Cricket Hollow Zoo critics seek to force USDA to take action to close Manchester facility

An animal rights group has taken its efforts to close the troubled Cricket Hollow Zoo near Manchester, Iowa to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

In their lawsuit filed last fall, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Tracey Kuehl, of Davenport, and Lisa Kuehl of Des Moines, argue the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a "pattern and practice of rubber-stamping the renewal of the zoo's AWA (Animal Welfare Act) license each year, despite the zoo's serious and flagrant violations of applicable AWA standards. . ."

A key legal hurdle is whether the USDA can grant renewal of Cricket Hollow's license without determining if the facility is in compliance with USDA regulations. USDA attorneys have asked the court to dismiss the case. The two sides have been given until March 12 to file arguments for and in opposition to the USDA motion to dismiss.

The USDA's attorneys have sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the federal statute only requires compliance with the animal welfare act prior to issuing a license. Once the license has been issued – in 1999 in Cricket Hollow's case – "there is no statutory requirement that the Secretary (of USDA) require a demonstration of compliance with the AWA as a condition of license renewal."

According to USDA attorneys, "the only context in which the statute contemplates that an issued license could become invalid is through the Secretary's enforcement proceedings for AWA violations, which have explicit due process protections, including notice and opportunity for hearing."

The USDA did fine Cricket Hollow nearly $7,000 for numerous animal welfare violations between 2011 and 2013, and has said the rural facility is once again under investigation.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDAL) also issues an annual permit for the zoo, but has taken no action against the facility. The state inspection reports have been much less critical of the zoo, and state inspectors in emails to superiors and postings on social media have express contempt for those citizens who expressed concern about animal treatment at the zoo.

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