Two animal rights groups have asked a federal judge in Minneapolis for a temporary restraining order barring the owner of a controversial fur farm and petting zoo in the Lakeville area from killing gray wolves, which are protected by federal law.
A hearing on the motion has not been scheduled.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and Lockwood Animal Rescue Center, a California wolf sanctuary, argue in a lawsuit filed Sept. 29 that Teresa Petter, the owner of Fur-Ever Wild, breeds gray wolf puppies as an attraction for the petting zoo.
"Then, when the wolves grow too old for such interactions, Fur-Ever Wild kills them, skins them and sells their fur at its gift shop," the animal rights agencies say in their lawsuit. They want an injunction barring Petter from keeping wolves, arguing that she has violated the Endangered Species Act both by killing the animals and by failing to properly care for them.
Petter denied the charges in an interview Tuesday.
"Their accusations are absolutely whacked. I don't even know how people can have that much imagination," she said.
In court filings, she said her wolves are actually wolf-dog hybrids, exempting them from protection under federal law. She said she only pelts and sells the fur from wolves that die naturally or are euthanized for aggressiveness.
The plaintiffs said Petter has previously said the animals were full-blooded wolves, and they need a restraining order because they fear that Petter may kill the animals to comply with a recent court order in another case that limits her to keeping a single wolf.
That court order, issued in Dakota County in August, was part of an ongoing court battle between Fur-Ever Wild and Eureka Township, where her property is located. The order lets Petter continue exhibiting some exotic species that the state allows on fur farms, but it limits her to one wolf — a number the district court found she had in 2006 when the township created its exotic species ordinance.
Petter's assertion that she only pelts wolves that die of natural causes contradicts a 2012 deposition in which she states that she skinned wolves the night before and planned to continue the pelting.
She said at the time that she planned to pelt more than two dozen within a few weeks, adding: "It depends on the fur market."
In her defense, Petter said she meant that there was "merely a potential that additional wolves could be killed in the following weeks" if they were euthanized due to aggression or killed by another wolf. She also said that the deposition had been taken at a time when gray wolves had lost federal protection.
Petter's defense hinges on her argument that the wolflike animals at Fur-Ever Wild are actually hybrids.
However, the plaintiffs submitted minutes from a 2006 Eureka Township Board planning commission meeting in which Petter claimed that she did have "full-blooded wolves" on the property. They say that Petter has made similar claims in government documents, on her website and on signs around her property.
Thus far, the plaintiffs say, Petter has produced no breeding records documenting the animals' bloodlines. They assert that the "broad purpose" of federal law is to protects even wolf-dog hybrids.
Matthew Simmons, director of operations at Lockwood Animal Rescue Center, said in court documents that he first learned of Fur-Ever Wild during an effort to block a 2015 wolf hunt in Idaho and Montana. To taunt Simmons and animal rights groups, hunters posted pictures on social media holding up dead gray wolves, he said, adding that he later learned that they bought the carcasses from Petter in Minnesota.
Simmons visited Fur-ever Wild last fall and saw about 40 animals that appeared to be full-blooded wolves labeled as "gray wolves."
"My observations confirmed that they were in fact gray wolves and not hybrids of any kind," Simmons said in court documents. "I based this observation on my 10 years of experience handling wolves and wolf-dogs on a regular basis."
Simmons expressed concern about the wolves' condition. Two had eye infections and one limped, he said. Their diet, he added, appeared to consist largely of hot dogs. And the gift shop offered wolf pelts for sale. Simmons added that none of the wolves appeared to be older than five years, "giving rise to the inference that all the wolves die prematurely."
Petter said in court filings that her hybrid animals are in no danger and that her facility, which is licensed as a game farm, is in good standing with the state. Inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have turned up only minor issues that she fixed right away, Petter said.
The plaintiffs responded that the USDA and DNR don't prohibit killing animals and offered evidence that Petter was cited by the USDA in 2017 for failing to provide veterinary care to a wolf with an open shoulder wound and for failing to account for the whereabouts of two other wolves.