A judge has tossed out an attempt by Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary’s founder, Jama Hedgecoth, and her daughter-in-law, Allison Hedgecoth, to prevent the current administration from removing board members from the nonprofit, located in Locust Grove, Georgia.
The facility’s troubles began in 2015 when information came to light that Jama had fraudulently solicited approximately $479,000 in a charity scam where she pretended to run a sanctuary for children, which didn’t exist.
In 2019, the Georgia Secretary of State entered a consent order, demanding that Jama cease violations of the Charitable Solicitations Act of 1988, and ordering her to elect a new Board of Directors at the animal sanctuary and address compliance and inventory control issues.
The new volunteer board of directors began implementing policies and procedures that no longer allowed the Hedgecoth family to misuse donated funds or to make significant decisions regarding the animals and operations without prior board approval.
The restraints placed on the founding family came to a head in August when Allison refused to comply with the new director’s order and instead brought 21 dogs to the sanctuary. DNA results showed that some of the dogs had small amounts of wolf DNA, indicating they were wolfdog hybrids. The sanctuary provides a permanent home for exotic animals.
Allison was terminated for insubordination and directly violating orders. In retaliation, she and Jama orchestrated a plan to sabotage and abuse the current board of directors and employees, in an effort to bully them into resigning so that the Hedgecoths could regain control of the nonprofit.
The Hedgecoths and their supporters began a campaign that included threats of physical violence, online bullying and verbal abuse. Hedgecoth supporters showed up at the homes of the current administration and employees, shouting through a bullhorn and brandishing an AR-15 style rifle.
Allison began posting photos of the sanctuary conditions in an effort to influence her followers into believing animals were being neglected and to encourage people to harass the current administration. She was later called out for posting photos with a fake timestamp.
More recently, Allison posted a photo of a horse that was reportedly residing at the sanctuary, which appeared to be starving. She deleted the photo after several commenters pointed out that her husband, Charlie, is still employed at the sanctuary and is responsible for caring for the horse.
In August, numerous dead vultures were found at Noah’s Ark. The birds tested positive for H5N1, a strain of avian influenza that has wiped out more than 40 million captive birds across the country since February. Approximately 100 birds were euthanized by state officials.
The Hedgecoths contacted media outlets and Allison gave interviews where she inflated the number of birds found dead on the property and suggested that the current administration was responsible for bringing bird flu to the sanctuary and that they could have prevented the disease from spreading.
A former Noah's Ark volunteer said that the vultures responsible for carrying the disease were attracted to the large open dumpsters that the Hedgecoths had installed. They also noted that the only way to prevent the sanctuary's birds from being euthanized would have been to quarantine them months ago, a task that Allison, as former animal care director, was responsible for.
The Noah’s Ark board of directors held a meeting Sept. 23 where they voted to remove Jama and two other board members from the sanctuary’s board of directors.
In response, Jama solicited the help of Senator Emanuel D. Jones to file a court order asking a judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would prevent the current administration from removing her and others from the board and would permanently enjoin the board from acting in ways that she doesn’t approve of.
On Oct. 14, court documents indicate Jama was fired.
"After being fired, Jama Hedgecoth will lose her insurance at the end of the month," her attorney wrote. "The Defendants' next step will be evicting Jama Hedgecoth from the home that she has lived in for the last 32 years on the property of Noah's Ark."
On Oct. 20 a judge ruled in favor of the current administration and dismissed Jama’s temporary restraining order request. The judge’s decision affirms that Jama’s removal from the nonprofit’s board was lawful and authorizes the current administration to continue operating the sanctuary without the Hedgecoth family’s oversight.
The current administration said in a statement last month that they share the community’s concern for the well-being of the animals and they plan to maintain the sanctuary for the animals’ continual care.
“Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary is a treasured destination in Henry County,” they wrote. “We on the board are committed to securing the future of Noah’s Ark.”