The South Dakota Animal Industry Board meets Wednesday, May 20. After discussing the avian flu outbreak at our turkey and chicken farms, the board will turn at 10:30 to the application of Terri Petter to open a petting zoo in Deadwood. Petter wants to “educate” South Dakotans by letting them pet the wolf pups she raises before she takes them back to Minnesota to kill them for their fur.
But I should be careful about such statements. Petter appears to think that such statements are actionable lies:
Asked about the passionate opposition she faced and claims that her attraction is simply a front for a fur farm, Petter dispelled what she called “lies” and said she had one wolf that was 12 years old and an arctic fox that was 13.
“The accusations are ridiculous,” she said. “Our visitors have seen the same animals year after year. They even know their names and identify with the animals. Opponents are twisting facts and it’s libel and it’s slander” [Tom Griffith, “Opponents of Proposed Deadwood Petting Zoo Claim It Is Front for Fur Farm,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.05.18].
Ridiculous? No, the accusations that Petter runs a fur farm come from Petter’s own deposition in her legal battle with the town of Eureka, Minnesota, where she has faced nuisance complaints over her Fur-Ever Wild animal attraction. On December 19, 2012, attorney Stephanie A. Angolkar, representing Eureka, asked Petter (who apparently doesn’t know enough to shut off her cell phone during a legal proceeding) about the animals she owns through Fur-Ever Wild. Petter said she breeds and skins the wolves on her farm for fur:
“Which animals are raised for fur” attorney Angolkar asks. “All of them,” replies Petter, with the exception of her pigs, goats, and horses.
I pelted two wolves last night… and there is another two going tonight. And as soon as my vet, which he heard when I was talking, I get my romp, then the rest of them go. There will be 25 within the next three weeks—two weeks [Teresa Lynn Petter, deposition, 2012.12.19, p. 25].
Petter makes clear later in her deposition that she selectively breeds her wolves to get bigger pelts:
Rule number one, wild wolves are from 70 to 90 pounds. My wolves, the females are 90 pounds. The males are 130. You work for years to get those blood lines. That is the difference between making them—keep them two years or being able to pelt them for one year. The yearlings—our yearlings are bigger than the ones in the wild. So, you breed for size [Teresa Lynn Petter, deposition, 2012.12.19, p. 40].
Petter is not running a wild animal refuge. She will not bring wild wolves to Deadwood to educate paying customers. She breeds wolves, separates the pups from their mother, hands them around for $20 a pet, and then kills them for their fur.
Not that the Animal Industry Board will be too concerned with what Petter does with her animals when she takes them back in Minnesota. Our regulators will likely only consider whether Petter can run a clean operation that doesn’t put Deadwood residents or other critters at risk.
On that score, the Animal Industry Board might want to take a look at conditions at Petter’s tourist attraction/fur farm in Minnesota. An experienced animal control officer from South Dakota, who has specialized in canine behavior and animal cruelty, visited the facility in an unofficial capacity earlier this spring and provided me with the following description of the conditions at Fur-Ever Wild:
…Upon arrival we were given a tour of the facility by a young female. She took us first by arctic foxes. There were two foxes in each cage. Both cages were smaller than appears healthy for these animals. They were approximately 5 feet by 5 feet. Comparable to half of an average parking space in a parking lot. The bottom of the cages were mud and/or feces. One of the foxes had what appeared to be a chicken breast in his mouth and was running circles in his cage repeatedly. Even upon exit over an hour later the animal was still running the bottom of the cage.
There are also approximately 20 to 30 chickens running loose on the property. They have access to enter many of the animal’s cages. They also have access through the fence of every animal pen we saw. Many of the display items, benches, pens, etc are covered in chicken feces. When asked if the chickens ever fly into the pens with the wolves, our guide advised that they do on occasion and are eaten.
The next stop was the wolf enclosures. There are 4 separate enclosures for 4 separate packs. Two of the enclosures house about 7 wolves. The size of those two seemed the most adequate of the enclosures. However, the first pen had no water source visible. After about an hour there was a hose being run into the pen that created a small stream of water. The other pen had a small bucket tied to the fence that had water. This bucket would be adequate for two large dogs. One of the wolves began digging in the bucket dumping out the water. Terri, the owner, stated that happens all the time. She said people will complain to her that the wolves don’t have water all of the time but this is why.
In the second large pen there is an attached basic dog run. There was a female wolf inside. Terri advised that this wolf has bite wounds from a fight and she has to keep her separated until the wounds heal.
In between these two pens is a small enclosure housing 4 wolves. Our guide stated that this is a male and female pair and their two pups that were a year old. All four were full size. The pen was about 10 foot by 6 foot. Equivalent to about two parking spaces. We were told these wolves were separate because they were not hand raised and weren’t people friendly. There was not enough room for these animals to get any adequate exercise.
The fourth pen was comparable to a large back yard. It also had about 5 to 7 wolves inside [eyewitness account of conditions at Fur-Ever Wild, submitted to Dakota Free Press May 2015].
This animal expert found similar unsanitary and cramped conditions among the mountain lions, raccoons, and other creatures housed at Fur-Ever Wild. Then the visitor saw the wolf-pup enclosure:
The final stop was the pet and play with the wolf pups. There were three pups and we were told they were 18 weeks. The employee stated that they take the pups from their mothers between two to three weeks so they are people friendly. They were in a small room. With no rules, or concern for disease they let us in the room with the pups.
The animal control officer says Fur-Ever Wild fails to meet basic standards for the health and safety of both the captive animals and visiting humans.
There was no prevention methods even as simple as washing your hands. There wasn’t even a place to wash your hands. There was one bottle of hand sanitizer in the middle of the park that I just happened upon. Outside animals have complete access to these caged animals. Are these animals vaccinated against rabies? Canine influenza is becoming a serious epidemic and can be spread through contaminated objects such as people’s shoes. These are just a couple of examples of disease and illness. In addition, the chicken feces is everywhere. All of the cages were muddy and had feces. A breeding ground for disease. The chickens are flying in and out of cages and also pecking in cages flinging feces and anything else outside of the pens.
In addition to disease concerns there is also a concern for human safety. Our guide said she had been working there for less than two months. She described going inside the wolf pens and that they are just like dogs. Terri also described going into the wolf pens with the animals. Also the fact that they move the bobcat around from pen to pen. Not sure if there are safety measures in place for moving a large cat but that could be a concern. Also people can easily stick their hands in cages. A child could easily make a serious mistake. One of the mountain lions was watching a kid running around. We were right in front of the cage and he wouldn’t even look at us. He was stalking this running child. The guide said it was because the cat was attracted to the kids red shorts.
Deadwood officials chickened out of their responsibility to regulate Fur-Ever Wild’s proposed petting zoo, with mayor Chuck Turbiville saying it’s not his job but the state’s and the USDA’s to respond to the concerns raised by opponents of Petter’s wolf operation. Tomorrow, the state Animal Industry Board will have a chance to pick up Deadwood’s slack, review Petter’s record, and determine whether she is bringing safe and healthy animal practices to South Dakota.