By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"He was seeing thousands of people coming through bringing birds, so he decided to charge them three bucks a piece to bring the bird in...People were getting really mad."
Rogers, who reopened her center on closed landfill property in Hutchins and continues rescuing birds, was fired from the farm in June 1998 for allegedly grabbing a boy's arm to stop him from beating a peacock with a stick.
"The allegation was never substantiated, there was no police report ever filed, no doctor's report ever made, no report to child protective services," she says.
Rogers worked seven days a week at the farm taking care of the animals. After she was fired, the farm went quickly downhill, she says.
It was about a year-and-a-half after Rogers was fired, in December 1999, that Pat Melton saw the neglected animals. Even after reporting what she'd found to the park board, problems persisted. There were complaints about the appropriateness of staging loud events like the Civil War re-enactments and gunfights amid the gun-shy animals.
Pat Melton contacted the USDA, which quickly discovered the farm had no permit even to house farm animals. The USDA found all sorts of problems at the farm and centered on the care of the animals. But the worst news for the city was that the USDA lumped the zoo in with the farm in its inspections, meaning that if the farm looked bad, so did the zoo.
Somebody contacted the city's fraud, waste, and abuse hotline. That resulted in a city audit, which was released in June 1999. The audit pretty much said that Samuell Farm was a mess. The farm had been used as a dumping ground--182 truckloads of garbage were hauled out after the auditor's initial inquiries. The buildings were deteriorating, and the roads rutted. Animal waste was draining into the water system. Antique farm implements used by schoolchildren were hazardous. Two farm contracts appeared to violate city policy, workers were improperly using a city-paid toll-free number, and employees were working overtime without pay.
To correct the problems, the city created the Samuell Farm Animal Care Advisory Committee, which has representatives from animal welfare groups such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Texas Humane Legislation Network. The city increased the staff level at the farm by five and boosted the budget. The city also got rid of about half of the 300 or so animals with some, including animals from the petting zoo being sold for slaughter. Records show that the city received $415.26 for 16 goats it sold for slaughter.
Even with the changes, the farm was still under review by the USDA, because cows and sheep and other farm animals remained on the property. Getting out from under the watchful eye of the USDA inspectors was a factor in changing the farm's mission and booting the animals from the farm.
Carolyn Bray, the assistant director of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department overseeing the changes, would only respond to the Observer in writing from written inquiries. In her three pages of responses, Bray agreed the farm's direction is changing.
"Samuell Farm will develop new programming ideas to maintain the educational experience and diversity without the animal exhibits," she wrote. "There are many types of farming operations common to the North Texas area. We will change the focus of Samuell Farm from an 'animal farm' to an 'agricultural and mechanical farm.'"
The word is that shortly after Thanksgiving, the city will essentially give away about 120 of the remaining 140 animals. The animals will not be sold for slaughter this time but will be transported to sanctuaries.
Pat Melton says that despite the good news that most animals at the farm are being removed, she worries that those remaining will flounder in the winter months. If 20 or so farm animals remain through the winter, there is a good chance for abuse, she says.
And then there is the money. Even with so few animals, the farm's budget for this year is $1.25 million, which is up about $368,000 over last year, according to one arm of the park department.
"It's a money pit. Taxpayers keep throwing money at it," Melton says. "They have been getting a half million dollars a year. You tell me where the money is going. I don't have a clue," she says. "It's very hard to get a clear answer from them."
It is hard. Numbers provided to the Observer by the park department show that the revenue for 1999-2000 was $631,640 and that the farm had a budget of $881,829. No actual revenues are shown for this year, but the farm number crunchers say because of the farm's "changing mission," revenue is expected to be down considerably.
Bray, in one of her written responses, said the 2000-2001 budget for the farm is $545,408. She did not detail revenue or spending, nor did she explain why there seems to be so much confusion within the department over the farm's budget.
Maybe things aren't quite clear because Samuell Farm is located outside Dallas' city limits, so it's not in any one city council member's district. That tends to mean that no one is a champion of the property or is willing to take the blame for its problems, Melton says. That's probably also why no one seems quite sure just what will happen at the Samuell Farm property once the animals are gone.