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It's a Jungle in There

The Phoenix Zoo spared no expense when it came to trying to save the life of Ruby the elephant -- or so it appeared. Last fall, zoo officials determined that Ruby's unborn calf had died, and that her own life was in danger. She needed emergency surgery. Ruby, an Asian...
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The Phoenix Zoo spared no expense when it came to trying to save the life of Ruby the elephant -- or so it appeared.

Last fall, zoo officials determined that Ruby's unborn calf had died, and that her own life was in danger. She needed emergency surgery. Ruby, an Asian elephant, was the zoo's prized possession, a beloved Phoenix institution known worldwide for her prowess with a paintbrush.

Medical equipment was brought in by the truckload. Veterinary experts were flown in from all over the country: anesthesiologists from Colorado, surgeons from California, and Dr. Joe Foerner, the world's foremost authority on elephant Caesarean sections, who traveled from Illinois.

Dr. Laura Lodwick, the Phoenix Zoo's associate veterinarian, played gofer during the operation, which was performed in the elephant barn, with Ruby reclining on mattresses and inner tubes. Hundreds of surgical tools and other pieces of equipment were sterilized and waiting. Zoo staff watched anxiously on a closed-circuit television in an adjacent trailer.

It looked like a first-class setup. But when it came time for Foerner to don surgical gloves, Lodwick was horrified. The only gloves around were ancient and crumbling, donated to the zoo years ago and clearly unfit for use on any animal.

"Think of the plastic vinyl on a car exposed to the sun. Gloves do that, too. They turn yellow and then brown and then they fall apart," Lodwick says. She doubts the gloves were even sterile.

Lodwick, who had only been working at the zoo for about a month, had tried to order boxes of new gloves for the surgery. But her boss, senior veterinarian Dr. Kathy Orr, refused to spend the money, and while staff had begged a few new pairs from a medical supplier, they were nowhere to be found that day.

"I was standing there as he [Foerner] tried to put a pair on and they dissolved in his hand," Lodwick recalls. "And he swore and said, 'Why the hell do you have gloves like this? They should have been thrown out.' I apologized, but at that point I was appalled."

Foerner put on another pair of crumbling gloves. He opened the abdomen -- no small feat, since Ruby's uterus was the size of a Volkswagen Beetle -- and found the 320-pound dead calf. Lodwick was still fretting over the gloves, but, she remembers, "He said, 'It doesn't matter now.'"

There was a tear in Ruby's uterus and infection had spread. The elephant couldn't survive. She was euthanized that day.

Animal lovers mourned Ruby. There was a candlelight vigil and a service and a day of free admission to the zoo. An article in the daily paper announced that everything had been done that could have been done for the elephant and her baby. The city dried its tears and went about its business.

But fallout from Ruby's demise continues to this day.

The Phoenix Zoo lost more than its celebrity elephant -- it seems to have lost its way.

While the Valley has grown tremendously over the past decade, zoo attendance hasn't kept pace -- and now there's no baby elephant to draw more visitors. Employee morale is low. Zoo director Jeff Williamson is struggling to maintain control over his paid staff, and hundreds of volunteers have quit in the past few months. His critics say Williamson's weak management skills predate Ruby's death, but the tragedy has exacerbated existing problems. One zoo board member has resigned, disgusted with what he says is Williamson's inability to articulate a vision for the zoo.

Ruby's passing has helped fuel a debate about whether the Phoenix Zoo will move away from the exhibition of large exotic animals -- traditional big-ticket draws like giraffes, rhinos and elephants -- in favor of smaller, native species.

Finally, Ruby's death has plunged the facility into turmoil over the quality of veterinary care available to the thousands of creatures who inhabit the Phoenix Zoo. Even though a medical review committee approved the course of Ruby's treatment after the fact, tensions have run high between the elephant keepers and senior veterinarian Kathy Orr. After Ruby's death, one keeper began documenting alleged incidents of malpractice on Orr's part, and has filed a complaint with the zoo board and the state Veterinary Medical Examining Board.

