Allegations of animal cruelty were made against the Barry R. Kirshner Sanctuary near Durham Tuesday. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed complaints with authorities after former volunteers of the sanctuary claimed abuse and neglect toward some of the animals.
Complaints included routinely beating animals, some of whom former volunteers say were left to die. One former volunteer said she witnessed Roberta Kirshner, the sanctuary's executive director for two decades, strike a young bear, knocking it backward.
The allegations were met with a swift and unambiguous rejection by Roberta Kirshner, the executive director of the 20-year-old sanctuary. She said that over the last 18 months she's had to ask some of her approximate 40 staff and volunteers to leave.
"There was a little bit of drinking before they came and inappropriate behavior around children and animals," said Kirshner. "For the safety of the animals and staff, I felt they should go."
But PETA says it has complaints from eight different people and says it's unlikely that Kirshner would have legitimate complaints against all of them. They say Kirshner is trying to "deflect attention from the real matter at hand." But Kirshner, who has cared for animals her entire life, remains adamant that her methods of caring for these creatures is proper.
"The animals come first," said Krishner. "And when you have someone who is disruptive and they want things that should be done that's not realistic then that's a problem."
"We give the animals nothing but love and care," said Joan Gulla, whose been with the sanctuary for 20 years. "Everyone here really has their heart in it."
Kirshner says these allegations are nothing more than payback.
"That's right," said Kirshner. "That's what the threatened to do."
The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged it did receive a complaint from PETA regarding the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Sanctuary. The agency said it will work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture which is responsible under the Animal Welfare Act.