Speaking for Those Who Can’t – This is my personal account of two heroes – Chuck and Cindy Traisi, founders of The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center.
For many years I had been a huge fan of the Fund for Animals, founded by the late best-selling author Cleveland Amory. Thirty-five years ago, I had the honor of working with him, during the highly publicized San Clemente Island goat rescue.
In 1985, following an environmental study, a decision was made to eliminate thousands of non-indigenous feral goats from San Clemente Island. Located about 80 miles off the coast of San Diego, the island is home base to a U.S. Navy installation. For years, a portion of the island had been used for ballistics testing. Government officials decided the most efficient way to solve the goat problem was via aerial shooting from helicopters. The animals would be left – dead or wounded – on the ground. That was when Cleveland Amory and the Fund for Animals stepped in.
Cleveland knew that there was a better way to remove the goats without the brutality of a mass execution. Following a successful airlift evacuation of hundreds of wild burros from the Grand Canyon, he knew it could be done. His plan was to drop nets on the animals from a helicopter. The goats would then be safely secured and ferried to the mainland and taken to shelters for adoption. The Fund would pay the majority of the cost and provide manpower. They would bear the full responsibility of the animals after they left the island, including food, shelter and veterinary care.
“You can give of your talent, you can give of your possessions, or you can give of yourself. For God’s sake, give something.”
Speaking for Those Who Can’t
The Department of Defense said “No”. At that point, the plight of the San Clemente Island goats hit the network news. Lawsuits were filed, public pleas were made, all to no avail. Just as we were running out of time, I received a voice message from a very serious sounding man. “My name is Charles Traisi. I would like to meet with you and Mr. Amory”. He went on to say “I have a plan that I believe will save the goats”. His calm, composed voice gave me goosebumps.
A day before the announced start of the goat slaughter, Cleveland and I met Charles Traisi. We were greeted by an exceptionally well dressed man in a three-piece suit. Poised and articulate, he shared with us only enough details about himself to let us know he was for real. His “plan” involved sensitive information that, to this day, I know nothing about. All I knew was he was prepared to risk his 20-year career and his personal safety to prevent even “one goat from being harmed”.
Apparently, his plan worked. At 7 am the next morning, I turned on my television to NBC’s Today Show. I stood in shock as I heard Bryant Gumbel make a breaking news announcement. “Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger has declared a “stay of execution” for the San Clemente Island goats. The Fund for Animals will be allowed to proceed with the humane removal of the goats.”
One brave man saved thousands of lives.
Finding a Home
Cleveland asked me to locate a safe place to house several hundred wild goats. I was suddenly tasked with providing care for them while they awaited adoption. After scouring the entire Southern California region for a suitable location, I connected with an elderly woman who operated a run-down dog and cat shelter in Ramona, California. She had two open pastures that were just large enough to house the goats. I’ll never forget the day I picked up Cleveland from the airport and brought him to meet the rather disheveled, eccentric woman. who, upon meeting the famous author, announced that she wanted to give her property to the Fund for Animals as long as it would continue to be used as an animal sanctuary.
Soon the goats began to arrive. Hundreds of beautiful, multi-colored, long-horned, cloven-hoofed animals. As a city girl, I had never handled a single domestic goat, let alone hundreds of frightened fleet-footed wild goats. It was quite a fast and furious education. I learned about the many domestic livestock diseases these animals would be exposed to for the first time in their lives. I learned that goats are the most athletically gifted animals on the planet. They can swiftly jump on or climb up anything from a tree to a car hood.
For six months, while working full time, I made the 80 mile round-trip drive to care for the goats. I ran an adoption clinic on weekends. Plus I had to be ready to respond to the constant barrage of inquiries from the media. I would awaken to unexpected pre-dawn phone interviews from East coast radio stations. Camera crews would arrive unannounced at my home or workplace. I’m grateful to my employer who allowed me to keep bottle-fed baby goats in my office. Frankly, it was all very overwhelming. I knew the goats were now safe. I felt very good about the rescue operation and the adoptions. But I was done. I was ready to hand it over. But to whom?
Enter Charles “Chuck” and Cindy Traisi. The very same man who single-handedly saved these animals from being killed announced to me that he and his wonderful wife Cindy wanted to step in. Like me, they too had no prior experience handling wildlife. But they were willing to learn. And learn they did.
Not long after Chuck and Cindy became volunteer coordinators for the ongoing San Clemente Goat rescue, they were offered a unique position by Cleveland Amory. He asked if they would be interested in moving to the animal shelter and becoming full-time resident managers.
First, allow me to describe what they would be moving into. Imagine a dilapidated, filthy little house reeking from years of cat urine-soaked carpet and walls. A dirty office and storage area with collapsing roofs. Concrete kennels filled with dozens of stir-crazy barking dogs. Sick cats, dozens of rabbits and assorted domestic animals in need of tons of TLC and medical care. Oh, and let’s not forget the several hundred wild goats.
All this in exchange for poverty level wages, working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And what did the Traisis sacrifice to do this? For Chuck, a twenty-year 9 to 5 management career as a high-ranking civil servant. Cindy, who holds a Masters Degree in education, would give up her chosen field. Along with their beloved German Shepherd Damian, they would walk away from their comfortable home in San Diego, their careers and their lives as they knew them and dedicate themselves to caring for and speaking for those who can’t.
Here is what they did.
For over 25 years, Chuck and Cindy Traisi operated The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona California. They transformed the small shelter into one of the finest wildlife rehabilitation facilities in the country. During their tenure it more than doubled in size. Today, the Center has the largest flight cages in Southern California, which has served hundreds of hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures. They and their staff cared for birds of all species including songbirds, peacocks, turkeys and chickens.
Their beautifully designed enclosures have safely housed mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, bears, tigers, African lions and leopards, horses, Death Valley burros and even a pygmy hippo. Chuck oversaw every phase of the redevelopment of the Center.
True to His Word
Several years ago, Chuck dedicated two years of his life to care for dozens of neglected tigers, lions and leopards. The “Tiger Rescue” pseudo-sanctuary in Colton, CA was one of the largest exotic animal abuse cases in the country. When Chuck was asked to step in, the notorious facility was a filthy, frightening hellhole and the animals were in desperate need. Chuck stepped in, risking his own personal safety to care for these starving and potentially dangerous big cats. He vowed not to leave the premises until the very last animal was safe. He was there, along with his team of dedicated volunteers, when the final tiger was taken to an accredited sanctuary.
For more than two and a half decades, the Traisis and their dedicated team cared for thousands of injured, abused, orphaned or abandoned animals. They are regarded as two of the most respected wildlife rehabilitators in the country. Chuck has been a sought-after educator in the field and Cindy has authored two very popular books – Because They Matter and Because They Matter, Too.
Chuck & Cindy – I love you for your selfless compassion and commitment to animals and each other. I am so proud to call you my friends and my heroes. ❤️ Thank you for speaking for those who can’t.