TO PROTECT AND SERVE
By Suzanne Brannan
How many times have you and your family stopped at a roadside petting zoo to feed and play with the animals or looked at live animals on display? Iím sure youíve found some facilities neater and more pleasant than others. That could be because they may or may not be licensed. PETroglyphs has looked into the permit and licensing requirements and spoken to several of our local licensees, and this is what we found. Exhibitors of display animals are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act, which states: ďAll licensees and registrants must provide care that meets or exceeds USDAís standards for veterinary care and animal husbandry. These standards include requirements for handling, housing, feeding, sanitation and ventilation, shelter from extreme weather, veterinary care and separation of species when necessary.Ē
Currently there are 14 licensed exhibitors in New Mexico. They range from the Albuquerque Biological Park to rescue groups such as Fur and Feathers Rescue and Rehabilitation to the Cerrillos petting zoo. Whether large or small, if they advertise, the operation must comply with the standards of the Animal Welfare Act. The western region has a total of 74 employees including 52 field inspectors. During pre-licensing, applicants are warned of upcoming inspections and are assisted with suggestions for improvements to reach compliance. Inspections after licensing are unannounced. The AWA requires at least one inspection a year depending on the history of each exhibitor or done when a complaint is filed. The AWA has developed a risk-based inspection system, which allows more frequent and in-depth inspections at problem facilities and fewer at those consistently in compliance. The facilities we interviewed have all been in compliance, and the licensing requirements seem to benefit both the exhibitors and the animals.
When I met with Chris Adams, program educator of Talking Talons, an educational and rescue organization for releasable birds of prey, live bats and other creatures, he and several of his youth volunteers were at a fund-raiser showing a Swainsonís hawk and an American kestrel to an enthralled audience. After the demonstration, Chris graciously took time out to explain to me how Talking Talons is licensed from New Mexico Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. As a rescue/rehabilitation and education/ special purpose organization, two permits are required from both state and federal governments. Talking Talons is subject to unannounced inspections, and Chris believes these inspections help to ensure proper care and handling of wild and display animals.
The Casa Grande Trading Post/Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum & Petting Zoo is a must-see for everyone passing through Cerrillos. I stopped by unannounced and found the zoo to be immaculate. Owners Todd and Patricia Brown cheerfully showed me around. I was given a bag of food for the llama and the goats. Patricia told me how the inspectors look for safety and cleanliness of the animalís pens. She feels this is especially important at a petting zoo where you are able to experience a close interaction between people and the animals. Todd and Patricia work closely with the Animal/Plant Health Inspectors Service (APHIS) and the USDA veterinarian to provide a healthy and enjoyable environment for the animals and visitors.
For fifteen years Jackalope in Santa Fe has had a unique prairie dog display along with a variety of farm animals. Rob McKennen explained that a license is required for the prairie dog display but not for the farm animals. Inspectors have been to Jackalope several times to check on the burros when visitors have called to report that they thought the burros hooves were being neglected. Burros have harder, thicker hooves and donít require shoeing as a horse does. Each time inspectors found Jackalope to be in compliance. I was happy to find that the burros have a trainer who walks and grooms them daily and that the chickens roam around freely rather than being cooped up. Currently there are about 15 prairie dogs at Jackalope. The pack is thinned out through natural selection or some are sent to one of Jackalopeís other locations. The prairie dogs are inspected each year about three weeks after emerging from hibernation. During hibernation a few may develop infections from ticks, so itís necessary for them to be examined regularly by the USDA veterinarian.
During my interviews, I sensed a real desire among inspectors and exhibitors alike to act in a responsible and humane manner by putting the animalsí well being first. As a caring public itís our responsibility to report any situation where we find animals in unsanitary or dangerous conditions. APHIS is responsible for inspections and investigating complaints. Their workers encourage the public to call with concerns as this helps them to successfully enforce the Animal Welfare Act. Should you have any questions regarding licensing or wish to log a complaint, please call the Animal/Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Care/ Western Region, Monday-Friday at (970) 494-7478. They request that all complaints be made in writing and can be faxed to (970) 494-7461.
Suzanne Brannan is a realtor by trade and a greyhound lover by inclination who is the guardian of six handsome greyhounds rescued from racetracks.
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