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

Cook recently filed suit against three volunteers who he claims committed crimes of perjury and destruction of evidence in order to cover up for Gene. He sued one volunteer who phoned Robert Reitnauer after Dorfman filed suit to ask Robert to verify in writing that the money Gene sent him had been used for a grant. He sued a volunteer who Cook alleges made massive deletions on the TEFF computer and possibly destroyed crucial evidence in the case. And he sued a third volunteer, a 52-year-old probation officer from Tyler, who testified that she saw minutes from the November board meeting showing the grant was discussed months before the board secretary claims he had written them.

"It would have been a whole lot easier if she [Gene Reitnauer] would stand up and take responsibility for what she has done," says Cook. "Now she's gotten three more people in trouble for doing things."

"She antagonized her two biggest donors," says Dorfman. "What does that tell you what's in the cats' best interest? If I had someone who gave me $700,000, I would be out there washing his car."

Not all the donors see it their way.
"Dorfman and Cook are bullies," says Fred Brodsky, owner of a real estate investment company who organized the massive effort to bring the Mexico City lions to TEFF. "This is a power play about ego."

And the power play continues to escalate. The welder recently kicked the volunteers off the TEFF property. Only a few will be allowed back on, after first submitting to an interview.

"This is ludicrous," says Brodsky. "The socialization and level of care provided by the volunteers is what made TEFF a first-class facility."

It's 9 p.m. two nights before Christmas, and Gene is sobbing. Sikio, the cougar she raised from eight weeks of age to keep her pet leopard company, is out in the sanctuary deathly ill. She has heard that they might have to destroy the cat, which has liver problems. She can see lights on at his cage where the vet is examining him. But she is not allowed to be at Sikio's side.

"This is criminal," she says. "It is insensitive and demeaning and cruel. They are not just punishing me. They are punishing the cat. It is as if they are trying to keep a child away from its mother." A few days later, Sikio was operated on and, as of this writing, is still alive.

After several experts, including Dallas Zoo director Rich Buickerood, testified that the cats could be adversely harmed by being separated from Gene, Cook and Dorfman are now trying to press a case that is the equivalent of saying Gene is an unfit mother. They claim that the cats are too thin, that the cats' coats lack luster, and that 10 or so of them are suffering from worms not uncommon in exotic cats. To add insult to injury, they had Robert Reitnauer tour the place; he says he was shocked to find the condition the animals were in.

But veterinarian Claudia Alldredge, who treated the animals at TEFF for five years until she moved to San Antonio at the end of the summer, says the cats are "unbelievably healthy." She came back to consult on a case and saw the cats in October.

"This is not a personality contest, but I'm afraid it is turning into one," Alldredge says. "She's done a wonderful job with the animals, and many of them wouldn't be alive if it weren't for her. I'm just sick about this. But I'm afraid the time for compromise is long past. This won't stop, because they have enough money to get it done. And she's made enough people mad through the years.

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