Debbie Dolittle's Animal Experience, Tacoma, WA, has been fined $7,500 for repeated violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Documents indicate 79 members of the public were injured at the facility in a ten month period.
Debbie Dolittle’s is owned by Donald Frances Miller and is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as City Goat Farm & Zoo. In June 2021, Debbie Dolittle’s announced the facility would be undergoing new ownership, however, the roadside zoo’s USDA license remains under Miller’s name.
On social media, Debbie Dolittle’s advertises itself as “the best petting zoo ever,” offering encounters with prairie dogs, chickens, bunnies, ferrets, coatimundi, capybaras, mara, yak, goats, lambs, alpaca, sand cat, armadillos, hedgehogs, otters, sloths, kangaroos and kinkajou.
The facility does business with other roadside zoos including Blaine Brown of Newport Discovery Zoo, Newport, OR, and Jason Clay of East Texas Zoo and Gator Park, Grand Saline, TX. Clay sent a giraffe named Loki to the facility from June 2019-October 2019 to be used for bottle feeding encounters.
Today the USDA released a citation and notification of penalty due to numerous issues they found at Debbie Dolittle’s.
USDA records indicate that from April 22, 2019, through February 17, 2020, 79 visitors to Debbie Dolittle’s were injured by animals.
Most notably, in June 2019, two zoo visitors were injured by otters and one of the injuries was so severe it “resulted in broken skin and a bite that drew blood,” according to the report.
In Dec. 2019, a roadside zoo visitor was bitten by a capybara.
Despite 79 biting incidents “in varying degrees of seriousness during interactions with animals,” documents indicate Debbie Dolittle’s “continues to allow the public to interact with the animals without adequate distance and/or barrier/restraint.”
In March 2019, Debbie Dolittle’s failed to provide inspection records or to disclose information related to the animals they purchased, owned, held, leased and possessed, which is required by federal law.
Two months later, a fennec fox was injured at the facility due to an inadequately secured metal ramp designed for ferrets that was in its enclosure. Documents indicate the injury was so severe, the fox's leg had to be amputated.
In June 2019, a young tamandua was found dead at Debbie Dolittle’s. Documents indicate Debbie Dolittle’s took possession of the tamandua but did not quarantine it or acclimate it to its new environment. The tamandua “suffered weight loss and was never examined by a veterinarian,” the USDA report said.
In Oct. 2019, a young female sloth named Malia died after falling from a climbing structure, according to the USDA citation.
“Despite intensive care, and initial success in reviving the animal, the sloth became unresponsive and was euthanized,” according to the report.
A necropsy revealed the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head.
“The necropsy also revealed severe emaciation, indications of chronic stress, and older bruising to the body wall that was not associated with the current trauma or the CPR used during treatment,” the USDA inspector noted.
Documents indicate the necropsy results “were found to be consistent with mishandling, neglect and ignorance of animal care.”
The numerous issues at Debbie Dolittle’s resulted in seven USDA violations and a penalty of $7,500.
The facility was also notified that “during public exhibition, all animals must be handled so that there is minimal risk of injury to the animals and the public,” according to the USDA inspection report.
USDA citation and notification of penalty: