denied.
"I'm not going to turn Wolf Haven into a slaughterhouse," Spencer-Armestar said, adding she did not support the horse killings.
Wolf Haven does accept roadkill and unwanted farm animals for feeding the wolves, which Imas said is not unusual at a place that cares for wolves.
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Sergojan said she has not been contacted by the USDA investigators to tell her side of the story.
She said she also has evidence of personal use by employees of Wolf Haven equipment and credit cards, and cases in which cash advances were not paid back.
Imas said he was unaware of all the allegations, but did acknowledge that there were too many credit cards issued for the business.
"We've cut a few of them up," he said.
The Wolf Haven investigation is ongoing and Sergojan will be contacted, USDA official Jim Rogers said.
"These cases can take a while," he said. "We do want to hear from all the parties involved."
The nonprofit wolf sanctuary founded in 1982 operates under an USDA exhibitor's license. If the Akela case is determined to be animal cruelty, Wolf Haven could face a fine, suspension or loss of license.
Sergojan said she wants Wolf Haven to succeed as a place for wolf education and as a wolf recovery center, but she has not ruled out legal action against the board.
The board is actively seeking new board members to fill several vacancies and a curator to take charge of overall animal care, Imas said. He said he expects Wolf Haven to weather the storm.
"I look at it as an organization that perhaps lost its way for a little while," he said.