Crying fowl

Wildlife activists claim that the managers at Samuell Farm Park are abusing the land, its animals, and anyone else who gets in their way

They never heard much of anything when it came to Samuell Farm--perhaps because complaints mistakenly went to the city of Mesquite, or perhaps because the Dallas Park and Recreation Department didn't want the park board to know anything that would jeopardize the farm's revenue-generating potential. When rumblings of trouble did make their way to City Hall, the department tended to circle the wagons to protect Doug Melton. And Doug Melton knew how to protect his interests as well.

"All he cares about are the Civil War people," says Robert Brunson, who runs the farm's horseback-riding concession. "They run the park."

But for others who worked there, like Kathy Rogers, the farm was more than just a stage set for a bunch of middle-aged men who got their jollies carrying muskets and singing "Dixie." For Rogers, Samuell Farm was a refuge for wounded wildlife, like the duck that was brought there after its bill had been burned off by some Mesquite teenagers. She loved her animals and tended to get a little emotional about them.

Kathy Rogers came to Samuell Farm in 1985 as a volunteer. She eventually joined the staff, only to be laid off in the late '80s when the recession forced the park board to slash personnel. She continued working for no pay until she was rehired in 1989. At that time, the park was still modeled after a 19th-century farm, complete with butter churns and bonnet-wearing farmhands. When the couple who established this concept retired in 1990, they named Rogers the interim manager. Once Melton came aboard a year later, she resumed her duties as livestock manager, which included taking care of the animals and keeping various farm records--such as the log for the old fuel tanks, which she noted were leaking 35 to 40 gallons with each fill. But Melton claims this was normal. "Due to the configuration of the tanks and the weather, we would have that much fluctuation," he says.

In her spare time at the farm, she founded the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center--a nonprofit animal hospital for wild fowl that she named after herself. She turned her Mesquite home into the headquarters, and her office in Samuell Farm's main barn became the clinic. At first the center was taking in just a few dozen injured birds, but soon the cages were stacked ceiling-high. Today the volunteer-staffed center treats and releases nearly 3,000 birds a year. It has also begun a breeding program for exotic migratory birds. The RWRC became her true love. Sitting amid the cackle of her recovering patients while looking out the window into the petting zoo, she envisioned an educational center, exhibition cages, and more birds.

Rogers tried to establish an official relationship with the Dallas Parks Department; the process \would prove unending. Her quest for a five-year lease, under a contract that would have her handing over 10 to 30 percent of all donations to the city, began in 1996. While she waited for word of the next step from her boss, Doug Melton, City Hall was waiting for her paperwork--for eight months. "Doug never told me they were waiting for anything," says Rogers. Eventually, an impatient city official copied her one of the many memos sent to Melton, and Rogers immediately responded with the necessary information.

In December 1996, the city told her that because she was a city employee, she needed to remove her name from the center and resign as the nonprofit's director. She did, and the park board later approved her proposal for the new RWRC, renamed the Rescued Wildlife Rehab Center. While the contract waited on Ralph Mendez's desk for a few signatures before being sent to the city council for final approval, Rogers and her organization began building an outdoor walk-through exhibit area for large birds of prey, such as owls, hawks, and vultures. Then she waited some more.

Rogers says that Melton always blamed the waiting game on city bureaucracy and that she had gotten used to uncooperative behavior from her fellow park department employees. She tells a story about a cold day in '95 when she was putting tarps over pens, her hands reddened by 40-mile-an-hour winter winds. Melton and the rest of his staff sat by a space heater inside the main office and watched TV westerns. That August, she filed seven memos in one day, voicing her dismay about everything from unsafe animal pens to the still-broken air conditioner in her office. And she was very specific about her problems with the farm's caretaker, Dale Johnson.

Johnson, a Buffalo Bill-looking farmhand, loved to irk Rogers' animal-lover friends. One of the August memos complains that he told the president of the Pot-bellied Pig Association of Dallas County that his ill-behaved swine should "be taken out and shot and fed to the bobcats to enjoy." Over the years, Rogers' problems with the caretaker continued. She had to do his job for him, she says. And worse, she believed he was killing animals. She began stocking the barn freezers with bird carcasses she claims he knowingly ran over with his city truck.

She blamed practically the whole staff when it came to animal abuse. "They just let the people run wild," she says. One day she stormed into Melton's office and slapped a dead goose on his desk, showing him the puncture wound in the neck, presumably from a litter stick.

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