Newsletters - The Defender
Spring 2010 Issue

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

System Failure -- Whose side is the USDA really on?

In addition to being responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in labs, the USDA’s Animal Care Division (AC) also regulates dealers, exhibitors, and breeders of captive wild animals. In contrast to their limited authority over labs, the USDA does have the power to revoke licenses and confiscate animals from dealer/exhibitor/breeders. Unfortunately, animals suffer at the hands of these entities just as much as they do in labs.

Exhibitor Marcus Cook/Zoocats (aka Zoodynamics) located in Kaufman County (TX) has racked up a long history of major AWA violations. From 2007 to 2009 Zoocats amassed a staggering 58 pages of violations documenting appalling conditions. Large cats suffered from ataxia (inability to move), major hair loss, and improper diet & veterinary care.

Even though conditions warranted the confiscation of seven animals in 2009 and Zoocats’ license was revoked in 2008 and upheld in 2009, this facility is still doing business as usual while the license revocation is under appeal. Despite all of this, Zoocats is still operating status quo, according to the latest inspection dated December 21, 2009.

Concerned for the nine animals remaining at Zoocats, SAEN is advocating for their confiscation by the USDA’s Western Regional Office before it is too late. To put public pressure on Zoocats and the USDA, SAEN has exposed this egregious situation to media outlets in Dallas. An expose’ appeared on WFAA TV disclosing Zoocats ability to operate while unlicensed and still in severe AWA non-compliance.

To put further pressure on Zoocats, SAEN is also in contact with county officials concerning the enforcement of local laws relative to wild animal exhibitors. Scrutiny by the county sheriff has disclosed that only one of six exhibitors obeys a local animal registration law. This blatant non-compliance by the majority of exhibitors in this county has the sheriff and commissioners seriously concerned.

Another exhibitor in the same county, Terranova Enterprises (aka Doug Terranova) is infamous for a freeway collision in Oklahoma involving their escaped elephant. Just like Zoocats, Terranova has a lengthy laundry list of major AWA violations. Though the USDA has filed for license revocation, will Terranova be allowed to operate for years under appeal, as Zoocats has been?

Another exhibitor with a long violation history is Circus Winterquarters (aka Von Uhl Circus, Baron Julius Von Uhl) of Indiana. Here, large cats were confined in cramped 5’x8’ travel cages without access to exercise areas. USDA inspection reports document that an elephant named Twiggy was chained in a 20’x40’ barn forcing her to lie in her own feces and urine. All animals at this facility lacked muscle tone and proper nutrition.

Despite my appeal for the closure of this facility in 2007, the USDA took three years to finally confiscate these animals earlier this year. Twiggy is at the Toledo Zoo (OH) -- a free contact zoo with a history of using the ankus (bull hook), and the whereabouts of the large cats is uncertain. SAEN is committed to monitoring the placement and conditions of these animals to protect them from further abuse.

Great Cats of Indiana (aka Rob Craig & Laura Proper, LauRob LLC) is an exhibitor who imprisons big cats in old corn silos and chicken wire cages. Because of these atrocious conditions and the animals’ ill health, the USDA filed a complaint and for license revocation. Yet, Indiana continues to license this facility even after the USDA license revocation. Appeals will surely follow.

These appalling situations are just one aspect of the failure of these entities. By allowing the big cats direct public contact, often the animals are not safely handled to avoid posing a threat to the wellbeing of the animals and the general public, often resulting in injury.

All of the exhibitors listed here are still operating with or without USDA licensing because exhibitors are allowed to function while licenses are under appeal. Many times, to avoid total closure, exhibitors utilize a license from a third party or temporarily stop exhibiting.

USDA cannot regulate animals unless commercial activity is involved, such as exhibiting, dealing, breeding, or research. USDA staff says that regulation of animal facilities is important because AWA violations are recorded and acted upon.

However, the USDA is not an unbiased regulatory agency because a substantial part of the agency’s budget comes from licensing fees and fines from the facilities it regulates. Every time the USDA closes a facility it loses part of its own financial base while also potentially creating financial nightmares due to the expense and difficulty of placing confiscated animals with other regulated facilities -- again insuring that the flawed system continues.

Though the USDA has recently been more active in confiscating animals and revoking licenses, it has not been proactive and primarily responds to external complaints. Therefore SAEN’s work in this area is absolutely vital, as is your involvement. Is the system broken? Has it failed? Yes, but it can be changed and improved through the action of organizations like SAEN. Only with your and our involvement will the USDA become the kind of regulatory agency that it was meant to be.

Please contact the Director of Animal Care at the USDA and the Directors of Animal Care’s two regional offices to demand that serious action be taken against these exhibitors.

Dr. Chester A. Gipson
Director, Animal Care
4700 River Rd, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
(301) 734-7833 (301) 734-4978 (fax)
[email protected] 

Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer
Director, Eastern Region
920 Main Campus Dr, Ste 2000
Raleigh, NC 27606
(919) 855-7100
[email protected] 

Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region
2150 Centre Ave
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
(970) 494-7478
[email protected]

Go on to Next Article
Return to Spring 2010 Issue

We welcome your comments and questions