Officials investigate big cats being kept illegally in Texas

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Marion County officials, USDA investigate wild cats at residence

By Robin Y. Richardson, News Messenger

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Marion County officials called in the United States Department of Agriculture Monday to investigate the home of Barbara Hoffman and Fred Lulling, who are illegally harboring large circus cats.

“There are 10 big cats — six tigers, one cougar, two black panthers and one spotted leopard,” said Bill Gleason, Marion County’s district attorney, adding the tigers weigh about 700 pounds.

“The veterinarian from the Department of Agriculture went and looked at them,” Gleason said.

The cats, which were all living in cages inside of an RV mobile home at 950 Lewis Chapel Road in Jefferson, belong to Ms. Hoffman. She told officials she has been in the circus business for 25 years. She showed them a folder of flyers about her line of work.

“We think she was in Edingburg, Texas, and brought them up here,” Gleason said. However, “she’s supposed to have a permit for every wild animal.”

Gleason said under the law, Ms. Hoffman can be cited for a Class C misdemeanor for not following regulations and sued by Marion County for fines up to $2,000 per day per animal.

Gleason said county officials have been watching the home since 9 p.m. Sunday night after being tipped off.

“We kept someone there to make sure she didn’t run off,” he said.

Caroline Wedding, president of the Humane Society of Marion County, was also called to the scene to investigate the welfare of additional animals found on the property.

“There were eight horses, Shetland ponies, goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, mice…,” said Ms. Wedding, adding they were shut up in the large semi-trailer. “She had these animals, but just wasn’t taking proper care of them.

“She has several kinds of ducks, a turkey and lots of chickens,” Ms. Wedding added. “Every time we’d open up a door, there would be something else.”

“I’m trying to find a place (to take the animals) because we’re going to probably try to seize all animals,” she said.

“There was no compliance we could find with any state or local laws,” Ms. Wedding added.

Ms. Wedding said the RV trailer the animals were living in is what Ms. Hoffman would live in if she was traveling to do a circus.

Ms. Wedding said she does not know how long Ms. Hoffman has been residing in Marion County with her animals, but she does know she purchased the 10 acres of land in August.

The cages Ms. Hoffman kept the wild cats in were not suitable for them to live in.

“They are 4×8 typical circus cages,” Ms. Wedding said. “They are fine for transporting, but not living in.”

Ms. Wedding said the owners were busy Monday setting up an enclosure for the cats, however, the structure still does not meet state regulations or comply with the county’s ordinances.

“It’s nothing permanent or anything that will secure them long-term,” she said. “We’re moving towards getting these cats away from her. She had no license to have them.”

Besides inadequate living conditions and no permit, Ms. Wedding said the animals were in questionable health.

“She could not produce any documentation on rabies vaccinations or health certificates,” she said. “Since she’s been up here, she’s had her lion die.”

The Humane Society president suspects Ms. Hoffman has lived and traveled several places with her animals.

“Some of her vehicles have Florida tags; some have Minnesota tags,” she said. “She admits to being in South Texas.”

Ms. Wedding said oftentimes people in the circus business look for places to travel where there think lack ordinances. She said Ms. Hoffman should have contacted the sheriff’s office when she moved to Marion County to notify them of her animals.

“When you cross the state line with these animals, it is a problem,” Ms. Wedding said. “She is supposed to contact the sheriff’s office, advise them what she’s bringing in and inform them she has a structure.”

Ms. Wedding said she finds it hard to believe that a person who has been in the circus business for 25 years has not abided by the guidelines.

After the USDA official reviews the situation, Ms. Wedding said Marion County officials will take the necessary steps, which may end up seizing all of the animals.

“There are circumstances there that indicate this will be a seizure,” Ms. Wedding said.

They will have to take the large cats to either a zoo or another place that accepts large cats.

“USDA is just involved with the big cats and everything else will be the responsibility of the Humane Society,” Ms. Wedding said.


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