Animal sanctuary, or home of hoarding? - FOX 35 News Orlando

Animal sanctuary, or home of hoarding?

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CHINO VALLEY, Ariz. -

Hacienda de los Milagros in Chino Valley is supposed to be an animal sanctuary, a place for animals that have nowhere else to go.

But the sanctuary itself, just north of Prescott, is in jeopardy of closing after some people accused the man who created it of animal hoarding.

25 horses and about 80 burros call the sanctuary home. Wynne Zaugg founded the sanctuary in 1993. "We came up here I think we had six horses, and got our first two burro in 1995," he said.

When the federal government began trapping wild burros, Zaugg started taking them in. "I went over to pick up two burros and came home with eight."

Caring for horses and burros isn't cheap. To get financial help, Zaugg set up an animal rescue charity. Volunteers and donations came in, along with plenty of carrots.

The horses and burros kept coming too. "We took burros from Death Valley every year," Zaugg said. "Our high numbers in 2009 was 139 burros and 39 horses."

But was there something wrong happening at the sanctuary? Yes, according to former sanctuary board member Cindy Morton. "This has been a massive hoarding situation."

Morton was part of a board appointed by Zaugg to help raise money. "When I got on the board of directors," Morton said, "every week or two in the first month he (Zaugg) was calling us hysterically that the animals had no food. Come to find out he is a known hoarder."

Morton and other board members accused Zaugg of hoarding animals, and as a result, they said the animals were suffering.

"Taking them in and not being able to care for them," she said.

The board of directors asked Zaugg to resign, which he quickly did. And they came up with their own plan. Morton said, "Instead of having a hundred and twenty, thirty equines we would get it down to 20 to 25 of the sickest the oldest and leave them here on the property to be taken care of in a true sanctuary fashion a sanctuary safe haven, you are here for life you will be taken care of."

The current interim board director, Rhett Harvick says the former board members want to close the sanctuary. "Not on my watch is this place going to close," he told FOX 10 News.

Rhett Harvick is a Prescott home builder. He wants to keep the sanctuary open and at the same time, find new homes for animals well enough to be adopted. "Our first burro adoption is going to take place this week," Harvick said.

And to the surprise of the old board, Harvick also brought back Wynne Zaugg. Not as a board member, but as someone who knows the sanctuary and its guests.

"Wynn is like a dictionary of that place," Harvick said. "He knows the ins and outs about the animals."

Cindy Morton doesn't like it. "That they have allowed Wynne Zaugg back on the property is unbelievable to us after all he has done to these suffering animals."

FOX 10 News also confirmed a recent decision by the current board, a curious one, to donate two sanctuary burros, both old and disabled, to an Arizona Zoo. "I apologize because I do get pretty emotional," Harvick said. The two burros were euthanized and slaughtered for lion and tiger food. "There is a dark side to it that most people never want to hear about," Harvick said. "And I am fine about not letting them know about it because it's going to be a decision based on reality and the best needs of the animal."

Cindy Morton said, "That's not what a sanctuary is and that's not why these animals were here."

But Harvick denies claims by Morton and others that the animals are being mistreated. "Our burros are fat, they are eating more than they would in the wild," Harvick said. "The horses are good, we've had people come out who are experts in different fields, and we are looking at different feeds to give them."

FOX 10 News checked with both Chino Valley Animal Control and the State Department of Agriculture which oversees animal sanctuaries. Both visited the Hacienda ranch recently. They found nothing wrong with the animals or their care.

Kim Meagher operates the Wild Horse Ranch Rescue in Gilbert. She said, "Horse sanctuaries are an important part of the Southwest." She also knows Wynne Zaugg. "I think Wynne has a heart of gold and has just done everything he possibly can to help the animals that cross his path and he's smart enough to ask the public to help him do it."

The only question now is, will these animals be moved and saved by someone else?

Cindy Morton said, "These animals are going to start turning. They are going to become crippled and at some point just like this guy when they are so bad then they just kill them."

Or will this ranch remain the only home they know?

Wynne Zaugg said, "It was never intended to be a rescue. It was intended to be a lifetime home for horses who could not be used for anything but their inherent beauty."

If you want to donate to the Hacienda de los Milagros, go to www.hdlmsanctuary.org or call 928 713-9417. To help the Wild Horse Rescue Ranch, go to www.whrr.org or call 480 503-5497. For information on hoarding at Hacienda de los Milagros: hoardingathdlmsanctuary.org

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