Cat Fight

When a couple of wealthy benefactors took on the founder of the Texas Exotic Feline Foundation, they found themselves in a cat fight

Two months after writing that agreement, Dorfman would allege in his lawsuit that the two cats were in danger of losing their lives because of Reitnauer's "incompetence in handling wild animals" and the "legion of untrained volunteers" on whom she depends.

The tension mounted between Dorfman and Gene right before Katrina arrived, toward the end of July. Dorfman purchased Katrina from John Ames, a well-respected breeder in Oklahoma who is a participant in the Species Survival Plan and an associate of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Because Dorfman did not have the necessary license to buy Katrina, Ames devised a compromise whereby Dorfman could donate $6,000 to his company and he would donate the leopard to TEFF.

"I actually turned down a lot more money from another buyer, because I thought the leopard would get better care at TEFF," says Ames. "I don't think people realize what a stellar reputation Gene has in the professional community."

Gene wanted to tout that Ames had donated the cat to TEFF in the belief that it would give her foundation increased credibility with other associations around the country. But Dorfman got mad and demanded she make clear that Katrina was his.

Tensions escalated soon after, when a volunteer accidentally left a tiger's cage open and the tiger escaped. Dorfman says Gene got "hysterical and incoherent," and yelled at a visiting vet who did not know how to use the tranquilizer gun. Gene and the foundation welder coaxed the tiger into a nearby empty cage, and the affair ended without incident. But a shaken Gene chewed out the volunteer and told him she ought to shoot him.

"I had nightmares that it could have been Sabrina," says Dorfman. "That was a time Gene needed to stay calm and collected, and she did just the opposite. She doesn't learn from her mistakes."

"I did get mad at the volunteer. Are women not allowed to get mad?" Gene says.

Their growing enmity came to a head in mid-August. On a Friday morning, Sabrina vomited a puddle of blood. Gene called the vet--Claudia Alldredge's husband, who is also a vet--who said he would be out by early afternoon. Gene went out to feed the cats and had a volunteer call Dorfman to inform him of Sabrina's condition.

The volunteer paged Gene several times to say that Dorfman was upset and had called repeatedly to talk with her. When Gene got back to the office after feeding was complete, an irate Dorfman was on the phone demanding the color of the blood, because his local vet had told him that bright red could mean just a bone scratched the cat's stomach, but dark red could signify something more serious like a tumor.

"It was red, Louis, blood is red," Gene snapped.
"I don't have time for your arrogance today," said Dorfman, who was going in for eye surgery that afternoon.

Two days later, when Dorfman came out to TEFF to check on Sabrina, he and Gene began arguing about the issues that had been simmering--including appointing a board. "Take a month, get an attorney, work out something that is acceptable," Dorfman said. "We'll have a standstill agreement until then."

The truce lasted less than three weeks. Gene had installed two new board members: Becky Hammond, a woman who had previously worked at TEFF and had a background in bookkeeping, and P.C. Haynes, a state-certified wildlife rehabilitation specialist with a master's in zoology who runs a small nonprofit foundation for wildlife rehabilitation and community wildlife education in Hamilton County, 150 miles south of Fort Worth.

In addition to setting up a new accounting and budgeting system, they decided, in the interest of safety, to ask Dorfman, who told Gene he was ready to enter the cage of the fiercest lion at TEFF, and Cook to return their keys to the cages. A volunteer was to be with them at all times when they were in the cages. Gene told Dorfman the news.

"I decided at that moment to file suit," says Dorfman. "She was completely out of control. Anything short of an aggressive action is considered a sign of weakness by her. She does not understand accommodation."

Dorfman got an injunction preventing any of the volunteers from interacting with Sabrina and Katrina and from letting a vet declaw Katrina--an issue Gene had been pressing as a safety issue. In response to the injunction, Gene's lawyer drafted a letter saying that it would be best for Dorfman to remove Katrina and Sabrina, because under the circumstances, she could not guarantee the same care afforded the other animals.

"Moving Katrina and Sabrina was cruel," says Cook. "She was hurting the animals because of a human problem. I got a message to her that if she didn't remove the request by the end of the week, I would sue."

Cook actually filed two suits. The first one demanded that Gene return two parcels of empty land he had donated because they had not been actively used for TEFF purposes. During the first few weeks in October, Cook had his attorney ask the foundation to send him an account of how his donations had been used and offered to have the TEFF books audited at Cook's expense. Dissatisfied with the documents he received, he filed a civil suit against Gene, accusing her of a conspiracy to commit fraud.

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