Wildlife exhibitor loses license for failing to care for animals
Davie company has long record of violations
By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
12:17 a.m. EDT, August 23, 2010
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has revoked the license of a Davie company that exhibits baby tigers, cougars and other wildlife at fairs, schools and summer camps, following repeated violations of animal welfare regulations.
Vanishing Species Wildlife Inc. kept dozens of caged animals on leased land in western Davie, before scaling back under USDA orders to move all big cats off the property by July 31, 2009.
Although the company’s directors, Barbara Hartman-Harrod and Jeffrey Harrod, have said they wanted to educate children about wildlife, the agriculture department says they neglected their animals, failing to provide adequate food, shelter or veterinary care.
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USDA Chief Administrative Law Judge Peter Davenport on Aug. 5 ordered their license terminated, saying they were “unfit” to have one and citing their failure to comply with the order to place big cats with other organizations.
The Harrods could not be reached for comment, despite a message left on Barbara Hartman-Harrod’s cell phone. In court papers, their lawyer, Ellis Peetluk, said they have worked hard to comply, reducing the number of big cats from 13 to two.
He wrote they have “made continuing efforts to find humane placement for the remaining big cats, but due to their age and health requirements, placement has been extremely difficult.”
In visits to Vanishing Species since 2007, USDA inspectors found food contaminated with maggots, tigers without shelter from rain and sun, and the disappearance of several animals without the required documentation showing to whom they were given or sold, according to inspection reports. The reports stated an unusual number of animals died at the facility, often for no known cause. Several small mammals housed in a windowless structure died after the air conditioning failed.
Last year, the Harrods signed an agreement with the USDA promising to obey animal welfare regulations and to sell or give away all their tigers, cougars and other big cats. But according to court papers filed by the USDA’s lawyers, they failed to move out all the large cats or to allow inspections to see that the remaining animals were receiving humane care.
Nolan Lemon, spokesman for the USDA, said revocation becomes final 35 days after the judge’s order, unless the Harrods file an appeal. Based on their record of fighting the case, he said, he expects an appeal. Meanwhile, he said, the USDA is continuing its investigation, looking into incidences of mistreatment at Vanishing Species that took place after the 2009 agreement.
The Harrods’ attorney declined comment on whether they would appeal.
Larry Wallach, a captive tiger expert in Long Island, N.Y., who has been involved in wildlife transactions with Vanishing Species, called the Sun Sentinel after messages were left for Hartman-Harrod and the company’s attorney. He described Hartman-Harrod as a well-meaning person who has put on free wildlife shows at hospitals, but who got in over her head in a complex, financially demanding business.
“I thnk they didn’t know how much money they would need,” he said. “She does a lot of good work. She has tried very hard. I think they should give her a shot.”
David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4535.
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