Laura Lodwick, Orr's assistant, quit in February. She, too, has filed complaints with the zoo board and the state veterinary board, alleging that Orr contributed to the deaths of -- among others -- a snake, a rhino and a crane.

While she's confident that Ruby received the best care possible, Lodwick says it was incidents like the one involving the defective gloves that made her begin to question Orr's judgment. Why wouldn't the Phoenix Zoo spend a few bucks on surgical gloves to be used on an animal that had raised almost half a million dollars for the institution through the sale of her paintings?

Lodwick says she can't forget the humiliation she felt on the day of Ruby's surgery.

"The amount that everyone had put out, and here I was standing here with the person who has done all the elephant C-sections in the world and he's putting on a pair of gloves that fell apart as he tried to put them on," she recalls. "I was just sick. This was representing the Phoenix Zoo."

In January 1962, an elephant named Heffalump and a donkey named Lorenzo pulled a plow across a patch of a 100-acre site at Papago Park, and the Phoenix Zoo was born. The zoo earned a good reputation early on for its work to save the endangered Arabian oryx, and for a while the biggest battles fought were over the length of the women's auxiliary's zebra-striped uniforms.

The zoo pays $1 a year to lease its land from the City of Phoenix, but otherwise it's one of the country's few zoos that is funded entirely through private donations. Total revenue for fiscal 1997-98 was $13.17 million; attendance that year was 1.22 million.

In the early 1990s, then-director Warren Iliff took a creative approach toward fund-raising. Under his direction, the zoo board commissioned the building of a banquet facility and came up with the concept of decorating the zoo with strings of animal-shaped lights at Christmastime. Although it's dark and you can't see the animals, ZooLights is now the Phoenix Zoo's single biggest annual draw.

Iliff was the ultimate zoo front man. He sweet-talked reporters into writing fawning animal stories and pressed monied flesh at cocktail parties -- happy to tell the tale of the time a monkey bit off part of the middle finger of his right hand. Iliff's office was so full of animal memorabilia it was difficult to find a place to sit down.

When he left the zoo in the mid-'90s, the board made an odd hire: Jeff Williamson, an assistant director known more for his radical views on conservation than his management skills and schmoozing abilities. In contrast with Iliff's old office, Williamson's space is nearly unadorned; just a few black-and-white photos on the wall, a wind chime in the window.

If Warren Iliff were an animal, he'd be a chatty chimpanzee. If Jeff Williamson were an animal, he'd be a groundhog: diminutive and gray, squinting behind thick glasses. Shy. But unlike the famed groundhog, Williamson is lousy at forecasting the weather around him. His subordinates say he seems befuddled by his inability to communicate.

Under Williamson, the zoo disbanded its education department and moved those employees into the human resources department. Volunteer training became a thing of the past, which threw the volunteer corps -- hundreds strong at one point, and an integral part of a nonprofit operation -- into chaos. More than 200 of the zoo's 350 volunteers quit. He recently implemented a "team" management approach that is widely viewed as a disaster.

Even his detractors describe Williamson as a borderline genius. The trouble, they explain, is that they don't understand a word the guy says. After meetings, volunteers and staff huddle to decipher what they call "Jeff-ese."

When people do grasp Williamson's message, they often react with alarm. Many of his ideas are pretty unorthodox for a zoo director; some think he'd be better suited to run Greenpeace.

Williamson recently issued a decree that all animals were to be called by assigned numbers, not names. That didn't go over well, and he rescinded the order.

And he has reportedly told employees he wants to dramatically limit the zoo's collection to include mainly native Arizona creatures and small herding animals -- and phase out the large exotics.

"There's a joke that he wants to turn it into a bunny zoo," says one zoo volunteer.

Privately, those who know Williamson say he has strong, enlightened -- albeit unconventional -- views about zoos. Specifically, he doesn't much like them in their traditional form and is part of a growing movement of conservationists who believe captive breeding for the sake of preserving endangered species should not be done in zoos. But because those views are unpopular, Williamson tones them down for general consumption, and as a result he only succeeds in confusing his audience. This problem is compounded by the fact that, in the wake of the recent controversies at the zoo, Williamson seems to always have a zoo public relations representative glued to his hip, which further dilutes his message.

