A legal battle between an animal rights group and a private Manchester animal exhibitor that has been brewing for more than a year is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 16.
The non-jury trial between plaintiffs Haley Anderson, Pamela Jones, Tracey Kuehl and Lisa Kuehl versus defendants Pamela Sellner and Tom Sellner of Cricket Hollow Zoo (now Cricket Hollow Animal Park) is expected to last seven days, according to court documents.
This is not the first time representatives from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the Sellners have squared off in court.
“They already sued me under the Endangered Species Act and took my endangered species with their lies and now they’re back for everything else that’s (Animal Welfare Act) regulated,” Pam Sellner said.
In this case, Sellner said, the consequences of the ruling could be far more devastating.
“I will basically be shut down — that’s what they want,” she said should the ALDF prevail. “They want everything I exhibit that USDA regulates, including the farm animals.”
ALDF lawyers submitted a 181-page petition in the Iowa Court for Delaware County in September 2018, and in response, the Sellners denied almost every accusation line-by-line.
Sellner said in the original documents she received from the group in this case, she was told she was being sued because she was chronically refusing to feed or water her animals.
“That was an absolute lie,” she said. “And now they’re suing me because I’m a ‘public nuisance.’”
According to its website, the ALDF filed a public nuisance lawsuit on behalf of the Kuehl sisters, Anderson and Jones “for chronic violations of state animal cruelty laws. Cricket Hollow Zoo has a long history of keeping animals in inhumane and illegal conditions” and that “Cricket Hollow Zoo consistently fails to abide by the state’s animal cruelty standards.”
The lawsuit seeks to re-home the animals at Cricket Hollow to sanctuaries and “permanently enjoin Cricket Hollow Zoo’s owners from confining animals in inhumane and unsafe conditions, and requests the owners be permanently barred from obtaining any animals in the future.”
Sellner said this coming Friday, the group has a court order to inspect the zoo.
“They’re bringing lawyers, photographers, an expert witness and I don’t know who else and they’ve got a three-hour block of time to have a free-for-all at my house, and I’m not really happy about it,” she said.
One of the ALDF’s complaints states the animal enclosures at the zoo are full of standing water, which can cause health issues for the animals, it says. Given the heavy overnight rains that caused flooding in downtown Manchester Oct. 1, Sellner said she is concerned about the timing.
Sellner said they’ve recently recorded 11.5 inches of rain in the past month, which has led to wet conditions around the animal park.
“There’s not a darn thing I can do about it,” she said. “It’s wet and I can’t change it — they’re just going to use that for more ammunition about how horrible I am.”
Sellner said the litigation against Cricket Hollow is part of a broader effort to shut down other operations like theirs. She said these lawsuits have become a common theme in her social network of animal exhibitors, with one of her friends in Wisconsin getting served papers recently as well.
“I don’t even know what to say anymore because it’s not just me that this is happening to,” she said. “But I would like some support from the public. I’m so tired that I’ve hardly slept and all I’ve worried about is what this Friday is going to bring.”
She categorically denied they are mistreating their animals and said these same groups will eventually be coming after farmers.
“The cages aren’t too small, because if they were too small I would have gotten written up by the USDA and I have not. (Every animal) has a good nutrition plan and veterinary care,” she said. “Just because your neighbor hasn’t gotten (sued) yet, it’s just a matter of time, because they are going after everything.”
“I just need some support from the community, especially if they care at all about having animals for their kids to see in the future,” she continued. “It’s getting to the point where (children are) only going to be able to see them on TV in a documentary.”