Showing Compassion

As we all struggle to make sense of Bella’s tragic death and the trauma Tarra experienced witnessing it, peace of mind does not come easily. Losing a loved one is difficult enough without the death being violent and the witness being helpless to stop it.

Tarra has seen many dog fights. Not once did she approach the fighting; instead she rapidly recoiled, squeaking fearfully, trunk tucked under her chin, moving away from the confrontation.

It is not that Tarra would not have wanted to come to Bella’s aid, but she does not possess that intense protective nature that drives a mother to defend her young. Tarra loved Bella with every cell in her being and saw her as a playmate and friend.

We can all agree that Tarra has experienced a serious trauma. Suggesting that in three short days she has come to terms with Bella’s death is not rational. Experts the world over have documented the depth of emotional and social bonds elephants possess. They grieve their dead in ceremonial fashion for days. They return to the place of death year after year, rekindling their memories. Mothers carry their dead calf for miles, refusing to leave the body until it decays.

To recognize that elephants are sentient beings means to understand the depth of their emotions. You cannot truly know them without recognizing their highly evolved reasoning capacity. The greatest mistake that can be made is to arrogantly underestimate an elephant’s intelligence and complexity or assume that you can truly know an elephant after only a few short months. Such errors can result in mismanagement.

There was a day when the Sanctuary would rally around a traumatized individual, immediately enlisting every resource possible. In all situations, recovery support was a priority. To deny Tarra anything in her time of need is heartless.

For Tarra

 DRESCHER                                                                       1720 Wset End Blvd.

 HELLER                                                                             Nashville, TN 37203

PIEPER                                                                                Telephone: (615) 425-7111


                                                        October 28, 2011



Robert E. Boston, Esq. –

Catherine H. Molloy, Esq. –


511 Union Street, Suite 2700

Nashville, TN 37219

Re: Buckley v. The Elephant Sanctuary, et al.  

Dear Bob and Katie:

                In light of Bella’s unfortunate death, I am writing to request that my client be given immediate access to Tarra. As Tarra comes to terms with the loss of her best friend, she will need the support of those closest to her. There is no one better suited to fill this role than Ms. Buckley.

                Please let me hear from you immediately. You can reach me on my mobile phone at any time. The number is (615) 429-0383.

              Thank you.


                                                                                        /s/ Sean J. Martin

                                                                                         Sean J. Martin


Cc(via email):

Noah McPike

Carol Buckley

For Tarra and her Bella

          Every tree that you pass,

          In the next several days,

          Will remind you of Bella,

          In so many ways.

          But she is still with you,

           Each step of the way,

          And nothing can sever,

          The bond that you made.

          Think of her sweet smell,

          And see her out there,

          Remember her playing,

          Throwing sticks in the air.

          Her essence is with you,

          Her spirit is strong,

          You are one with each other,

          She will never be gone.

          She brought you the sunshine,

          On those cold winter days,

          Then cuddled beneath you,

          On a warm pile of hay.

          When times get the hardest,

           With no will to go on,

          Remember your Bella,

          And the pain will be gone.

          I wish I could be there,

          To hold you and say,

          I’ll love you forever,

          Forever and a day.

          Namaste my sweet girl, Carol

I went to court for Tarra

I created the Sanctuary expressly for Tarra and have no intention of removing her from her home. But due to the changes in management at the Sanctuary since my removal, specifically the departure of co-founder Scott Blais and the entire senior caregiver staff, I feel an urgency to monitor Tarra’s wellbeing.

On August 17, I filed a Motion for Pendente Lite Relief in the Chancery Court of Lewis County, Tennessee. The motion asked the court for an order allowing me visitation with Tarra and for another requiring the defendant to remove certain documents filed before the court. The motion was to be heard September 7 but was postponed by opposing council and rescheduled for October 17.

Days before the hearing, opposing council filed a thick brief with the court arguing against the motions and the hearing. The brief mirrored opposing counsel’s previous attempts at character assassination and avoided any discussion of their client’s breach of contract regarding my visitation with Tarra. Instead, the brief contained a battery of insults, unfounded accusations and downright lies to distract the court from the issue of visitation.

The judge ruled to hear the motion.