And so, when asked recently whether there would come a day when large exotics are no longer a part of the zoo's collection, he responds: "I don't know, 'cause we're not done with our collection planning, and also this is a dynamic world, okay? I don't know what the condition of certain species are going to be in the wild, I don't know what zoos' access to those animals are. I don't know how animal-care standards . . . are going to evolve. My view is that there will always be a role for zoos to play in the exhibition of exotic species."

The zoo board has hired consultants to evaluate Williamson's message and management style. In a February report, Arceil Leadership Communication Ltd. concludes, "The Phoenix Zoo is blazing a new trail for zoos. Its director questions many of the philosophical and operating assumptions prevalent for decades in American zoos. . . . Not everyone is content with such a radical departure from traditional zoo management."

Like Ed Villanueva, who resigned in June from the zoo's board of directors. He did not return calls, but articulated his concerns in a letter to board president Bill Hemelt.

"I see serious weaknesses in management, employee morale, direction, and even in the status of the large animal collection," Villanueva writes. He says the zoo grounds look unkempt and volunteers have asked him if the zoo has money problems. He says he knows the zoo is flush, but worries that money should go into the grounds and the animals, rather than conservation projects.

Villanueva also questions Williamson's pet project, a Desert Conservation Center to be built at an undetermined location in partnership with other Valley nonprofits. He says the project is fraught with potential problems, and worries about the decision to launch a major capital campaign drive in the near future.

"We don't know what we are doing, we don't know where we are going, but we'll need money, so let's ask for it and become an investment bank until we can figure out our goals," Villanueva's letter says.

Hemelt says he disagrees with Villanueva, and is in the process of responding to his letter. He says the board is behind Williamson 100 percent, and does not perceive that there is a lack of vision at the zoo, or significant personnel problems.

But Williamson acknowledges that the zoo has hit a rough patch, and he thinks much of the discontent is related to Ruby's death.

"I think that the loss of Ruby was significant, maybe more significant than I would have understood, particularly to this internal community that spends so much of its time giving care to animals, both volunteers and employees," he says. "And I think it's part of that sense of loss and that grieving process, a lot of folks have asked themselves, you know, 'Why?' And we have a tendency as people to try to find reasons for what happens.

"Why was Ruby here? What did Ruby do? Why did we care for her the way we did? Why did Ruby die? Who's responsible?"

The decision to breed Ruby was not made easily. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent to ship her to and from the Tulsa Zoo, where she met her man, an Asian elephant named Sneezy. The shipping process is often criticized as an unnecessary risk to the elephant's health. And there's always the chance a baby will be male, which can be trouble; most zoos, including the Phoenix Zoo, aren't necessarily equipped to house a full-grown male elephant, which are often aggressive and unmanageable. (Ruby's dead calf was male.)

Warren Iliff says he questioned his decision -- made in 1995, while he was still director -- when word of Ruby's demise reached him in California, where he now runs the Long Beach Aquarium. But ultimately, he says, it was the right choice. There have been a number of successful elephant births in recent years, in conjunction with a nationwide conservation program. Plus, Ruby was lonely; she didn't get along with the African elephants at the zoo.

"I would have imagined she would have been the happiest elephant in the world, because it would have been something she could really relate to," Iliff says.

Ruby's keepers were excited about the elephant's maternal prospects as well. Last September, as the end of her 22-month gestation approached, they began work on an elephant birthing protocol.

Keepers and veterinary staff in a zoo setting are traditionally at odds. The keeper is the animal's day-to-day caregiver, while the veterinarian is responsible for monitoring overall health and stepping in when there's an emergency. This case was no exception; the elephant keepers didn't enjoy a particularly friendly relationship with Kathy Orr, the zoo's senior veterinarian.

Orr declined repeated requests for an interview, citing the pending veterinary board investigation. Zoo staffers were reluctant to go on the record, saying they fear for their jobs. The following is gleaned from numerous background interviews with current and former staff, as well as memos and other documents.

The elephant keepers were surprised when Orr showed little interest in contributing to the birthing protocol. Meetings were conducted in a democratic fashion, with the elephant keepers, curators and veterinary staff, and generally everyone had to be in agreement before a step was taken.

