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Big Cat Rescue offers to take animals from Pa. facility

Shelters offering to take Genesis animals

Two nationally recognized and accredited sanctuaries have offered to provide or locate new homes for the animals at the Genesis Wildlife Center.

BY LAURA LEGERE
STAFF WRITER
Published: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 2:24 PM EDT

Two nationally recognized and accredited sanctuaries have offered to provide or locate new homes for the animals at the Genesis Wildlife Center.

Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Kendalia, Texas, and Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., said Tuesday they could help place the animals if the Nay Aug Park wildlife center in Scranton could no longer keep them.

The offers come as a series of reports this week by The Times-Tribune detailed many problems with the center’s physical and financial ability to care for its more than 50 animals from more than 20 species.

The stories sparked dozens of comments from readers on The times-tribune.com and new efforts among local people to either close the center or call on the public for more support.

Lynn Cuny, founder and executive director of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, said her 187-acre facility “certainly could take some” of the Genesis animals, and she would work with a network of “legitimate sanctuaries” to provide the others with “the proper care and housing they need and deserve.”

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, said she may be able to provide a permanent home to Genesis’ lynx and cougar if the animals’ owner, Margaret Miller, signs a contract — part of the sanctuary’s protocol — agreeing never to take another big cat. Ms. Baskin’s facility also houses tigers, but there is already a waiting list to place additional tigers there.

When told of the offers, Haydn Scott Evans, a spokesman for Genesis Wildlife Center, said, “If we have an avenue where we can place the animals safely in the event there is a problem with the center staying open, then by all means (we would take it).”

He added that the center would have to investigate a sanctuary’s facilities and its planned care of the animals before accepting any offer to house them.

The sanctuaries’ offers indicate that there may be a future for the animals if Ms. Miller can no longer keep them.

In an interview last week, Ms. Miller said her center would have to close if the city cuts its $50,000 annual appropriation, the only dedicated funding the center receives. Furthermore, she claimed new laws in Pennsylvania prohibiting the ownership of primates and a lack of sanctuaries to place her animals would leave her no choice but to euthanize all of them. She reiterated that claim at Scranton City Council’s meeting Tuesday night.

“I care about the animals,” she said last week. “Do I want to euthanize everybody? You bet not. Will I do it? Yes, because I won’t have a choice. There’s no place to send them.”

A representative of the Pennsylvania Game Commission said the state’s new primate law, enacted last April, does not prohibit licensed menageries like Genesis from keeping primates, donating them to other sanctuaries, taking in confiscated monkeys or even selling accidental offspring, but it does prohibit them from importing more primates from outside the state.

Ms. Miller’s description of the law — in particular her belief that her primates would either have to be euthanized or turned over for medical research if her facility closed — is a common misconception, said Jason Dekosky, the Game Commission representative.

“People think we kill them all,” he said. “We don’t.”

When asked last week about the animals’ fate if Genesis Wildlife Center should close, Mayor Chris Doherty said, “We are not going to euthanize animals.”

“There will be other places who will want to help. People step up,” he said.

Ms. Cuny said her organization works with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, a sanctuary accrediting organization, to fill the difficult task of finding homes for animals in the few legitimate sanctuaries in the country that have open spaces.

“You don’t ever just say that we can’t shut this bad place down because we can’t find anything better,” she said. “That’s just not an answer.”

Locally, two groups have formed to call for change at the center.

Lee Morgan, a Scranton resident who is running for City Council, is preparing a petition of support for the center that he will begin circulating in the next few days. He plans to submit the petition to the city Recreation Authority and the mayor.

“I think there’s an awful lot of support for that center in the city itself and in the surrounding communities,” he said. “I would like to give the citizens an opportunity to show that they support it.”

Another petition, in the form of an online Facebook group, aims to close the wildlife center.

The group, started by Waverly resident Pam Jones, had 72 members on Tuesday. According to its statement of purpose, the group “calls on operator Margaret Miller to surrender the animals of Genesis to an accredited facility where the animals can live in peace, with a proper diet, surrounded by a habitat where they belong.

“We hope, that by joining this group, we provide a strong indication to the City of Scranton and to Ms. Miller that we do not approve of the Genesis Wildlife Center’s current operation.”

Contact the writer: llegere@timesshamrock.com

http://www.thetimes-tribune.com/articles/2009/04/08/news/sc_times_trib.20090408.a.pg1.tt08genesisfolo_s1.2430613_top2.txt

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org