Petting Zoo Accused of Killing Wolf Pups After They Grow Too Big

Animal-welfare activists are suing a petting zoo over allegedly killing its endangered gray wolf puppies after they get too big for kids to cuddle.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

A Minnesota farm is accused of skinning cute, cuddly, and federally protected gray wolf pups after they grow too big for its petting zoo.

On weekends, Fur-Ever Wild invites children to pet, feed, and play with wolf puppies on its 100-acre property. The business also seeks volunteers and donations for its operation in Lakeville—about 26 miles south of Minneapolis.

But, according to a lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, many visitors don’t realize Fur-Ever Wild pelts the wolves when they’re too old for “pet-n-plays” with guests. Their furs are allegedly then sold in the farm’s gift shop or elsewhere.

“Gray wolves in Minnesota are threatened, and it’s not only illegal to kill a gray wolf but to harm or harass [one] in any way through the state, whether the wolf is in a zoo, fur farm, or in the wild,” said ALDF attorney Christopher Berry.

Berry told The Daily Beast he wasn’t “aware of any business that functions both as a zoo and a fur farm” for gray wolves, which are listed as “threatened” on the endangered species list.

Lockwood Animal Rescue Center, a California animal sanctuary that rescues wolves and wolf-dogs, is also a plaintiff in the case.

In the federal complaint filed Sept. 29, they accused Fur-Ever Wild and its proprietor, Teresa Petter, of violating the Endangered Species Act by killing the wolves. They also claim Petter fails to provide adequate care for the wolves while they’re alive—including feeding them a diet of hot dogs.

Indeed, Fur-Ever Wild is no stranger to controversy.

The menagerie began with one wolf in 2005 and expanded to include lynx, red foxes, arctic foxes, cougars, and raccoons two years later.

Ever since, Petter has faced a prolonged court battle with Eureka Township, which says her exotic animals aren’t permitted under zoning laws. In September, an appeals court judge ruled Petter could keep one lone wolf instead of her entire pack.

Petter told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that she wouldn’t give up any of her canines. “No matter what happens with the zoning issue, they’re still my animals,” she said, before blaming animal rights activists on her legal plight. Advocates with ties to Eureka Township’s neighbors are spreading lies that she mistreats her critters, she said.

As a hunter and animal lover, Petter said it’s her mission to educate people about animals in the wild and “not to sugarcoat things.”

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Petter did not return calls seeking comment. In an email she wrote (in bullet points), “The accusations are false. We have three defamation lawsuits going on at this time. The ESA does NOT cover wolf hybrids.” (While Petter appears to be calling her wolves “hybrids,” USDA inspection reports included in the lawsuit label the animals as “gray wolf.”)

“Even their accusations don’t match their exhibits,” Petter said in a follow-up email, declining to comment further because of the ongoing litigation. 

Last week, ALDF and Lockwood requested a temporary restraining order to stop Fur-Ever Wild from slaughtering all but one wolf in the event that Petter attempts to comply with the state order prohibiting her exotic animal ownership.

On Fur-Ever Wild’s Facebook page, Petter claimed she only pelts animals that die of natural causes. “No matter what I say or what I post I am always going to have the haters,” one April 2015 post began.

“Are we a fur farm. Yes, we are. But not one you typically think of,” Petter wrote, adding, “When something dies...hopefully of old age...we use everything we can. Hides..claws..skulls..bones.. Do I ever walk out my door with a gun [and] purposely kill something for the fur. NO. Our oldest wolf is 12..we have several right behind him.”

She continued, “I am not going into full detail about why we harvest them...but here’s one reason for you. A fur coat will last you a lifetime. A synthetic coat. .. maybe a year. When and IF you throw away a fur coat it decomposes in 5-10 years. When you throw away a synthetic coat it takes 75-150 years to decompose.”

When asked about Petter’s claims that she cares for her wolves, Berry said, “She reported the death of 68 wolves at her operation in the last five years. I can’t think of any way those would have been of natural causes.”

Berry also noted a USDA citation as recently as August for disposing of two gray wolves without keeping records regarding their whereabouts, as required by federal law. “That paints a pretty clear picture of what’s going on at this facility,” he said.

Petter’s property also includes foxes, bobcats, and cougars, as well as horses and a hog farm. Gray wolves, however, are the main attraction.

Each spring, multiple litters of wolf pups are born at Fur-Ever Wild, where visitors can pay $20 for “pet-n-plays” with them. In the fall, the puppies join the adult packs because they’re no longer young enough to be cuddled, the lawsuit says.

Fur-Ever Wild pelts the gray wolves and other animals, and sells their skin, skulls, teeth, bones, and other parts both offsite and at the business’ gift shop, court papers allege.

In one 2012 deposition, Petter said she also kept pigs, goats, and horses, which are raised for meat. “And the horses are raised for meat, but we—this is going to sound horrible. We also sell the horses to taxidermists,” she said. That year, she said she had a large number of wolves and discussed when she typically decides to skin her animals based on the fur market.

“I pelted two wolves last night,” she testified. “And there is another two going tonight.

“There will be 25 within the next three weeks—two weeks,” she added in the deposition, which related to her fight with Eureka Township.

Some furs are shipped to Toronto, others to “a guy in Indianapolis” and some “to another fur dealer named Hannibal,” Petter said, according to the deposition transcript. She named one of her buyers as “Danny down in Waseca,” before adding that some wolves go straight to taxidermists.

The deposition appears to contradict her claim that her wolves die naturally. (In an email, Petter said a former attorney for the township leaked the deposition, which she says she was never allowed to review and to correct within 30 days as required by federal law. She claims the original deposition was “destroyed.”)

