Allegations that donor money was stolen and animals were mistreated at the Wildcat Sanctuary in Pine County are false, but the refuge did experience a period of turmoil, two board members said Monday.
Meanwhile, Tammy Quist Thies, who founded the sanctuary, was reinstated Monday as executive director after months of being in charge of fundraising. “We are looking forward,” she said.
The nonprofit sanctuary harbors big wildcats, including lions and tigers, that were abandoned by private owners or became threats to public safety in Minnesota. About 100 cats live behind locked fences in a rural area near Sandstone, Minn., in a refuge funded by private donations.
Gail Plewacki, who chairs the board, said an independent audit of finances was commissioned this fall. “What it told us was that we didn’t lose any money, no one’s stealing from the sanctuary, period,” she said.
The sanctuary has an annual budget of about $850,000, which includes staff salaries and the care and feeding of wildcats.
Some donors and volunteers alleged that money was missing and wildcats were being neglected. Peggy Callahan, one of the new board members, said “disgruntled people” started rumors that led to upheaval at the sanctuary.
“It’s a bunch of hostile hearsay,” she said. “Nothing will stand up in the light of day. There’s nothing to see.”
Four of the sanctuary’s six board members are new, and a keeper of the cats resigned, Callahan said.
Thies was put solely in charge of fundraising last spring because she is a “marketing goddess,” Callahan said. The sanctuary board attempted to hire a new executive director but couldn’t find a candidate who had the vision that Thies brought as founder of the Sandstone sanctuary, and reinstated her as executive director.
“The donors love Tammy. To the world, the Wildcat Sanctuary is Tammy,” Callahan said.
Plewacki said no written complaints were submitted to the board but that she took the verbal allegations seriously. The audit showed those allegations were unfounded, she said, stating her “complete belief and faith” in Thies’ leadership.
“We never forget that the priority is the cats,” she said.
Thies said representatives of three accredited sanctuaries came Monday to help with wildcats and offer their support.
Because of state law, the Minnesota attorney general’s office couldn’t confirm or deny whether an investigation of the Wildcat Sanctuary was underway, said spokesman Ben Wogsland. Some people had indicated an interest in talking about the sanctuary but so far nobody had submitted a complaint, he said.
No criminal charges have been filed in Pine County.
The sanctuary had been substantially free of controversy since it relocated seven years ago to Pine County from Isanti County, after a dispute over a tiger.
Thies has led efforts to ban private ownership of wildcats and to impress on the public the dangers associated with raising wild animals.
Several attacks, at least one of them fatal, have occurred at private locations in Minnesota in recent years.