As the zoo's only veterinarian, Orr was very busy. She also volunteers as the veterinarian to Liberty Wildlife, a nonprofit rescue agency she founded in the Eighties that rehabilitates native Arizona animals, particularly birds.

But this was Ruby, after all. The keepers began to get nervous, and Bill Bonucci, the lead elephant keeper, began writing the protocol himself. He had help from his wife, who happens to be a veterinarian: Laura Lodwick.

In early October, Lodwick was hired as a part-time veterinarian at the zoo. Mike Demlong, the curator who hired her (with Orr's approval), says Lodwick has impeccable credentials. She has veterinary experience at numerous zoos, including, most recently, the Baltimore Zoo. (Indeed, medical staff at the Baltimore Zoo, including the head veterinarian, Dr. Mike Cranfield, raved about Lodwick, when contacted by New Times.)

"If I could have one vet on a deserted island to care for the animals, it would be her," says Demlong, who has since left the zoo and now works for the state Department of Game and Fish. He refused to talk about his tenure at the zoo, except to praise Lodwick. And to express a twinge of guilt.

"After her [Lodwick's job] interview, she stopped me in the parking lot. She goes, 'Is there anything going on behind the scenes that involves the veterinary staff that I need to know about?' And I lied, and I said no. I should have told her right then."

Demlong says he feels like "a scuzzbucket" for deceiving Lodwick.

Lodwick jumped right into the elephant birth planning. And almost immediately, she noticed something strange about Kathy Orr's facilities.

"Right away, within the first week or two, I was concerned about lack of basic supplies -- basic bandaging materials and basic emergency drugs," Lodwick says. "Nothing fancy. Nothing high-tech."

Lodwick says she was told she could not order any supplies without Orr's permission. She learned that Orr was notoriously frugal.

Unlike Lodwick, Orr has never worked at another zoo. She took the job in 1989, and until then her practice involved mainly domesticated animals and birds. Orr, who's around 50, is described as an outgoing, talkative woman, who pins her long hair up and wears dangling bird earrings. Aside from frugality, she's infamous for her disorganization; her desk is stacked high and she's always on the run. One acquaintance describes her as sweet and bumbling, sort of a female Mr. Magoo.

Upper management decreed that no expense should be spared on Ruby's pregnancy and delivery, so Lodwick began slowly ordering supplies, making lists, packing boxes of extra equipment to be taken to the elephant barn when the time came. She recalls that Orr got very upset when Lodwick suggested ordering one or two catheters (a $12 expense) for Ruby, since they didn't have the right size on hand and the catheters they did have were disintegrating with age.

"Not all things like needles and catheters are always labeled, but basically, when the packaging falls apart or turns brown, you get a hint," Lodwick says.

"She [Orr] said, 'No, you can't order any catheters,'" Lodwick recalls. Lodwick went over Orr's head. "She got upset, took the [old] catheters in question and threw them in the trash."

Lodwick was later told that Orr dug the catheters out of the garbage and put them back with the other supplies. Lodwick was frustrated but not shocked.

As Ruby's due date approached, Lodwick and the elephant staff grew increasingly worried. Finally, with Orr about to leave for an out-of-town conference, Lodwick cornered her after an elephant staff meeting, and convinced the senior veterinarian to help make some decisions about drug dosages so Lodwick could order the proper medications.

"She said, 'Oh, no, no, I'm too busy,'" Lodwick recalls. "And basically I pushed, because I knew she was leaving and I didn't want to be left without anything in the hospital.

"So she sat. . . . She said, 'Gee, yeah, I've been meaning to look up drug dosages and things and so forth,' and said she didn't have time."

Orr left on her trip, only to be called back early when Ruby went into labor. And at that point, Lodwick says, Orr was very attentive. For two weeks, staffers were at the zoo at all hours, as Ruby went in and out of labor.

"She was there," Lodwick says of Orr. "I know there were nights when she never went home and slept in her van. . . . Yeah, maybe she wasn't so good on preparation and she was weird about supplies, but at least she was there in person."

