"It's sort of a Catch 22," Martine Colette concluded glumly.
"The county won't let us have a fund-raiser unless we spend a total of about $350,000," she said. "And we can't even start getting that kind of money without a fund-raiser."
Colette, founder and president of the Wildlife Waystation, a 160-acre compound in the Angeles National Forest that serves as a refuge for about 500 lost, abandoned and mistreated wild animals, said Monday that, in a sense, she is the victim of her own success.
Last September, as she has frequently in the past, she staged a barbecue at the ranch in Little Tujunga Canyon to raise money. Previously, such affairs had attracted about 800 guests, most of them longtime supporters of the group. Last September, she said, about 10,000 people showed up.
"The sheriffs told me then it had gotten so big that I was going to need a permit," she said. "And they told me last Thursday that before they could issue a permit, I'd have to get a permit from the health department, building and safety, the county engineers and the fire marshal."
Colette, who had planned to stage another barbecue at the ranch on May 19, said inspectors from the various county agencies explained that, because of the size of last September's crowd, any future barbecues would have to be considered public events--not just meetings by a private, nonprofit organization.
And to stage a public event in Los Angeles County, they told her, she must provide facilities that meet certain standards.
To get to the Wildlife Waystation, a people currently have to drive about 100 yards down a narrow, curving dirt road of the sort they might expect to find at an isolated ranch in Little Tujunga Canyon, about four miles above Lakeview Terrace. For a public event there, county officials say, that sort of road will not do at all.
"They say it would have to be compacted and tested," Collette said. "That would cost a lot."
If a visitor wants a clean drink of water at the ranch, he currently can have a swig from one of the bottles that are trucked in. For a public event there, county officials say, that will not do at all.
"They want a well," Colette said. "My engineer says we'd need a 120,000-gallon tank. . . .
"They aren't bad guys," she added. "They say they have to safeguard the public at a general assembly."
For the last nine years, Colette has been concentrating on safeguarding her wildlife--an eclectic assortment of animals that strayed in from the wilderness or were given up by owners incapable of--or disinterested in--caring for them properly.
There are lions and tigers and bears. Big, fierce, hairy ones. There are baby raccoons and spotted fawns and fox cubs. Little, cuddly, fluffy ones.
There are all sorts of creatures in between, including many that are not really wild at all--goats and pigs and horses and geese.
Colette said that although some of the animals arrived in good shape--especially those that had worked in movies and stage acts before they became too old or blase to perform--others had been cruelly mistreated and required extensive care at the facility's tidy veterinary hospital.
Fed carefully monitored diets, which in the case of the lions and tigers run to 25 pounds of meat per cat per day, most of the animals live in a sprawling complex of cages and pens maintained by a staff of 16 volunteers. Geese, chickens, peacocks and a few amiable dogs scamper around underfoot.
Colette said that whenever possible, animals found to be capable of fending for themselves in the wild are released in specially selected wilderness areas. Bears, cats, wolves and some of the more exotic forms of wildlife are sometimes sent to zoos.
Others live out their remaining years at the compound, because they are too domesticated to return to the wild, too old to ship to a zoo or too mean to unleash on anyone.
Visitors are warned repeatedly to give several of the cages a wide berth. And although Colette declined to name names, she did admit some months ago that several of her charges--among them some big cats and a bear--ended up at the ranch because they had killed and maimed people.
Bills Pile Up
The monthly cost of maintaining the ranch is about $25,000, Colette said, and without the fund-raiser planned for May 19, bills are going to continue to pile up.
"Maybe we can raise money through new memberships," she said. "Maybe we can find someone with another place where we can hold the barbecue. But I don't know. I just don't know."