Dakota County officials confirmed Monday that the owner of a beleaguered fur farm and petting zoo had removed her exotic animals to comply with a court ruling backing a Eureka Township ordinance that banned them.
“All the animals are safely removed and found new homes,” said Dakota County Chief Deputy Joe Leko. He added that he didn’t know where the animals went.
In an e-mail to the Star Tribune, Fur-Ever Wild owner Terri Petter said she was “crushed from the loss of her kids.” She said that township officials for 15 years had said she was in compliance with local ordinances before deciding that she wasn’t.
Dakota County officials said Petter was moving animals out all last week. Petter wouldn’t disclose where the animals — including wolves, foxes and big cats like cougars — were headed.
“Where they are going is under federal seal,” Petter said. “My animals are protected.”
On Monday, Eureka Township resident Charlie Roberts stopped by Fur-Ever Wild, a 17-acre property with a barn and pastures filled with miniature horses and goats, which are allowed in the township south of Farmington and Lakeville.
“We just think it’s baloney the way they’re being treated,” Roberts said. “The township’s totally wrong and they have an awesome program here.”
But Jeanie Fredlund described living next door to Petter as “a living hell.” Her husband, Ralph, and a neighbor sued Eureka Township in 2013 for not enforcing its exotic animal ordinance. They said Petter’s property was noisy and smelly, and that the animals were mistreated.
Petter has always disputed claims that her animals were abused or neglected in any way.
‘Glad it’s over’
After a court required Eureka Township to enforce its zoning ordinance, the township sued Petter in 2015. After a two-year legal fight, the state Court of Appeals ruled last September that Petter could keep a single wolf since she had one before the township had enacted its exotic animals ordinance in 2006.
Another lawsuit, filed last fall by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Lockwood Animal Rescue Center, seeks an injunction to prevent Petter from keeping wolves. The animal rights groups allege that she breeds wolves and allows visitors to play with puppies and feed the adults, then, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act, kills them for furs or their carcasses when they grow up.
A judgment is due by late October, said Alene Anello, a litigation fellow for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Petter maintains that her animals are actually wolf-dog hybrids, which would exempt them from federal protection. She doesn’t euthanize them and sell their pelts, she said, unless they are aggressive, injured or old.
The plaintiffs obtained a temporary restraining order in January to keep Petter from euthanizing her wolves and requiring five days notice before she transfers them to another facility. A judge’s order subsequently said she could tell the courts, rather than the plaintiffs, where the animals were going.
Matt Simmons of the Lockwood center, a California wolf sanctuary, said proper notice wasn’t given that the animals were being moved. He arrived in Minnesota last week to take charge of the wolves, which he hoped to place in sanctuaries, and said that the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office had agreed to seize all remaining exotic animals from Petter’s property last week and turn them over to him.
“I wanted those animals to be given a chance at a life,” Simmons said, adding that he was “heartbroken” that he couldn’t help them.
Leko said that Simmons was given notice that the animals were being moved and that the Sheriff’s Office had given no guarantee that he would receive the animals. “I want to make it clear that there were no promises,” Leko said.
Butch Hansen, a friend of Petter’s who is on the Eureka Township board of supervisors, has staunchly defended her and her menagerie.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Hansen said. “She’s abiding by the ordinance now, there’s no issues.”