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

The park board's primary concern was the Department of Agriculture. In an attempt to appease Pat Melton and others making complaints about animal care, it invited the USDA to inspect the farm, which had somehow escaped any federal regulatory scrutiny during the last two decades. On January 12, the USDA sent Dr. Jeanne Kjos to conduct the inspection, and she identified 10 code violations, saying she would return on February 10 to determine whether they had been remedied. The Samuell Farm crew worked frantically, putting in more hours than anyone on the farm remembers, erecting fences, repairing buildings, and replacing feed troughs. At the same time, they still had to prepare for the March Civil War, which consisted of moving dozens of railroad ties from the parking lot to the "battlefield."

Kjos returned on February 10, and though she noted several improvements, Samuell Farm still had a way to go before it was fully compliant. Still problematic were the hog barn with a drainage problem, rusty fences in the petting zoo, the shelters for pot-bellied pigs, and a turkey pen with a leaky roof. She gave them deadlines for each unfinished task--anywhere from two weeks to 75 days. She would be back, this time ready to levy fines.

Yet when the park board received its guided tour on February 11, Ralph Mendez assured its members that the farm was USDA compliant "as of yesterday."

Doug Melton claims that the farm rather than the park board initiated the contact with the USDA. "We weren't even on their list of inspections. We just wanted to make sure we were doing everything by the book. Dr. Kjos' visit reinforced that we were doing everything right," he says.

In the aftermath of the park board's "successful" visit, animal rehabber Steve Culp learned that the rescue center was living on borrowed time. Apparently, John King had let it slip that the RWRC wouldn't need any more volunteers as of the next week because it would be gone from Samuell Farm.

Melton and Mendez must have smelled victory. On its February 18 agenda, the park board placed Item 29: revoking the contract of the Rescued Wildlife Rehab Center. The reason for the item, says Paul Dyer, was that a city employee can't enter into a contract with the city. Although Kathy Rogers was working at the zoo and had resigned as RWRC director, she was still acting as head of the rehab center.

Culp and Rogers called Pat Melton, who had just talked to the USDA and learned that despite what Mendez had told the park board, the farm had failed its second inspection. The deception made an ally out of park board member Ralph Isenberg, who agreed to go to bat for Pat Melton and Rogers' posse of animal lovers.

On February 15, Isenberg met with Rogers and Culp in Dyer's City Hall office. Dyer agreed to strike Item 29 from the park board's agenda and to work toward getting the RWRC a permanent home on the farm. They discussed some compromises regarding the upcoming Civil War re-enactment--toning down the cannon blasts, creating a buffer zone between the battlefield and the birds, and coordinating future events so that they don't occur during the nesting season.

Only now that they had set Doug Melton and Mendez back on their heels did the animal-rights activists go in for the kill. At the February 18 park board meeting, they made a full-scale assault on the Civil War re-enactors. Pat Melton brought the president of the Dallas Audubon Society, pictures from the fire three summers before, and a letter from animal-rights attorney Don Feare informing the park board that if the Civil War re-enactment were allowed to go on, the city of Dallas would be violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act--a series of international treaties making it illegal to disturb nesting colonies of migratory fowl. But the meeting took a turn for the absurd when black activist Roy Williams blasted the board for allowing people dressed up as Confederate soldiers on city property. "It's Jasper," he said. "This may be akin to collecting membership to white supremacist groups."

Representatives from the Parson's Dragoon then responded by saying they were shocked at the insinuation, since re-enactors play both Yankee and Rebel roles and have strict policies against any affiliation with hate groups.

Dyer also spoke briefly. His beet-red face showed he was visibly disturbed; he had believed that if he made an agreement with the animal contingent, they would back off in exchange for letting the rehab center stay at the farm. Because the city had a contract with the re-enactors, he said, the Civil War would go on as scheduled.

But the next day, on February 19, Doug Melton met with his gunfighter friends at the farm, and Paul Dyer got a call from the Civil War folks: They were giving up the fight. They wanted away from all the controversy. This year's Civil War would be the last one at Samuell Farm.

The animal-rights people had won the battle. But there are those like Kathy Rogers who will not be content as long as Doug Melton remains in power. Yet with no written contract for the rehab center, and with City Hall growing frustrated with the relentless assault by wildlife activists against this once-beloved moneymaker from Dr. Samuell, the question remains: Will they win the war

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