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Animal Trainer Fights to Save Career in USDA Court


June 2 marked the end of the courtroom portion of Doug Terranova’s legal battle against the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Now, the Dallas-based animal trainer must wait — perhaps as long as a year or more — for briefs to be filed by both parties to the case and for Administrative Law Judge Janice Bullard to issue her ruling. Though remaining “cautiously optimistic,” Terranova has, for good reason, been unable to shake the feeling that he’s been targeted for enforcement by animal rights agenda-driven agents.

Though Terranova has already spent more than $100,000 on legal fees, he said he stands to lose a lot more if APHIS defeats him in court. Included in that “lot” is up to $10,000 per violation with the possibility of being found guilty on 28 or more citations and the loss of the exhibitor license he has held for 24 years. But what about that feeling of being targeted?

Copies of USDA Settlement Agreements from four other cases involving people who train and/or keep animals (a.k.a., “exhibitors) help answer that question. All four cases — none of which went to trial — involved charges at least as serious as Terranova’s but were prosecuted much differently. Details of each appear below:

The Oregon Zoo in Portland, Ore., did not lose its license after it was assessed a $4,000 fine following the death of a rhinoceros in October 2008 after it was kept in a transport crate for 43 hours while being transported by trucks from Kansas City to Portland.

Black Pine Animal Park, in Albion, Ind., did not lose its license after it was assessed a $250 fine for three violations (all dated Dec. 9, 2008), one of which involved the escape of a tiger from the park;

Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, Wash., did not lose its license after it was assessed a $6,000 fine for four incidents that took place between June 4 and June 10 and culminated in the death of a lynx after it had been stuck in a tree for 18 days without rescue; and

Hands On Wildlife Safari in Kissimmee, Fla., did not lose its license after it was assessed a $4,000 fine for three alleged violations, including one June 9, 2009, that involved the escape of a pregnant cougar into a residential area.

Note: Not included in the above list are countless other incidents involving escapes of animals from zoos and deadly attacks on people by animals at zoos. Those zoos, however, remain open with their licenses not revoked. Dallas and San Francisco stand as recent examples.

The courtroom testimony of two USDA employees also supports Terranova’s feeling of being targeted.

Those employees — Dr. Kathryn Ziegerer, an inspector, and Dr. Denise Sofranko, an elephant specialist — testified about allegations Terranova committed violations so grievous they actually endangered the safety of the public:

Both doctors testified that they observed Terranova giving elephant rides at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 13, 2008;

Further, the doctors said they observed him walking an elephant with children on its back around a pen containing a resting elephant; and

Finally, the doctors alleged that the resting elephant was close enough to the working elephant that it “could have” grabbed and injured a child off its back.

On cross-examination, however, both doctors admitted that, even though they believed the public was in danger, neither took steps to stop the rides or even mention this to Terranova until Aug. 18 — five days later — when, at the conclusion of the fair, they cited him for this “violation” and ordered him to immediately correct the situation in their report.

More to come. It gets better.


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