Wildlife in Need to file suit against USDA

Animal refuge in southern IN to file suit against USDA
Published: Jun. 1, 2016 at 10:13 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2016 at 10:50 PM EDT
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Wildlife in Need operator Tim Stark (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Wildlife in Need operator Tim Stark (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Richard Rush (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Richard Rush (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In southern Indiana, the legal team behind the embattled Wildlife in Need animal refuge claims its operator is being targeted by federal inspectors.

Attorneys for Wildlife in Need said the threat to sue the USDA is no longer a threat. Meanwhile, a USDA spokeswoman says the agency will continue with its investigation.

"If I was actually abusing animals, they would terminate my license then and there," Wildlife in Need operator Tim Stark told WAVE 3 News earlier this year.

Now, his legal team is talking, saying Stark is under attack and it has to stop.

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"My instructions for Tim are to sue the USDA," said Richard Rush, one of the attorneys representing him. "So that's what we're going to do."

After PETA complained about unsafe conditions at the facility, the USDA initiated two inspections at the facility last fall and followed up after a recent fire tore through a building. The federal agency currently has an open investigation. A just released January inspection questions, among other things, the death of three otters and a kangaroo. Inspectors also felt Stark was hostile.

USDA Public Affairs Specialist Tanya Espinosa said of the inspection, "When they were discussing what was discovered during the inspection that's when he (Stark) became aggressive toward the inspectors."

Espinoza couldn't elaborate on the report because it's an ongoing investigation. In Stark's appeal to the inspection, he apologized for becoming quote, "visibly and verbally aggravated" stating, he's frustrated because inspectors have not been the advocates for licensees that they say they are. He claimed he consulted with a veterinarian and an expert in Australia on the health and death of the kangaroo and with a vet on the otters.

The USDA is also appealing a judge's ruling that favored Stark in a separate fight to revoke his license. Rush claims in many cases, like cage height, Stark goes well beyond what's required in the USDA handbook, which he says leaves way too much up to interpretation. Rush says, as in the case of the Cincinnati Zoo, accidents can happen anywhere, and it doesn't mean the facility should be shut down.

"But," he said, "the USDA seems Hell-bent on shutting down Tim Stark even though he's not had an incident such as the unfortunate one that occurred at the Cincinnati Zoo."

Rush calls this battle a David and Goliath situation saying Stark has limited resources to keep fighting the federal government. Up next? The USDA is waiting to hear back on its appeal of the judge's decision to allow Stark to keep his license. Rush said their suit should be filed in the near future.     

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