NIARADA – Brian Warrington hauled empty boxes into his former wife’s home on a cold, foggy Wednesday, getting ready to pack up.
He and Kathryn, who have run the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary for the past 15 years, were told to be gone from the 400-acre ranch by Wednesday.
Outside of AniMeals of Missoula, which is on site and taking over the care of upward of the 1,000 animals left here, other rescue groups are apparently wary of arriving at or returning to the ranch because Brian Warrington is armed.
Dangerous, he says, is a whole ‘nother matter.
You can’t run this type of sanctuary, located in remote ranch land 15 miles north of Hot Springs and east of Elmo, without guns to protect the animals from wolves and other predators, Warrington says.
“I’ve been told they’re still saying they want me and my guns off the property before they’ll do anything,” Warrington says of the more than half a dozen animal rescue groups now involved in this large-scale rescue. “Come on, folks, this is Montana. If you don’t want guns, go live in New York.”
Warrington has been unhappy with how things have played out since he and Kathryn sought help earlier this month, after the sanctuary’s funding source dried up and the Warringtons had maxed out their credit cards buying hay and other feed for upward of 1,000 llamas, horses, cattle, camels, bison, emus, pot-bellied pigs, burros, miniature donkeys, cavies and more.
Just 47 mammals and a people-loving emu named Walter have left the ranch since — the 16 cavies and 31 much-publicized donkeys and burros.
It was news coverage of the condition of the latter, whose hooves had not been trimmed in so long that some looked like miniature skis, that stuck in Warrington’s craw — and, he worries, could adversely affect finding new homes for the rest of the menagerie left at the ranch.
This is what he’d like people to know.
First, “I’ve never shot anybody,” he says, shaking his head.
Second, he is sorry about the condition of the burros and donkeys.
Veterinarians who examined the animals after they had been moved to Corvallis said the hooves had been neglected for years.
Warrington says it was 1 1/2 years, and coincided with Kathryn, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007, losing so many motor skills she had to use a wheelchair full time.
“I used to get around with canes,” Kathryn says, “but I can’t walk anymore, I can’t feed myself, I can’t go to the bathroom by myself.”
“People want to treat Kathryn like a criminal, but I’m the one to blame,” Brian says. “I know I should have asked for help sooner, but it all just overwhelmed me.”
The time he could spend caring for the animals, he says, slowly but steadily eroded as Kathryn’s condition worsened over the past 18 months.
When he did place the call for help, to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, on Dec. 4, Warrington says other rescue groups quickly showed up.
But he says he was told to quit the trimming he had already started on the donkeys’ hooves. More than a week went by, he says, with no farriers being summoned to the ranch.
It wasn’t until the animals were in Corvallis that farriers — and he says, the media — were brought in.
“I’ve stepped over backward apologizing,” Warrington says, “but I wasn’t hiding anything. If I was trying to hide it, they wouldn’t have been here when (the other organizations) got here. I wanted help.”
AniMeals founder Karyn Moltzen is providing it.
“AniMeals has been great,” Warrington says. “They have not been afraid to come up and step in.”
“Brian has been keeping the sanctuary running 15 years virtually alone,” Moltzen says. “He has two part-time people, but the magnitude of the job is mind-boggling.”
Her organization took over the operation of the ranch, and care of the 1,000 or so animals still left here, on Wednesday.
“We want to facilitate the movement and coordination of volunteers and adoptions,” Moltzen says.
Goal one, she says, is to continue to be able to provide the 4 tons of hay a day needed to feed the animals.
“My plea to the public is to keep the donations coming so we can keep the animals fed until we can get them taken care of,” Moltzen says.
Goal two is to start moving the animals, 15 at a time, to Missoula, which will begin after Christmas.
“I figure if we get them to Missoula it will be easier,” she says. “We’re in Egypt up here. It’s not an easy place to find. Adoptions will move quicker if there is easy access to the animals.”
The Missoula County Fairgrounds will start housing some of the animals starting Dec. 27, according to Moltzen.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, they’re busy mending fences and caring for all the baby llamas, called crias, being born.
“The males have minds of their own, and get what they want,” Moltzen says. “They broke fences down, got in with the females, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I have no idea what number we’re looking at as pregnant, but my guess is it’s huge. We’re trying to get the ones being born — we’ve had three in the last two days — out of the cold and into a lean-to barn with a heat lamp, and keep any more breeding from happening.”
Brian Warrington is doing his best to show Moltzen, her husband and two AniMeals volunteers the ins-and-outs of a 400-acre ranch, its equipment and residents, in a short period of time.
The out-by-Wednesday deadline won’t be met, he says, but he and Kathryn are actively trying to find a place to live. It must, of course, be wheelchair-accessible, and big enough to hold all their personal belongings.
They spent 12 hours Tuesday searching in the Troy-Libby-Yaak area with no luck.
“What are they going to do, dump us destitute in a snow bank?” Kathryn asks.
“For the sake of the animals, we need to get out,” Brian Warrington says. “Until we’re gone, these other groups will not donate funds, which is just hurting the animals. We want to find a place as fast as we can, and then these organizations can fight amongst themselves, because Kathryn and I are done fighting with them.”
There remain upward of 1,000 animals, the majority of them llamas, who need new homes. Moltzen knows it won’t happen overnight, and says AniMeals is in it for the long haul.
“It’s like my momma always says,” Moltzen adds. “‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ I’ve got a good team with me and there are a lot of dedicated people who want a happy ending to this.”
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