WALNUT CREEK -- A new staff veterinarian at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum's animal hospital, and the center's leadership in general, came under attack last week because of what some volunteers perceived as a lack of compassion and commitment to animal welfare and rehabilitation.
More than 100 concerned volunteers and museum members met last week after three longtime hospital staff members abruptly resigned last week for "philosophical reasons." Those staffers had called into question the credentials and philosophy of Dr. Serena Brenner in just her second week on the job.
Some longtime volunteers support Lindsay putting more emphasis on its long-respected animal hospital and rehabilitation work but say the education and museum components of the nationally acclaimed wildlife center are assuming an increasingly large share of museum resources.
"We are concerned the museum is shifting from its role of saving the lives of birds and animals, and putting its resources elsewhere," said 25-year museum volunteer Robin Pulich. Like most nonprofits, the Lindsay museum has had to cut its budget in recent years, and the strain is reigniting an old argument that the hospital isn't as important as the education and animal exhibit portions of the museum.
Museum directors, however, insist the emphasis of animal care and rehabilitation is not waning.
"Our mission is divided into three parts," said Executive Director Loren Behr. "Our wildlife hospital,
Behr praised Brenner, who took over in February after longtime hospital veterinarian Shannon Riggs left in December. Brenner, an alumni of UC Davis' veterinary program, spent many years at the California Academy of Sciences. She holds a master's degree in avian science.
Brenner on Tuesday rejected criticism for what some perceive as a lack of compassion and an aggressive euthanasia policy.
"I didn't become a vet because I didn't care about animals," she said. "My main focus is doing the right thing for the welfare of the animals. Sometimes, living in captivity, injured is worse than being euthanized."
It's a group decision among her colleagues at the hospital, she said, to put any animal down. "The day it (euthanasia) doesn't affect me is the day I stop being a vet," she said.
The rate of euthanizing animals has actually decreased under Brenner over last year, said Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Director Susan Heckly.
The three resignations have fueled controversy. In a letter read by Pulich, veterinary technician Michelle Anderson said she left over concern Lindsay's hospital and rehabilitation services are being curtailed and that Brenner has not been making the hospital animals a priority.
Volunteers have also said Brenner, whom Behr said was originally hired full time, is only working three days a week. Behr said the museum is looking to hire an assistant veterinarian to focus mainly on the rehabilitation hospital.
Still, volunteers like Pulich want to preserve Lindsay's reputation.
"We have built up this center to be what it is today, known throughout the country for our work rehabbing animals and birds," she said. "We don't want to see that diminished."
Catherine Millar, the museum's director of institutional advancement, said that won't happen. "The hospital is the heart and soul of this organization," she said. "The animals we treat are our best ambassadors and inform our educational programs."
However, she acknowledged there are communication problems, and outside consultants have been hired better share Lindsay's vision, and challenges, with staff and volunteers.