Animal-free Farm

Ducks and chicks and geese better scurry from Samuell Farm

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.

Pat Melton started a crusade to help neglected animals at Samuell Farm.
Jon Lagow
Pat Melton started a crusade to help neglected animals at Samuell Farm.

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.

Dallas didn't buy the farm. The city got it for free. In a cryptic will, Dallas resident Dr. W.W. Samuell gave the city his summer home and its acreage along with 15 other pieces of prime property scattered around Dallas. The farm property is 640 acres, with about half of it developed for use as a farm. The parcel is sandwiched between Sunnyvale and Mesquite in an unincorporated section of Dallas County off East Highway 80. In his will, the good doctor directed that none of the land he donated ever be sold. He earmarked money for a trust fund to take care of what he hoped would forever be park lands for all of Dallas to enjoy. The trust fund, established after Samuell's death in the early 1940s, is worth about $7 million today. Interest from the trust generates about $300,000 a year for the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, which dumps the money into general funds.

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.

Doug Melton, who notified his boss of an inquiry but did not return telephone calls to the Dallas Observer for this article, may have been good at raising money but he was indifferent to the animals, and the type of events he promoted prove it, claims Kathy Rogers, a former farm worker who started a wildlife rescue program at Samuell Farm.

"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.

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