ALDF says Fur-Ever Wild’s own game farm reports to the state’s Department of Natural Resources indicates Petter intentionally kills the wolves. For the period from March 1, 2013 ,to Feb. 28, 2014, Petter noted 19 wolves born and 19 deaths.

For two years spanning March 1, 2015, to Feb. 28, 2017, Fur-Ever Wild noted 17 wolves born and 17 deaths. “This unnaturally high death rate coupled with the parity between births and deaths demonstrates a continued breeding and killing practice,” the lawsuit states.

Lockwood Animal Rescue Center began investigating Fur-Ever Wild in 2015 after opponents began taunting them with wolf corpses on social media—bodies that appear to have been bought from Petter’s farm.

At the time, Lockwood representatives were working to protect wild gray wolves from a hunt in Montana and Idaho. They discovered an online message board on a “Kill All Wolves” website, where rivals said they obtained gray wolves from Petter so they could pose for photos with their bodies.

During their investigation, “Lockwood heard that Ms. Petter disposed of surplus gray wolves by giving them horse tranquilizer, anally electrocuting them, and selling their pelts, bones, skulls, and teeth,” the lawsuit says.

In the fall of 2016, Lockwood decided to fly representatives to Minnesota to visit Fur-Ever Wild as members of the public. They found a pile of wolf pelts for sale in the gift shop, alongside the pelts and body parts of lynx, coyotes, and foxes, the lawsuit says.

The pelts aren’t the only alleged problem.

According to the complaint, Fur-Ever Wild also fails to provide adequate veterinary care, shelter, exercise areas, food, and water.

Lockwood’s director of operations, Matthew Simmons, observed 40 gray wolves contained in several enclosures. Some wolves had untreated infections, including two with serious eye infections, and one wolf had a limp, Simmons said.

“Signs for the wolf exhibits described them simply as ‘Gray Wolves.’ My observations confirmed that the animals were in fact gray wolves and not hybrids of any kind,” Simmons said in a declaration last week in support of a temporary restraining order against Fur-Ever Wild.

Simmons, who in a decade has rescued over 200 wolves and about 800 wolf-dogs, also spotted visitors tossing the predators hotdogs, which he contends are not nutritious for the animals yet appeared to be part of the Fur-Ever Wild diet.

“Fur-Ever Wild sells hot dogs to visitors to feed to wolves. I saw no food in the enclosure other than hot dogs that visitors were dumping into the enclosures with PVC tubes,” Simmons said. “Hot dogs are not healthy food for wolves, but seem like a staple in the diet of Fur-Ever Wild’s wolves based on what I observed.

“Wolves at Lockwood, for example, eat beef, chicken, and balls of ground beef, kibble, and supplements. Wolves at Lockwood or other wolves with a quality diet would refuse to eat a hot dog. This strongly indicates that the wolves at Fur-Ever Wild are either conditioned to a bad diet full of hot dogs, or that they were starving at the time that I observed them,” he added.

On Facebook, Petter defended the hot-dog diet, writing, “Hot dogs are used for treats only on Sat and Sun.” She added in the April 2015 post that “humans eat hot dogs” and “wolves eat the butt end of the deer first, so please don’t tell me hot dog treats are bad for wolves.”

Simmons was also troubled by the youthful packs at Fur-Ever Wild. At his Lockwood sanctuary, one gray wolf named Blade is 22 years old, he said.

Gray wolves are highly intelligent, sensitive, and social animals who, on average, live between six and eight years but as long as 13 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live up to 17 years, the lawsuit says.

“Whereas I expected to see several geriatric wolves around 12 or 13 years old because the facility has possessed and bred wolves since around 2007, the oldest wolf that I saw was 5 years old which is not geriatric,” Simmons said. “This strongly indicates that wolves at her facility do not grow old because they are disposed of at a very young age.”

Meanwhile, beginning in 2015 to the present, “witnesses have reported seeing wolves pacing in small enclosures due to inadequate exercise area, excessive feces in enclosures, strong odor, green drinking water, and empty water receptacles,” the complaint states.

In October 2015, ALDF lawyer Carney Anne Nasser visited Fur-Ever Wild and sent a letter to the USDA describing the conditions of the farm and including photo evidence. She asked for the agency to investigate apparent violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Nasser claimed she found wolves whose ears were infested with flies, which appeared to be feeding on the open wounds. She also noted visitors were encouraged to feed the wolves hot dogs and foul-smelling eggs available for purchase.

USDA inspectors also documented squalid conditions. In June of 2016, one inspector cited the farm for “watering tub [that] was green in color,” clutter around animal enclosures, and an “overabundance of flies” in the food prep area with bugs and spider webs found in an animal feed additive, court papers allege.

In August of this year, a USDA inspector discovered a gray wolf named Tatonka with an open wound over her right tricep with a scabbed wound nearby. The inspector cited Fur-Ever Wild for using expired medicine and failing to provide documentation that Tatonka ever saw a veterinarian for the illness. Fur-Ever Wild was also cited during that visit for failing to provide adequate shade from the sun.

Still, in one October 2016 Facebook post, Petter blasted neighbors and animal rights activists for trying to besmirch her reputation.

“The neighbors and the AR whactavists tried to take our animals away with everything they knew how to do, tarnishing our name, false accusations, pictures in papers that weren't even ours, twisting comments, going after our sponsors and supporters and flat out lying,” Petter fumed on Fur-Ever Wild’s page.

Her commentary came after a court win that allowed her to keep her furry captives.

“The hack reporter just called and ask me what my feelings were about the ruling, I told him I was very happy with it. So be warned, he will write another hack article and throw crap out there that’s not true and try and tarnish our name some more,” she added. “The people who have been here will know the truth and we thank you for all your support.”