Rescue without permits shut down in Washington

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January 21, 2007

They can explain.

Yes, there were five alligators, a bobcat, 10 venomous snakes and an African serval living in a barn outside Roy, Wash.

But they weren’t captured wild animals that were part of someone’s personal collection. They were Riddick, Jeannie, Diablo and the gang: a group of unwanted former pets waiting to be adopted into loving homes.

And yes, Jon Allen, 30, was living in a loft in the barn above the animals. But his home was being remodeled. Plus, this way he could keep a better eye on the animals, especially important after three alligators – Mike, Ike and Dahmer – died in the freezing January storms.

Allen and his friend Mike Mesa make up Seattle Tacoma Animal Rescue, based in the Roy barn. It’s a group fairly well-known among regional exotic-animal enthusiasts for its willingness to take unwanted alligators, snakes, birds and turtles.

“I’ve never heard anything bad about them. In fact, just the opposite. When all this stuff went sideways on them because of a complaint, I really didn’t understand it,” said Dave Colburn of Predators of the Heart, one of the organizations that rescued the animals from the STAR group Saturday.

Mesa and Allen said they cared for the animals in their free time with money out of their own pockets. They got involved with rescue, they say, after they saw how many exotic animals were being abused and neglected.

“We don’t put ads out for these. It’s not what we do. We don’t sell them, don’t make a profit off of them,” said Mesa, a Spanaway, Wash., resident. He said he and his partner were well-trained and knew how to safely handle the animals.

The problem? STAR didn’t have any permits and, while Mesa and Allen say local law-enforcement agencies often called them to rescue exotic animals, their rescues over the past five or so years weren’t legal.

About two-thirds of states have laws against owning certain potentially dangerous animals such as lions, tigers, bears, venomous reptiles and alligators. Washington doesn’t, but individual counties – including Pierce – have banned ownership of many exotic species, according to Dana Payne, a Woodland Park Zoo animal curator.

Things “started going sideways” when a neighbor called the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to report seeing animals – including a 40-pound bobcat – that didn’t belong in Roy. Animal-control officers went out to check on the situation, according to sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer, and found the trove.

Then they saw the three dead, frozen alligators outside.

Since Allen couldn’t produce any permits, the animals had to be taken. On Saturday, Pierce County Animal Control showed up with representatives from Woodland Park Zoo, Predators of the Heart and the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

Riddick the bobcat went to Woodland Park, along with the snakes that, aside from Diablo, hadn’t been named yet. They are now in quarantine and will be tested for parasites. If they’re healthy, they’ll be offered to other zoos, according to Payne, the Woodland curator who picked up the animals in Roy.

The alligators and Jeannie the serval went to Phoenix Exotics, an exotic-pet ownership club that went to Roy on behalf of Predators of the Heart.

Allen was cooperative with law enforcement and wasn’t arrested, according to Troyer. The case will be forwarded to prosecutors, who will decide whether to file the misdemeanor charges. 0,1406,KNS_350_5296867,00.html

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