End Animal Abuse in Poorly Regulated ‘Sanctuaries’

Target: Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture

Goal: Protect animals from abuse by requiring regular inspections of animal sanctuaries nationwide

Animal sanctuaries are meant to keep animals safe, healthy and happy. Unfortunately for the animals that end up at some ‘sanctuaries,’ such as the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation in California, this is not always the case. Former volunteers at the Kirshner Wildlife Foundation have recently come forward to report animal abuse, neglect, and deaths.

The sanctuary owner, Roberta Kirshner, has been accused of failing to treat sick and injured animals to the point that many animals died, as well as inflicting (and instructing volunteers to inflict) injuries on the animals. Alleged victims of abuse include a female clouded leopard who was reportedly ‘disciplined’ via repeated punches to the chin that caused nosebleeds, a bear cub young enough to have not yet opened its eyes ‘disciplined’ by blows violent enough to knock it backwards, and a lion cub that visitors were allowed to handle despite its having broken bones. The lion cub was also reported to have been hit with a broom handle—likely another example of abusive discipline.

Thanks to the recent actions of understandably concerned individuals, this supposed ‘sanctuary’ is currently being investigated by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. While this can be seen as a victory for the animals, how many more sanctuary owners are hiding behind the pretense of animal protection in order to collect donations that they fail to use in the animals’ best interests? This is a question that requisite, regular inspections of animal sanctuaries nationwide might be able to answer.

Because funding for animal sanctuaries should be going to animals in need and not to irresponsible sanctuary owners, sanctuaries across the nation should be monitored by way of regular inspections to ensure that any sanctuary engaging in animal cruelty is duly shut down. Animals suffering under conditions similar to those reported at the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation are owed another chance at living a full life in a safe and caring environment. Sign the petition below to help make this goal a reality.


Dear Secretary Vilsack,

Even in states in which animal cruelty prevention has been made a high priority, animals are relatively unprotected from the unscrupulous behavior of sanctuary owners with their own best interests in mind. Immediate action in the form of regular inspections of such sanctuaries is required to prevent further illegal activity from taking place.

Recently, former volunteers at an animal sanctuary known as the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation in California (a state with an impressive number of animal protection laws in place) came forward to report animal abuse, neglect and preventable deaths. Among the abuses were vicious attacks on pre-adolescent animals including a bear cub too young to have opened its eyes and a lion cub with broken bones, both of whom were aggressively ‘disciplined’ via violent blows and a brutal attack with a broom handle. A female clouded leopard was also allegedly disciplined via blows to the face that continued until her nose bled.

In the interest of animals such as these, I urge you to implement rules that require regular inspections of animal sanctuaries nationwide. With your help, we can ensure that funding for animal sanctuaries goes to animals in need and not into irresponsible and inhumane sanctuary owners’ pockets.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr

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  1. I have volunteered at Barry R Kirshner for about 4 years alond with my family. I have been there before/after hours and various times through the day. My family and I often split up doing various jobs. I have never seen or heard of abuse there. I have been “behind the scenes” where the public cannot go. I have never seen Roberta or other volunteers ever hurt an animal or be encouraged to. I have witnessed may vets come by to check on animals and have been there for appts with the vets. Roberta had records of all the medical treatments including xrays for the lion mentioned above that were STOLEN out of her home. They took them from the sanctuary along with other STOLEN property as well. PETA has tried to accuse Barry R Kirsher before. The sanctuary was investigated and all allegations dropped. I truly believe in the mission that Roberta and her volunteers have set out to do. The enclosures are cleaned every day and food and water is always plentiful. If those “whistleblowers” are so proud of their cause, why don’t they stand up for themselves. Instead they are hiding behind PETA. I am proud to stand up for my beliefs and have no problem stating my name. Unlike the so called whistleblowers.

    • R. Willard says:

      Oh D. Bua I volunteered there for two years and can vouch this is all true. Oh really they got in her house? Who is they? They must be really good to get in her house and steal her records! Ah! But wouldn’t her vet have them all on records as well. Oh wait she doesn’t have a vet. Lol

  2. A. Rivard says:

    I would just like to share my experience with the foundation. I volunteered there for approximately a year. I became very close with the founder Roberta Kirshner, and I worked side by side with both the ‘whistle-blowers’ and those who defend her. I can say from personal experience, the people defending her have no clue what actually goes on and the people speaking out have no idea why the those things were going on (I’m not justifying, just enlightening! i promise!). Were animals ‘disciplined’? You bet. Why? Because they were special needs and need to be able to be handled as adults in case they have any issues. I witnessed it, I saw others instructed to do it, I was instructed to do it, Roberta did it right in front of me numerous times (not saying it’s right or wrong, my opinion doesn’t matter here). Were food conditions rough, for example maggots and rotten meat fed out? Yes (and if you say no and defend that, you know you’re lying…or you really are just that stupid). Maggots, according to Roberta, take just 45 minutes to grow (according to the USDA I believe it’s about 2 days, but I digress). It’s hard to get all that meat out onto all those decks for all those animals before colonies of maggots can form (I know from experience). And feeding exotic animals isn’t cheap. It’s a very expensive business. And the facility isn’t in the most lucrative location. You can tell by looking at the smaller enclosures and worn tarps that times are tough for them – no one in the business of saving animals would do that unless they couldn’t afford it. They’d take the shirts off their backs for them if that’s what it took. That’s why those involved with the foundation don’t drive fancy new vehicles or anything. I stayed late nights with Roberta after everyone left, I saw baby animals before any of the other volunteers..I’m not afraid to say Roberta excitedly called me numerous times to tell me that the new baby she got in had a clean bill of health, then she told everyone it was special needs and desperately needed a sponsor for it. It just all sounds fishy to me.

  3. A Concerned Citizen says:

    it is evident from the road that the animals are not provided adequate space or habitat. A large animal such as a lion or tiger even smaller animals like the lemurs need more space that a 10×20 cage, and what is really frustrating is that Kirshner has the property to provide animals a territory and habitat space. She certainly makes sure she has enough space with her mansion on top of the hill, am i wrong? Why do the animals have too settle for less? And furthermore, I worry about the well being of the exotic animals she has in her captivity. A snow leopard or an african lion need climate controlled conditions to be truly happy and healthy in their environment, she neglects their needs, they do not naturally dwell in the butte county area for a good reason.Even if all other charges against her are dropped I have always been concerned about the means in which these animals are kept and no one seems to acknowledge it,i always see them pacing, they deserve better.

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