My attorney argued that the Sanctuary had reneged on an agreement allowing me access to Tarra. It has been 18 months since I was last allowed to see Tarra and evaluate her wellbeing.

Opposing council argued that a request for visitation did not fall within the court’s authority. 

The judge explained that the courts view Tarra as property and, as such, he could grant permission to “inspect” her only in the event that I planned to remove her from Sanctuary grounds. Since removing Tarra from her Sanctuary home is not my intention, the motion for visitation was denied.

In a heartening display of empathy, the judge assured me and all present in the courtroom that my request was very reasonable, but that the law does not have a provision allowing him to grant the request.

The second part of my motion, a request to remove specific documents from the Sanctuary’s website was also heard. My lawyer pointed out that several anonymous, unsigned inflammatory letters were posted on the Sanctuary site along with their response to my lawsuit. The letters, written by disgruntled employees, most of whom had not been employed by the Sanctuary for years, contained vicious and false accusations. It was argued that these letters should either be removed or the authors identified.

Citing First Amendment rights, the judge ruled that the letters do not have to be removed. He explained that people are allowed to say anything they wish. It is up to the person being wrongly accused to sue for slander.

Continuing our Education

Over the past two years I have refrained from engaging in public discussions about the Board’s actions. I did not want to fuel the fire of already heated discussions. Quite honestly, my input would have not helped anyone better understand the situation because the Board’s action was beyond my comprehension.

As my chance to be heard in a court of law comes closer, I am beginning to gain insight into the “WHY” of the Board’s action. It will take our day in court to expose its motivations. Time moves slowly in court cases, especially when one side stalls, preferring to put off due process or accountability. So, we must remain patient.

I would like to reconnect with all of you. It has been too long since I shared my elephant experiences and engaged in open discussion about our mutual ele-love.

While waiting for my case to come to court I would like to change gears so we can continue to advance our knowledge and understanding of elephants together. We have had a chance to vent at the injustice, but now I would prefer to spend my energy discussing what brought us all together in the first place….elephants.

You might have a better suggestion but I think a prescheduled weekly online discussion would be great. I could pick the subject of the day from a list submitted by all of you. We would be required to stay on topic, with the goal of learning more about elephants. I want to discuss who they are, how they live, their ability to overcome and recover from unhealthy situation and so much more. I want to expand on the positive aspects of work being done to right the wrongs against them. Instead of focusing on the negative, I prefer to do as I always have and focus on what we can do to help one elephant at a time.

Although I am happy to talk about all the girls, I think our time will be well spent if we strive to continue our larger education about elephants. There is so much to learn!

If anyone is interested in this idea, let’s set up a site for the discussions, appoint a person to organize it and schedule the first session.

Great suffering of the heart for elephant and human alike; separating bonded individuals is paramount to abuse.

Tarra and I have shared our lives for 36 years, resulting in a deep personal relationship. What began as a novice caretaker and displaced orphaned elephant soon evolved into much more. Our shared experiences have forged a deep bond, much like mother and child.

The Board’s decision to keep Tarra and me apart is counterproductive for Tarra’s emotional wellbeing. Their actions defile the spirit of the Sanctuary. If aware of the depth of emotion elephants possess, they would not attempt to sever any significant relationship. As stewards of the Sanctuary, their abuse would appear to border on criminal.

Yesterday, inside the Lewis County courthouse, my attorney argued for my right to see Tarra in order to monitor her wellbeing. The Board’s attorney argued against, stating that my request was only intended to satisfy my own emotional need. The Board’s attorney spoke of the Sanctuary’s ability to monitor Tarra’s physical health, but not her overall health. Currently the Sanctuary has no expert on staff to monitor Tarra’s overall health, the wellbeing of her mind, spirit and body. The lack of such expertise puts all Sanctuary elephants at risk and negatively affects their continued rehabilitation.

There was little the Judge could do to grant my request under the confines of the law, which views animals as property. If Tarra had been a Kubota Tractor I would have be granted permission to “inspect” her. But as a thinking, feeling, non-human animal, her needs, as far as the law is concerned, are irrelevant.

