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DES MOINES, Iowa — After about six years of legal battles between Cricket Hollow Zoo and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a recent court ruling allowed for the rescue of hundreds of animals from the property on Monday.

The Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Iowa said in a news release on Monday, “On November 25, 2019, Iowa District Court Judge Monica Wittig ruled in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, finding Cricket Hollow Zoo had chronically neglected the animals — but defendants Tom and Pamela Sellner swiftly filed a motion to stay the ruling pending appeal in an attempt to derail the animals’ rescue. Acting Chief Justice David S. Wiggins of the Iowa Supreme Court denied the motion to stay on December 4, 2019 — clearing the way for today’s rescue.”

The ruling also banned the Sellners from possessing any exotic animals in the future.

After an 18-hour long rescue at the roadside zoo in Manchester, Iowa, on Monday, 159 animals and counting are now in the care of the ARL: 40 mice, 34 rats, 15 sheep, 12 rabbits, 11 raccoons, ten geese, ten chickens, seven mini horses, six goats, three cats, three donkeys, two llamas, two goldfish, one turkey and one mule.

Many more animals are now at other sanctuaries and accredited facilities, including Blank Park Zoo.

Blank Park Zoo is caring for three baboons, two rhesus macaques, three cavies, four degus, four skunks and an eel.

About a dozen agencies assisted with the rescue in some way: Animal Legal Defense Fund, ARL of Iowa, The Wildlife Animal Sanctuary, Blank Park Zoo, Cedar Bend Humane Society, Corner Creek Acres, Cedar Valley Humane Society, A Home for Every Bunny, Gabriel Foundation, Iowa Farm Sanctuary, KC Pet Project, Lusco Farms Rescue, Wildlife Rehabilitation Network of Central Iowa and Snakes Alive.

The ALDF said before the animals were rescued they were suffering.

“Cricket Hollow Zoo’s enclosures or cages their animals are kept in are extremely limited in space. It’s very clear that the cages are not cleaned regularly. There were piles of feces sometimes halfway filling cages. There was no apparent water at all or food in every cage I saw yesterday,” ALDF spokesperson Elizabeth Putsche said.

She added that many of them needed medical care immediately.

“The animals clearly had open wounds, broken legs, things that needed immediate medical attention that had obviously gone without veterinary care for a significant amount of time. And we are very happy that those animals will now get that medical care that they need,” Putsche said.

Putsche said many of the animals they were expecting to assist were missing from the Cricket Hollow Zoo property.

“Five grizzly bears, two mountain lions, two macaws, a camel, a wolf, opossums, a fennec fox, two ferrets, two large tortoises, two pythons and many more are still missing,” Putsche said.

Putsche said they are not certain about what happened to the animals, but they believe they were either sold, given away or are now deceased.

“There is a field adjacent to the Sellner’s property that they describe as a compost pile where there are a number of dead animals bones of all different species of animals, and there was a freshly deposited goat on the top of the pile,” Putsche said.

Putsche said many of the living animals were also forced to share enclosures with the dead ones.

“We additionally found and documented numerous dead animals amongst the living including two dead rabbits, dead hamsters a dead calf countless dead snakes and reptiles. Based on these conditions and the numerous missing animals we plan to file a motion to have Ms. Sellner charged with contempt of court,” Putsche said.

Rescuers said what these animals have gone through is unimaginable.

“The stench and burn in your eyes when you walk through, to be living in that for years at a time, to be living with dead animals in the same cage that you’re living in. Animals are very smart. They’re very aware of their surroundings and what’s going on, so these animals were extremely stressed and it’s going to take a long time for them to rehabilitate,” Putsche said.

The ALDF said Iowa is ranked the 48th worst state in the country for animal protection laws and argues stronger, more specific legislation is needed.

“Right now the laws for neglect only require adequate shelter and sufficient quantity of food and water. What we saw at the Cricket Hollow Zoo were black bears, mountain lions, wolves being kept in rusted out corn cribs. The term adequate shelter is not defined in the code,” ARL Director of Legal Initiatives Colin Grace said.

ARL CEO Tom Colvin said love for animals is not enough.

“We are seeing it time and time again where people are thought to just absolutely love animals, but then we get in and we see filthy conditions, poor diet, dead and dying animals and it simply has got to stop in Iowa,” Colvin said.

Colvin said HF737, a piece of legislation that would lead the way for change, is stuck in the Iowa Senate.

“It basically is built in to allow for stronger laws to protect animals in Iowa, whether they are in government-inspected facilities, or individuals, or animal shelters, or rescues, or anybody else. It’s time that bill gets passed, signed by the governor and Iowa truly says that it cares about animals and cares about these horrendous conditions we continue to see,” Colvin said.

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