After several meetings of the entire elephant team, it was decided that if Ruby's labor ceased again, she should be given oxytocin, a drug that induces labor. The pros and cons were debated -- oxytocin has been linked to uterine tears, which can lead to infection and death -- and even on the very morning the drug was given, Orr expressed hesitation, observers say.

In the end, Orr drew up the dosage herself, but the decision obviously haunted her. Ruby died as a result of a uterine tear, and the final medical report concluded this happened because her calf was too big.

But about two weeks after Ruby's death, the elephant keepers came to work and found that Orr had put manila envelopes in their mailboxes, containing copies of a medical article about the dangers of oxytocin.

"This was one of the weirdest, most unprofessional things I've ever seen," Lodwick says. She and others say the materials dated back to at least 1950.

The elephant keepers were devastated. "They're great people, but they don't have medical training. They got this thing with this stuff highlighted. I heard because I got phone calls. They were crying."

And they were angry.

"It was devastating, because we knew people were going to blame us for killing Ruby, and that's exactly what happened," says one zoo employee.

The employee says the elephant keepers were shunned by other keepers and zoo management. Publicly, Williamson praised the team, but at the same time he issued a memo questioning the future of the zoo's elephant program.

The elephant team was surprised by Orr's reaction. "What we did not expect was that someone who was on the inside, who knew all the facts, would turn around and stab us in the back and just make matters worse, which is what happened," the employee says.

Their reaction, the employee says: "Fine. If she's going to act this way, we're going to watch her like a hawk."

At the end of March -- five months after Ruby's death -- an anonymous complaint was filed with the state Veterinary Medical Examining Board and the Phoenix Zoo's board of directors.

The complainant, elephant keeper Trudy Abad, has since gone public, although she refused to comment for this story. In her original complaint and subsequent complaints filed with authorities -- in which, by the way, Ruby goes unmentioned -- Abad alleges that Orr had a part in the death of the following animals in the past year:

• A white rhinoceros, which died last December at an advanced age. Abad says Orr unnecessarily and improperly sedated the animal.

• A dwarf crocodile, which died earlier this year after a routine suture removal, possibly because it was given the wrong dosage of sedative.

• Two snakes, which died after being "milked" for fecal samples.

• A cheetah cub that died shortly after birth, possibly due to infection because its umbilicus was not cleaned and disinfected.

Further, Abad alleges, she's documented instances in which orangutans, an otter and a lion received substandard care. She says the hospital is disorganized, Orr is ineffective, that outdated supplies are used and that expired medications are kept in violation of federal law. She points to a recent inspection by the United States Department of Agriculture, which revealed that expired drugs were in fact kept on the premises.

And finally, she complains about the hospital library, whose books -- like the one from which Orr likely copied the oxytocin article -- are archaic.

Trudy Abad is not the only complainant. Laura Lodwick says she lost respect for Kathy Orr on the day of Ruby's death, when those gloves disintegrated in the Chicago surgeon's hands. As the weeks passed, Lodwick's concerns mounted.

Because of the tension between the two, management asked Lodwick to come in mainly on weekends. The final straw, Lodwick says, came in February, when a crane with a broken leg was brought to the hospital on a Sunday afternoon. Lodwick called Orr for advice and says she was told that there were no supplies available for pinning the leg and since there was a good chance the bird would die, she should just not worry about it.

Lodwick, who had worked extensively with cranes at the Baltimore Zoo, decided to give it a shot anyhow. She says she hospitalized the bird and gave it fluids.

"I came in Saturday morning and the bird was near death," Lodwick says. "Emaciated, on the floor of the stall. It had obviously not eaten to speak of for the whole week there. There had been no monitoring of this bird."

Orr had pinned the leg, but Lodwick says the bird could not reach its water and was dehydrated. She gave it an IV, rigged a sling so it could be put in a standing position and pulled a crate containing food and water over to the bird.

"The moment it was in its sling with the water within its reach -- which it had not been -- it put its head down and started drinking," Lodwick recalls, pausing. "This is so horrible, I don't even know how you can talk about it, because if I was the public I'd want to close the zoo for it."

