Story by Ceci Gonzales
Photos by Ceci Gonzales and Andie Rogers
Arriving early to prepare for the weekend’s big debut, Patti Clark walked in to her office at the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary one morning, only to find a roll of black bags and a smashed cash register on the ground. Looking over the offices and the ATM, she saw that they, too, were in disarray.
The zoo had been ransacked.
On the night of July 3, the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary lost around $30,000 in cash and equipment as they were preparing for the planned showcase of three black bear cubs. Clark, president and executive director of the zoo, says that she still feels astounded that someone would steal from the zoo. “I’m really surprised that anybody would even drive out this far and would have an anticipation of getting anything other than the ATM machine,” she says in reference to the laptops, radios, and security cameras that were also stolen.
Because the sanctuary is a private, non-profit zoo that relies on private donations and gate admissions for revenue, the robbery was a catastrophic blow to the owners. In fact, about 60 percent of the zoo’s earnings comes from admissions, and another 20 percent comes from gift shop sales. Any additional money is donated by visitors who drop off money in the donation boxes located throughout the zoo. “You’d be amazed at how much money comes in like that. It really adds up,” Clark says.
Austin Police charged Jeremy Watnick, 40, for the alleged crime and recovered four stolen radios. Because the stolen radios were the only items recovered from Watnick, the zoo had a lot of items to replace. However, in the weeks to follow, many members of the community heard about the burglary and generously donated to the zoo.
One organization was the local law firm of Howry Breen and Herman LLP. Michelle Andis, marketing director of Howry Breen and Herman, says the firm had two major reasons for helping out: an interest in community education and paralegal Jená Miklaw’s affiliation with the zoo. “Jená’s husband, Matt Miklaw, works here, so that gives us a little bit of a personal high specifically to the zoo. Also, the zoo is so important for our community as a way of educating the people of Austin,” says Andis.
The firm set up a donation match fundraiser during in August where donations from the community were matched by Howry Breen and Herman with a maximum dollar match of $10,000. Social media and email were used extensively in order to get the word out. “We sent an email blast to all our of email contacts that went out to thousands and thousands of people, and slowly but surely they all started coming in,” Andis explains.
By the end of the month, the community had donated $10,636. The firm matched the donation amount with $10,000, making a grand total of $20,636. The check was presented to Clark by attorney Randy R. Howry on the morning of Friday, Sept. 12.
Howry says the firm’s primary motivation for helping out was not only because of the firm’s direct connection to the zoo, but because they believe in supporting the local community. “When we heard about the burglary from Jená, we said this is a kind of thing we want to support,” says Howry.
On behalf of the firm, Howry says he is very pleased to help out, as he believes the zoo makes a positive impact in the Austin area. “We like to support those organizations and community efforts that make our city better, and this place certainly does,” says Howry.
Other donations from organizations and supporters helped the zoo successfully recover and flourish. Currier Lock and Safe rekeyed the building since the zoo’s keys were taken along with the safe the night of the burglary. Office Edge and 3M Office donated file cabinets, and Dyezz Surveillance and Security Inc. installed an alarm and surveillance system in the gift shop and offices. “People are really generous. Small donations add up amazingly,” says Clark.
These donations will provide the funds needed to take care of the zoo’s animals. Most of the animals at the zoo are rescued from Travis County Animal Control, or are special cases such as the black bear cubs. The cubs, Korbin, Tilly and Ruby were rescued from Portland, Oregon after being abandoned by their mother because of pervasive logging in Yamhill County. The Austin Zoo took in the orphaned cubs and nursed them until the weekend of July 4, when they were ready to be put on display. Other animals are retirees from other zoos, such as the San Antonio Zoo, where they grew too old to participate in displays. “I have some great friends down there that we collaborate with. When they retire animals they contact us,” Clark says.
To visit the Austin Zoo or make a donation, visit their website.