Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur
The Michigan roadside zoo Even Keel Exotics has missed 83% of its U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections in the past year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service ( USDA-APHIS) is responsible for regularly inspecting roadside zoos and other licensed facilities to ensure humane care and treatment of the animals.
Even Keel Exotics, owned by Zachery Keeler, is located in Temperance. Keeler is an exotic animal dealer who also operates a roadside zoo.
Even Keel Exotics has been cited with 72 USDA violations since becoming licensed in 2014. Keeler was cited with 32 of those violations in the past two years. Read more about past violations.
Even Keel Exotics USDA inspections
The recent violations appear increasingly severe, with officials finding animals covered in crusty scabs, chewed on by flies and on several occasions without water to drink.
USDA reports detail animals living in filthy enclosures without protection from the elements. Exposed screws and sharp edges were found in some enclosures. Keeler was cited for expired medications and for lacking a perimeter fence to act as a secondary containment if animals were to escape.
Those are violations officials found when they were allowed inside the roadside zoo to inspect. Since obtaining a license, USDA officials have been denied entry to Even Keel Exotics about 43% of the times they’ve attempted to complete an inspection.
In the past year, Keeler has refused to allow officials to complete an inspection on ten separate occasions.
Keeler has apparently found a loophole in federal regulations. Instead of being cited for numerous serious violations at an inspection, a missed inspection only results in a single violation.
When USDA officials show up for an inspection, Keeler doesn’t answer his phone, or answers and tells officials he’s unavailable.
“A responsible adult was not available to accompany APHIS Officials during the inspection process,” according to 17 USDA reports.
USDA violations are categorized by non-critical, critical and direct; with direct violations being the most serious. Keeler’s pattern of missing inspections appears to have increased in frequency after he was cited with a number of significant violations.
In January 2022, officials cited Keeler with three non-critical and two direct violations. One month later, Keeler was cited for failing to allow officials to complete an inspection.
In March 2022, Keeler was cited with one direct repeat violation for failing to provide water to a porcupine. When the porcupine was offered water it “drank excessively for a minimum of two minutes.”
In April 2022, Keeler was cited with four non-critical violations and one direct violation. That USDA inspection was the last time officials have been allowed access to the property to view the animals and ensure compliance with animal welfare regulations.
The most recent attempted inspection was on March 14, 2023. Officials called Keeler’s phone and left a voicemail. Officials sent a text message to his phone and waited 30 minutes before knocking on his front door.
“The licensee's wife answered the door and stated that the licensee was not home,” according to the inspection report. “She was not sure when the licensee would be home.”
While officials allow Keeler to exploit this loophole, negative reviews of Even Keel Exotics continue to pour in.
“Even Keel Exotics is a terrible place to buy animals. Bought two prairie dogs, they were both loaded with fleas, and one died within two weeks of purchase. Do not shop here. Cages were filthy dirty and all the animals looked sick!” –2022 Google review
“If you purchase an animal and it's sick they will not help you. There was an outbreak this year. Many mink sold by this broker ended up having toxoplasmosis, a disease that is fatal to young mink and causes them to have seizures. Many mink died because of Even Keel's negligence and Even Keel did nothing. No refunds, no attempts to improve animal welfare, they don't care, they're only in it for the money.” –2022 Google review
Keeler has racked up six non critical violations and four critical violations for repeatedly missing inspections in the past year.
With no agencies checking on the animals, their care and treatment is now completely hidden. And with no responsible adult at Even Keel Exotics, there are concerns about what will happen in the event of an emergency.
In order to ensure compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA may take additional action against facilities who repeatedly violate regulations, such as issuing an official warning, issuing a fine or monetary penalty, or revoking a facility’s USDA license.
Records show the USDA has never taken any meaningful enforcement action at Even Keel Exotics, instead issuing dozens of written violations.
Here’s how you can help:
Send an email to the USDA officials:
Here’s a sample of what to send:
Dear USDA Inspector,
Even Keel Exotics in Temperance, Michigan, owned by Zachery Keeler, (license number 34-B-0225) has been “unavailable” to allow USDA APHIS officials to conduct an inspection ten times in the past year.
On the two occasions in early 2022 that officials were able to inspect, Keeler was cited with three non-critical and three direct violations for egregious treatment of animals, including repeatedly failing to provide water to animals. The USDA has not conducted an inspection at Even Keel Exotics in more than a year.
Since February 2022, Keeler has been cited with six non-critical and four critical violations for missing ten inspections. However, no meaningful action has been taken to ensure the health and welfare of the animals whose care has now been in secrecy for an entire year.
In the meantime, reports continue to come in about Even Keel customers purchasing sick animals such as prairie dogs covered in fleas, mink with toxoplasmosis and a fox so severely infested with parasites that it died. Last October, a wallaby was repeatedly spotted wandering loose near Even Keel Exotics.
It is imperative that USDA APHIS acts immediately to inspect Even Keel Exotics to ensure the health and welfare of the animals. Officials must take meaningful enforcement action to revoke Zachery Keeler’s license for repeatedly violating regulations.
The USDA must also close the loophole that allows licensees to repeatedly miss inspections with no serious repercussions. When officials can’t inspect the facility and its animals, their safety, care and treatment can not be confirmed. This must be changed so that licensees who repeatedly miss USDA inspections are deterred from failing to allow official inspection of the premises.
Thank you for your time and attention to this very important matter.