Rustic Retreat Deer Park owner Thomas Mueller has been ticketed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for failing to obtain a license for his wolfdogs.
Mueller began offering public wolfdog encounters at Rustic Retreat Deer Park in Elkhart Lake, WI, in 2020. For a fee, Mueller brings the public into the enclosure with the wolfdogs and encourages people to pet them, play with them, lift them up and walk them on a leash.
Conservation warden Anthony Arndt said the agency only found out that Mueller had obtained wolfdogs when they read about it in the newspaper. The DNR requires that owners of wolves and wolfdogs obtain a license. Mueller did not obtain a license for his wolfdogs.
Wisconsin DNR Captive Wildlife Pen Specifications & Transportation Standards mandate that wolves and wolf-dog hybrids that are greater than three months of age “must NOT be used in interactive sessions or exhibited outside of the enclosure.”
The DNR also requires that any person that uses captive wild animals in interactive sessions “must be licensed to exhibit by USDA.”
The USDA Animal Welfare Act requires that any person “whose business involves the showing or displaying of animals to the public,” must obtain a Class “C” (exhibitor) license.
USDA records indicate Rustic Retreat Deer Park owner Thomas Mueller does not have a Class C license. On Oct. 2, 2021, Mueller made public comments on social media indicating he believed he did not need to obtain a license because “we are not open to the public,” and “I arrange small private tours.”
On Oct. 13, 2021, Mueller made a social media post indicating “over 7,000 people have already played with” the animals at his facility.
Mueller’s activity is considered “exhibiting” and his continued operation without a USDA Class C license is a violation of federal law.
USDA regulations also prohibit public contact with dangerous animals that are greater than 12-16 weeks old, including wolves, because the agency considers them “too big, too fast and too strong to be used for public contact.”
Public wolf interactions are especially risky because the Wisconsin Division of Public Health mandates that authorities must kill a wolf or wolfdog that bites a person if that person does not want to receive rabies shots.
Arndt said the DNR has been out to Mueller’s facility about a dozen times in the past year due to numerous issues.
Court records indicate the DNR ticketed Mueller in July for failing to report a deer fence that failed.
Documents indicate the agency has also received tips that Mueller was digging a pond in a wetland area. Mueller also provided fraudulent information to the DNR that his deer park/dangerous animal license was approved by the town board.
In September, the town of Russell Board denied Mueller’s agriculture use permit for Rustic Retreat Deer Park.
Yesterday, the DNR cited Mueller with a $539.50 ticket for failing to obtain a license for his wolfdogs. The ticket has a Dec. 1 court date.
Arndt said if Mueller is not in compliance with local, state and federal laws by that court date, the DNR will be moving to seize his wolfdogs.