Mo. exotic animal owner charged for rule violations

Cited by USDA in 2004 for more than 35 violations

By Kevin Spradlin
Saturday, August 4, 2007 10:36 AM CDT

Warren County resident Rosella Baller only wants county officials to enforce the rules regarding the registration and upkeep of exotic animals.

Doing so might be easier said than done, the commissioners said Monday. That’s because the commissioners, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Missouri Department of Conservation, are still trying to figure out what the rules are.

At issue is whether an animal sanctuary – a 17-acre parcel of land called Wesa-A-Geh-Ya – owned and operated by Ken and Sandra Smith in northern Warren County has been properly registering its animals with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
Ken Smith, of Highway A between Interstate 70 and New Truxton, was charged by Warren County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Wright on June 1 with one count of keeping dangerous wild animals without registering with local law enforcement. The charge is a misdemeanor.

The Smiths could not be reached for comment.

Ken Smith has a court date scheduled for Aug. 21 before Associate Circuit Judge Wesley Dalton.

Until then, Presiding Commissioner Arden Engelage said, there’s not much the county can do. He said the commission sent Baller’s complaints and mounting evidence – a pile of papers going back seven years – to the county attorney last week.

Engelage said he didn’t know when he might hear from county counsel. The situation might resolve itself in court, he said.

Baller, who lives near the Smiths, said it was nearly impossible to ensure the Smiths were following the law and registering their animals – which include nearly 60 lions, tigers, wolves and cougars.

Baller suggested Monday the county commissioners should adopt an ordinance requiring exotic animal owners, such as the Smiths, to insert microchips into each animal. That would help identify an animal’s owner should one escape, she said, and keep track of the animals in captivity.

Northern District Commissioner Jim Logan said that wouldn’t fix the registration issue because a female animal could have babies – which, of course, wouldn’t be born with the microchips.

Baller pointed out this is not a new issue. The Smiths were cited for roughly three dozen violations of the Animal Welfare Act in November 2004 by the USDA.

Those complaints, which were administrative in nature and not civil or criminal, were settled early last year. The Smiths agreed to a $13,000 fine and two years’ probation.

The USDA said the Smiths operated “a dilapidated backyard animal menagerie” which “masquerades as a sanctuary while breeding lions and tigers and confining animals to small, barren cages,” according to a report from bigcatrescue.org, a Florida-based sanctuary and educational facility.

The USDA report filed in 2004 said the Smiths “failed to provide minimally adequate veterinary care.” Examples of that substandard care included a malnourished bear with sores on the pads of both front feet, a young lion who was “lethargic, cold to the touch and dehydrated,” a lion with bite wounds on its legs and a tiger whose hind legs were paralyzed.

The Big Cat Rescue organization also reported USDA officials “found maggot-infested food storage; unsafe caging; inadequate shelter from inclement weather; unsanitary drinking water; and insufficient perimeter fencing for dangerous animals.”

Kevin Spradlin can be contacted at kspradlin@yourjournal.com

http://suburbanjournals.stltoday.com/articles/2007/08/04/ news/sj2tn20070801-0801war_zone.ii1.txt

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