The bird died. Lodwick quit.

"I just came to a breaking point," she says.

Lodwick wrote to Jeff Williamson and the zoo's board of directors -- and later the state veterinary board -- outlining her concerns, including the death of the crane and many of the complaints outlined in Abad's letters. Lodwick also complained that Orr performed a non-sterile abdominal surgery on a barbet. She detailed her frustration with the Ruby incident.

Late this spring, at Jeff Williamson's request, the zoo's Medical Health Committee met to review both the anonymous complaint and Lodwick's complaint. Dr. Alan Eads, a board member and local veterinarian, chairs the board's Medical Health Committee. He says the board met for more than two hours, reviewing a written response from Orr, hearing from her in person and taking the complaints point by point. Lodwick was not invited to the meeting.

"We came to the conclusion that the allegations were . . . groundless," Eads says, conceding that Orr has room for improvement when it comes to organization.

He adds that Orr has a sufficient budget to get the supplies the hospital needs, but doesn't use it. "I think Dr. Orr is too frugal," Eads says. "That is true. That's just her makeup. That's not necessarily a severe criticism of her."

Eads calls Orr an "excellent clinician." He says the zoo's bird curator defended Orr's actions regarding the crane, adding, "The complaints were not medically sound. They were incomplete in what Dr. Lodwick knew. She did not have the whole picture in some points."

Lodwick counters that Eads does not have the whole picture, that he and the other veterinarians on the Medical Health Committee are Orr's cronies and will do what they can to protect her.

"That really is not true. It's not the case. We don't do this to just protect Dr. Orr," Eads says. "I was on the [state] board of examiners when Kathy Orr took her exam for her license back in the Seventies. She's a very, very bright young lady."

To prove that there is no cronyism, Eads says, veterinarians from outside Arizona are being called on to review the complaints.

"There's going to be a review, just to be sure that this is not just cronyism here or anything that people might say, well, 'The Medical Health Committee is just her friend and isn't going to say anything.'"

But one of those "independent" vets is Dr. Murray Fowler, former chairman of the veterinary medicine department at the University of California at Davis -- and a personal friend of Kathy Orr's.

Coincidentally, both Orr and Lodwick attended UC-Davis and knew Fowler there, but Orr and Fowler have a particularly close relationship, as evidenced by the letter of recommendation Fowler wrote for Orr (then Kathy Ingram) in 1973 when she applied to be a veterinarian in Arizona:

". . . Those of us in veterinary schools are frequently called upon to write letters of recommendation for students applying for permission to take state board examinations. For many students, you place your tongue in cheek when you attest to the moral character of the person.

"Perhaps this is why I can take great pleasure in submitting this letter. There is no question, whatsoever, that Mrs. Ingram is a mature, responsible woman. . . . Aside from her professional activities, it has been my pleasure to be intimately acquainted with both her and her husband socially. I am proud to have been their confidant. I have spent many pleasant hours discussing goals, aspirations and philosophies. . . ."

With the zoo backing Orr, Lodwick says she and Abad are relying on the state veterinary board to give their concerns a fair review.

Lodwick is not encouraged. The board's regular investigator has been on medical leave this summer, so Chuck Spooner, whose normal duties include on-site veterinary office inspections, has been pinch-hitting. That makes Lodwick nervous. So does the fact that Orr's ex-husband, Dr. Irv Ingram, is a member of the veterinary board, as is Dr. Dean Rice, who sits on the zoo's medical committee. Even if Ingram and Rice recuse themselves from formal board votes, Lodwick says, they may have the opportunity to influence the investigation.

For example, Lodwick points out, when it came time for the board to request an independent peer review of the complaints, the regulators called Dr. Murray Fowler, Orr's mentor from UC-Davis.

The veterinary board staff refuses to comment on an ongoing investigation. The board is scheduled to discuss Orr's case on August 18.

Last spring, Jean Marie Hing and Judy Phalen heard about the complaints filed against Kathy Orr at the zoo and immediately fired up the word processor and filed their own complaint with the state veterinary board. Both had volunteered at Liberty Wildlife -- Orr's relief organization -- for more than a decade, and say they were alarmed at the similarities between Lodwick's concerns and their own.

