A fur farm near Lakeville that lets visitors pet baby animals is raising the hackles of neighbors and animal rights activists from Dakota County to South Dakota.
Terri Petter runs Fur-Ever Wild in Eureka Township. She keeps wolves, cougars, foxes and bobcats on a 100-acre property she describes as a “working agricultural farm.” Two months ago, she opened another Fur-Ever Wild location in Deadwood, S.D., featuring wolf pups and fox kits.
But both properties have spurred debate, from a legal battle in Minnesota to a petition by animal rights activists in South Dakota. While Petter says she is educating the public about fur-bearing animals, neighbors and critics have complained about noise, smells and animal welfare.
“There’s always been some controversy among the townspeople surrounding Fur-Ever Wild,” said Brian Budenski, a Eureka Township Board member.
The township board recently sent Petter notice that the animals must go, after the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with neighbors this spring, ruling exotic animals aren’t allowed in Eureka Township.
And in Deadwood, S.D., the City Commission voted Monday to prohibit exotic species, grandfathering in only those that are already there.
Petter, who said her animals are well cared for, has no intention of changing her business — breeding the animals, letting people pet the young, and selling pelts.
“I will never give my animals up, ever,” she said.
Wolves next door
When Bill Funk moved to Eureka Township in 2012, he surveyed Petter’s property next door.
“It looked bizarre,” he said, noting a few wolves.
But he wasn’t worried because township law prohibited exotic animals. Then he saw more wolves, heard howling and smelled the raw meat fed to them. He grew concerned they would escape.
Another neighbor, Ralph Fredlund, repeatedly complained to the township board, but it did nothing.
Petter said her animals aren’t exotic — most of them are native to Minnesota. She’s had some of the species on her property for 17 years and started Fur-Ever Wild about 12 years ago.
“It’s not like I have elephants and tigers and hippos,” she said.
But township law lists wolves and cougars among prohibited animals.
In 2013, Funk and Fredlund sued the township for not enforcing the law. The district court judge sided with the township, ruling the animals could stay because Petter’s fur farm is agriculture in an agricultural zone. But in April, the appeals court reversed the decision. The animals aren’t allowed because of the township law on exotic animals, the court said.
The township has begun enforcing the ordinance, but it could take months of legal procedures, said Chad Lemmons, a township attorney.
Petter disputes that her property stinks or isn’t well-kept. Her pigs smell like pigs, she said. She has licenses from state and federal agencies that permit fur and game farming and exhibiting animals.
Petter won’t say how many animals she has. But U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection records from June note 136 animals, ranging from prairie dogs to pumas. Among them are 38 gray wolves, 18 red foxes and five bobcats.
According to the USDA, Fur-Ever Wild has had 15 instances of noncompliance since 2012, including one warning about exhibiting cougar cubs before vaccination. Other records pointed to animals’ lack of access to water.
Petter said nobody has a perfect record and most issues were with paperwork.
Fur-Ever Wild has many fans, including more than 4,000 who have “liked” its Facebook page. People say they enjoy getting close to the animals and they look healthy.
“It’s very well-kept,” said Dawn Colianni of Farmington, who has visited multiple times. “It’s a good environment for kids to learn.”
Division in Deadwood
The Deadwood outpost of Fur-Ever Wild is meant as an educational center, Petter said.
But the 17-acre attraction was controversial before it opened in May.
South Dakota animal rights activist Shari Crouch Kosel from nearby Lead, S.D., started an online petition opposing Fur-Ever Wild that garnered more than 130,000 signatures. The petition noted Petter runs a fur farm and questioned the animals’ treatment.
“I do not think wild and exotic animals should be bred in captivity,” Kosel said. “I find that cruel and immoral.”
She and other citizens suggested a law prohibiting exotic animals, and gave input on the proposal the City Commission passed Monday night.
Deadwood Mayor Chuck Turbiville declined to comment on the law last week, but said he has been out to Fur-Ever Wild’s facility.
“I found the animals were well cared for,” he said.
Reached by phone Monday night, Petter wouldn’t talk about her plans for the Deadwood site, but said she felt the city was discriminating against her with the ordinance. “It’s pretty bad when a city lets a brand-new business in and lets them spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then doesn’t let them grow,” she said.