By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Nearly two years ago, Pat Melton stood up in front of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board and vented. She was angry and, as an animal lover, she had good reason to be. Some of the 300 or so farm animals at an obscure city park were freezing and thirsty, unable to drink from frozen troughs. At least one, a pregnant sheep, appeared to be dying.
"I went to the farm with my son and daughter, arriving at 12:30 p.m. The wind chill was well below freezing and water troughs were frozen over, which meant that water was unavailable to any of the animals. We saw two cats at the main building. They were thin and very hungry; their dirty Styrofoam dishes were dry, empty, and overturned. Clearly, they had not been fed or watered recently," she told the board.
She described neglect of goats, cats, sheep, donkeys, emus, turkeys, chickens, and roosters. On that day, Melton, a farm volunteer to that point, launched into a diatribe and then into a crusade. She pestered the city to clean up the 320-acre Samuell Farm, a place where children were supposed to learn about rural farm life by looking at real farm animals. She sent letters. She called. She contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which, because of Melton, began regular animal inspections and forced city workers into more humane animal treatment. She contacted the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She pestered bureaucrats so much that eventually even those inside city government who initially sided with her stopped responding to her queries.
Melton describes her dogged interest in the farm as that of a taxpayer and animal lover. Two years after she started it, Melton finds her crusade for the animals of Samuell Farm near its end. That's because despite a newly bloated budget for the farm, the city is--and ever so quietly--ditching most of what remains of the 20-year-old botched experiment known as Samuell Farm.
For the first 40 years or so after Samuell died, the farm was mostly used by campers, bird watchers, and nature lovers. Then, in about 1982, somebody in the city came up with the idea that the property could be used as an educational tool, a 19th-century-style working farm with animals, crops, and horse-drawn wagons. By all accounts, the concept worked and was well received by schoolchildren and other visitors. The park wasn't getting money directly from the trust, but at least it started generating some revenue.
Over the last decade, the idea of a working farm sort of faded away, one former city employee says. Crops once grown to educate children weren't being planted anymore. A petting zoo was installed and the city entered into a contract with a horse-riding concessionaire who, for an additional fee, offered trail rides. And, in what would turn out to be the greatest move toward an eventually changed mission, the city in 1990 hired Doug Melton (no relation to Pat) to oversee farm operations and bring in even more money with staged events. Melton, a 43-year-old lifetime city employee, began using the farm for Civil War re-enactments and Old West gunfighter shows. He created spooky Halloween hayrides and an Easter event.
"He focused on things that entertained him personally, the gunfighters, Civil War...Not necessarily the things that would be beneficial," she says.
Rogers worked at the farm starting in 1985 as a volunteer and became an employee in 1987. She created the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the farm, which became widely known as a place for injured birds. After he was hired, Doug Melton turned over the care of all farm animals to Rogers. But, the two did not get along. Where Rogers saw the center as a place for the city to help hundreds of birds injured by humans, Melton saw only a way to make cash, she says.