Hing and Phalen left Liberty Wildlife late last year, in a dispute over the direction of the organization's medical services division. They insist their complaints aren't sour grapes, that they didn't realize their concerns were valid until they saw them expressed elsewhere.

The women say Orr was often late and disorganized, that she sometimes forgot to take birds to the zoo for surgery.

"We would have to write notes and pin them to the steering wheel of her car, we'd have to box up the birds and put them on her doorstep so she'd have to step over them on the way out of the house, in order for her to remember to take anything," Phalen says.

They also say Orr used "dirty, unsterilized, rusty instruments," handled the animals roughly and sometimes did not anesthetize birds when it appeared to them to be necessary.

Phalen recalls an instance listed in the complaint, in which the women say Orr amputated the wing of a great blue heron without anesthesia.

"I kept saying, 'I can draw this anesthesia up, I can give it to you in two seconds, let me pull it up.' She kept saying, 'No, no, no,' and that's when I said, 'I can't be party to this,' and walked into the other room, and listened to that bird scream and thrash while she cut its wing off while it was still awake."

From the complaint:

". . . there was a roadrunner with a severely fractured leg. . . . The roadrunner went to the zoo and back to Liberty too many times to count. Each time it went to the zoo it was left in a carrier for the entire day with no food or water. Many times it was just left in her [Orr's] car the entire day. It was almost a year before the appropriate surgery was performed by Dr. Orr. . . ."

Other Liberty Wildlifers strongly disagree with Phalen and Hing's description of care available at the facility.

Darlene Fitchet, director of Liberty Wildlife, dismisses the concerns entirely.

"It's really a shame that two spoiled individuals that had their egos bruised are making a sport of bringing Kathy down," she says.

James Badman, a former Liberty Wildlife volunteer who is now a laboratory technician, gets choked up when he talks about Orr's gifts. "She's phenomenal, unbelievable. . . . The stuff she knows about exotic animals and the stuff she's able to do -- I've seen -- it blows me away," he says.

Gigi Rosberg, a current volunteer, says of Orr, "She's got a gentle touch. . . . I just think she does a really good job, and you learn a lot from watching her, too."

Rosberg adds, "I've never seen her hurt an animal, I've never seen her make a bad diagnosis. If I ever had any question about the medical diagnosis for an animal, I wouldn't have any doubts asking her about it. I just feel like she would know."

Linda Searles, a former Liberty Wildlife volunteer, is not as glowing in her appraisal. She refuses to comment directly on the organization; Searles left in 1993 to start her own group, Southwest Wildlife.

"They [Liberty Wildlife] could make life rather difficult for us. I mean, they did in the past, when I tried to start my own [group], so I don't know that I want to get involved in this."

Phalen and Hing's complaint is also pending before the state veterinary board.

As the anniversary of Ruby's death approaches, the elephant keepers and Kathy Orr are still being forced to meet to try to settle their differences.

Laura Lodwick, who now works for a local relief organization (not Liberty Wildlife), is looking for jobs out of state. She says this ordeal has not been easy.

"I don't have anything to gain from this. . . . It is ugly. She's a nice woman," she says of Orr. "In school, we were told not to talk bad about other vets. I consider myself a very ethical person."

But Lodwick says her concerns were too grave to go unreported, and she points to Arizona law, which requires a practicing veterinarian to report substandard care on the part of a colleague.

Complaints about Orr have not gone completely ignored. Jeff Williamson and Alan Eads confirm that the zoo has been searching for a "senior veterinarian" since the beginning of the year, someone who will oversee administration and be a liaison to other zoo staff.

So far, nobody has been hired.

And there are no signs of Williamson's radical ideas coming to light. Indu the elephant is snug in her barn. Animals are still called by name; recycling cans located around the zoo are even labeled with "Ricky the Raccoon" and "Stinky the Skunk."

Of the zoo's current struggles, Williamson says, in his trademark roundabout way, "We will move through this, and I think people will contribute to an outcome that's going to secure our future."

Contact Amy Silverman at 602-2298443 or at her online address: [email protected]

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