Tarra and I have once again found ourselves in uncharted territory, this time with no law designed to protect our relationship. It is not the first time we have found ourselves governed by a system that is not designed to address or protect Tarra’s wellbeing.

Tarra has no resemblance to a piece of property. It is insulting for the Board to suggest so. Her relationship needs are real. As stewards, the Board bears the responsibility to allow Tarra and her precious sisters to develop the relationships they desire — a principle the Sanctuary was founded on.

Although today the court was unable to provide protection for Tarra, I am confident that my continued effort will be successful. I founded the Sanctuary 17 years ago for the express purpose of protecting Tarra from a cruel and unjust world. I will not allow anyone to harm her no matter how long this effort takes. I will not allow this judgment to deter me from my goal to reunite us. The promise I made to Tarra 36 years ago still holds true; I will never abandon her.

While daydreaming about Tarra……

I recalled our first romp on a pristine beach in Santa Barbara, CA. Tarra was a spunky youngster, small by elephant standards, full of playful energy. It was early morning, the sun was just lighting up the southern California sky and the beach was surprisingly empty. Like kids off on a grand adventure we climbed over the dunes that divided the highway from the beach beyond. Tarra sunk to her knees in the dry sand with each gangly step, leaving cavernous holes in her wake.

Abandoned volleyball courts lay down the beach to the left. The water’s edge was active with sandpipers plunging their beaks into the sand like tiny oil derricks. With an excited trumpet blast Tarra bolted toward the big blue ocean, dragging her toes in the wet sand as she ran. The resulting gouges filled in with each consecutive wave, erasing any trace of her presence.

Tarra enthusiastically ran toward the ocean as the water receded. But when an underdeveloped wave crashed at her feet, she screeched to a halt and back peddled awkwardly. Squeaking gleefully, trunk curled up under her chin, head pulled down low, she got eye level with the wave. As it once again receded, her confidence returned. Ankle-deep in the foamy swirl of sand and salt water, she did not notice the new wave building. It formed quickly, rising like a cobra from the ocean floor and slapped her broad side with a crack. Caught by surprise, Tarra’s eyes flashed wide. She stood frozen for a split second, staring straight at me. I could not help it, I broke up with laughter.

Recognizing the mischievous look on her face, I started running down the beach to get the jump on our ever familiar foot race. Tarra came tearing out of the water, running as fast as her stocky legs could drive her, trunk and tail fully extended like a bird dog on point. Our foot race ritual was a bonding exercise. Sometimes I let her win and other times she let me. This time it appeared that she was determined to be the winner. Slowed by the soft sand caressing our ankles, we raced down the beach, neck-in-neck, until she surged forward in a final sprint, leaving me in her dust clinching my sides in laughter.

Only then did I notice we were being watched. A uniformed man standing some distance away called out, “Miss, you cannot have an elephant on the beach.” Jokingly I responded, “Sorry, I didn’t see the sign.”

Anantara built a training wall!

With the world of elephant welfare seemingly in constant turmoil, it is encouraging to learn when progress is being made. Some elephant programs never seem to move past the philosophy of control, be it under the guise of positive or negative reinforcement. So when an organization makes the effort to transition from dominance to non-dominance, congratulations are in order.

Earlier this year I visited Anantara, a facility located in Northern Thailand. Anantara differs from many other tourist facilities; most notably, they are a five-star resort and do not buy elephants away from their owners. Instead, Anantara leases elephants, keeping the owner/mahout and elephant pair intact, thereby reducing the likelihood of the owner going and purchasing a new elephant. Removing the pair from the streets has the potential to improve their quality of life but, unfortunately, the move alone does not necessarily change the manner in which the mahout manages his elephant.

You can imagine my gratification when I discovered a new YouTube video showing a training wall and mahouts engaged in positive reinforcement training at Anantara. As if this is not fabulous enough, I have learned that the Government Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang sent representatives to Anantara to learn about positive reinforcement training. I could not be more excited about this development.

I knew it would take time for positive reinforcement training to catch on in Asia but never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to happen this quickly. A colleague working with elephants in Thailand stated that it stemmed from what I started there. If this is true, I am externally grateful for being in the right place at the right time with the right intention. The wave of change has begun!