Located in the Angeles National Forest, north of the San Fernando Valley, exists a refuge and sanctuary for animals that are very vulnerable. These animals really have no other place to go, and it is the Wildlife WayStation, that gives them another chance at life. “Founded in 1976 by wildlife lover and expert Martine Colette, the Wildlife WayStation is a national non-profit, holding rehabilitation, medical and problem solving refuge for native, wild and exotic animals. The Wildlife WayStation is a safe haven for both native and exotic wildlife and is dedicated to their rescue, rehabilitation and relocation.” When I had been told that the Waystation was in a financial crisis, and was not shy of having to shut down, I felt a sense of panic and sadness, regarding what may happen to these animals. The Waystation has all types of large cats (lions, tigers, bobcats, leopards, jaguars, and even a ‘ligress’), primates, bears, opossums, foxes, hyenas, reptiles, wolves, deer and all types of birds. In the past, when the sanctuaries have closed down, the animals were absorbed by other sanctuaries, which are now completely full. Colette has done research and has found that there is no space in a legitimate sanctuary association anywhere. As a Jew, I felt that it was my responsibility to help out in whatever way possible, and I decided to write an article to create awareness about the Waystation’s current crisis. Through Jewish texts and teachings, we are instructed that while God created the earth, it is the responsibility of man and woman to care for creation. There is a Jewish scriptural text, Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah, written around 800 C.E., which says, “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.’
Tza’ar ba’alei chayim, literally means the suffering of living creatures, and according to Jewish ethical tradition, prohibition against cruelty to animals is one of the basic laws of humankind. A Jew is commanded to relieve the suffering of all animals, even those owned by one’s enemy (Exodus 23:5). The Waystation is a sacred space for animals that have experienced a great deal of suffering, to have the opportunity to find healing. It is one of the first places to have taken in chimpanzees, which were being used for biomedical research. Colette said, “I champion the chimps because I think they have paid such a huge price to help people.” Chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates were subjected to intensive biomedical research in areas including cancer, diabetes, reproduction, blood transfusions, hepatitis B and C, and HIV. Some of the large cats had been badly abused by drug traffickers, to turn them into weapons that would protect their contraband. There are many animals that were merely abandoned because their owners no longer wanted them. Not that long ago, a grizzly bear had been dropped off in a small cage and abandoned right in front of the Waystation. Over the years, the Wildlife Waystation has provided aid and support to more than 75,000 wild and exotic animals from all over the world, and has 400 plus animals at any given time.
The current recession have caused donations to drop 50%, which is their worst financial situation in 35 years. Colette states, “Frankly we are open to any and all suggestions including a merger with a like-minded animal organization.” However, donations of any size are what are needed now to keep the sanctuary operating. Martine feels that they have a dire need for a fund raising consultant firm for non-profits, and a business law firm that would take them on pro-bono. People can sponsor an animal, contribute to a food bill or just make a general donation. If there is a company or companies that would be willing to help cover the electrical bills, or the meat bills, trash bills, drug bills, it would be easier for them to focus more on the everyday expenses. “The most important thing is that the Waystation must survive,” says Colette.
Even though most of the animals brought to the Waystation had been badly abused, I could see that they were still open to receiving love and care from a human being. Colette would approach their cages, and when the animals would greet her, you could see that they felt safe and trusted her. They love her. It also helped that she was passing out Red Vines and chestnuts. The wolves happily greeted her with wagging tails, and were excited to get their Red Vines. The chimps loved the chestnuts, and were really good at catching them as she tossed them. When I approached the black bears, they were eating marshmallows, which are one of my own personal favorites.
I know that during our nation’s economic crisis, some people may have no interest in donating to a cause that is for animals, and would much rather donate to an organization that helps human beings, but I believe it is important to not forget our sacred animals. Animals are understood to not only have feelings, but to be capable of developing spiritually. The Talmud says that “Just as the righteous were devout, so were their animals.” I believe with all my heart that animals have souls, and deserve the same love and saving as fellow human beings. Judaism has always recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. There is even a traditional story, which says that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.’” I believe that helping with the survival of the Wildlife Waystation is a great way to “till and tend” G-d’s creation.
You can learn more about the Wildlife Waystation at http://wildlifewaystation.org/. You can also make a donation through the website.