Tom Griffith, Journal staff
DEADWOOD | A controversial Minnesota-based wildlife attraction that houses wolves and other wild animals, and which critics claim mistreats animals and is a front for a fur farm, may be planning to re-open in Deadwood this year.
Assistant South Dakota State Veterinarian Mendel Miller confirmed Tuesday that Fur-Ever-Wild owner Terri Petter last week requested an application to be a “possessor of captive non-domestic mammals,” a state license that would allow her to once again house wolves, foxes and other exotic animals at her 17-acre site on Deadwood’s south side. Petter opened the Deadwood attraction last year, but then closed it 10 weeks later and put the property up for sale.
“She is in the process of reapplying,” Miller said from the Pierre offices of the South Dakota Animal Industry Board, which would review the application. Once the application is submitted, the state veterinarian would inspect Fur-Ever-Wild’s facilities at 305 Cliff St. to ensure they meet requirements to protect the safety of the animals and the public, he said.
But animal rights advocates who opposed the opening of the Deadwood attraction a year ago say they fear Petter is making plans to move animals from her Lakeville, Minn.-based attraction if she loses a pending lawsuit there that could force her to close.
“I am very surprised to learn Fur-Ever-Wild is looking to open their Deadwood location again this summer,” said Shari Crouch Kosel, chair and co-founder of South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together.
Kosel said Petter and Dan Storlie face a lawsuit by the Eureka Township that may go to trial in June.
Deadwood City Planner Bob Nelson Jr. said Tuesday he had not heard of a new application by Petter to re-open in Deadwood.
“I do know they cannot increase the number of animals they have had in the past and they cannot add additional species, under the exotic species ordinance passed last year,” Nelson said. The city could require Petter to obtain a permit to operate and would require the attraction owner to provide documentation to the city regarding animals and state licensing approvals, he added.
Last May, the Deadwood Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the attraction’s zoning, over the objections of about 40 local residents and business owners. An online petition opposed to the permit generated more than 100,000 signatures.
Then, the South Dakota Animal Industry Board conducted a rare public hearing to listen to objections to the planned attraction before granting a state license allowing it to operate. On online check of records filed with the South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office Tuesday listed the status of “Furever Wild, LLC,” incorporated Feb. 2, 2015, as “delinquent,” meaning it had not been renewed this year.
Messages left Tuesday at Petter’s Lakeville, Minn., home seeking comment were not returned. Likewise, a message left for Petter’s attorney, Eric Hansen, seeking comment, was not immediately returned.
Previously, the owner of Fur-Ever-Wild has said opponents were just slinging slanderous lies in hopes of shutting down her plans to establish the Deadwood attraction that she said would educate visitors about wolves, foxes, bobcats and other wild animals. Petter told the Journal she cares deeply for her animals and that some have been alive and well for more than a decade at her Minnesota attraction.
Asked about the passionate opposition she faced and claims that her attraction is simply a front for a fur farm, Petter dispelled what she called “lies” and said she had one wolf that was 12 years old and an arctic fox that was 13.
“The accusations are ridiculous,” she said. “Our visitors have seen the same animals year after year.”
Petter also said all of the proceeds from her Minnesota attraction had been re-invested in improved facilities and in the care of her animals.
But a Minnesota attorney and animal advocate said opponents were not crying wolf over Petter’s operation.
“To me, she’s working on a Plan B because Minnesota is shutting her down,” said Julie La Fleur. “There are two sides of her. On the front end, she says, ‘These are my babies and I want to educate you about my animals.’ But there’s a dark side, too. When the doors close for the winter, a large portion of those animals that are her babies are killed for their pelts.”
La Fleur added that, “Petter has admitted to pelting these animals and she’s surrounded in controversy. She admits they operate a commercial business for raising, breeding and skinning of animals.”
Petter first sued Eureka Township in 2012 for not allowing her to build a large commercial barn at her attraction, said La Fleur. The matter was resolved when Petter agreed to downsize the structure in August 2013. Meanwhile, Petter’s neighbors sued the city for not enforcing its own ordinances regarding exotic animals on her property, La Fleur said. The neighbors’ case “fizzled out” when the town didn’t enforce the ruling, she said.
On June 8, 2015, the township board approved a resolution to take action against Petter, forcing her to remove the exotic animals from her property. Petter ignored the resolution, La Fleur said. “She simply refused, and that’s what she does,” said La Fleur.
Then on July 31, 2015, the town’s attorneys filed suit in Dakota County seeking temporary and permanent injunctions prohibiting Petter from operating an animal exhibition and conducting activities related to the exhibition of animals; as well as possessing, harboring, breeding and raising exotic animals; and from maintaining and operating an operation for the pelting of exotic animals, all in violation of town ordinances, La Fleur said. A trial in the matter has been scheduled for June 7.
“I was writing a letter to the Minnesota attorney general on this matter when you called,” La Fleur said, before offering a warning. “You need to understand that Terri Petter just does whatever Terri Petter feels like doing. If she comes there (Deadwood) with these animals and adds more animals and species, you’ll have to have a Plan B for how to deal with her. That’s just the way she is.”