A two-year legal battle over gray wolves has ended with a settlement that prevents the defendant, who owns a Dakota County petting zoo, from killing wolves or selling their parts.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and California-based Lockwood Animal Rescue Center sought a federal injunction in 2017 to keep Terri Petter from keeping, selling or killing wolves. The plaintiffs alleged that Petter, whose petting zoo and fur farm in Eureka Township is called Fur-Ever Wild, bred gray wolves for visitors to enjoy and then killed them for fur or their carcasses in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen on Tuesday dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be brought back to court.
Under the settlement agreement, Petter cannot kill gray wolves or gray wolf hybrids for five years or as long as gray wolves are listed as threatened or endangered, whichever period is shorter. An exception would be made for animals killed for “veterinary purposes” and with the help of a licensed veterinarian.
Petter also may not sell, transfer, or offer to sell or transfer parts of gray wolves or gray wolf hybrids for five years or as long as the wolves are listed as threatened or endangered.
A key document in the federal case against Petter was a 2012 court deposition in which she talked about skinning animals, including wolves, to sell their fur. She has since said she only pelted animals that died naturally.
Petter has denied all along that she mistreated her animals or killed them to sell their parts. She said the animals actually were wolf-dog hybrids, which would exempt them from federal protection.
“I’ve never done it anyway, so why not sign it?” Petter said Wednesday of the settlement. “It’s no hair off my back.”
Petter said that she and her attorney were ready for the trial, which was scheduled to start Monday.
“Plans changed on their side,” she said. If the “wild allegations” in the case had been true, she said, the other side would have wanted to go to trial.
Christopher Berry, a staff attorney for the ALDF, said they “definitely considered [the outcome] to be a win” and were glad to avoid a trial.
“We feel great about the settlement,” Berry said, adding that ALDF will be “vigilantly monitoring” whether Petter follows its terms and the law.
Berry confirmed that no money changed hands via the settlement.
“It’s not a case about money,” he said. “It’s not a case about anything other than ensuring the wolves are safe.”
One wolf left
During the ALDF lawsuit, Petter had to deal with another legal decision: a state appellate court ruling in 2017 that upheld a Eureka Township ordinance banning exotic animals.
Petter, who was allowed to keep one wolf as a result of the judge’s order in that case, said she should have been allowed to keep all her menagerie — which included big cats — because township officials had told her for years that her business was legal before enacting the exotic-animal ban.
In January 2018, ALDF and Lockwood, a wolf sanctuary, obtained a restraining order to keep Petter from euthanizing her wolves and requiring her to give five days’ notice before transferring them to another facility.
All but one wolf was gone from Petter’s property by the spring of 2018. Berry said the settlement ensured that the wolf will be safe.
Berry said court proceedings yielded another positive result: This summer, the federal court ruled that wolves with small amounts of dog DNA were still protected under the Endangered Species Act.
A fire burned down Petter’s home on the Fur-Ever Wild property in December 2018. She said she now runs an operation there called the Farm, which takes mini-cows, chickens and goats to residents in nursing homes and retirement communities.