Animal Gardens Petting Zoo - The Dancing Horses Theatre, Delavan, WI, has been cited with three violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act based on a June 2021 U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection.
Animal Gardens is a roadside zoo owned by Dana Montana. In the past, Montana has done business with the now-closed Special Memories Zoo.
A confidential informant alleges that one summer, all of the baby animals that Animal Gardens obtained from Special Memories Zoo had such a severe case of lice that they were anemic and many of them died.
The informant said employees were given no formal training and were regularly instructed to bring home baby animals, such as lemurs, foxes, tigers and raccoons, to bottle feed overnight.
The informant alleges Special Memories Zoo Owner Gene Wheeler, now deceased, and zookeeper Gretchen Crowe, would occasionally visit Animal Gardens to train the employees.
“They would tell us how stupid we were and how we knew nothing,” the informant said. “They wanted us to feed every animal Ol’ Roy dog food from Walmart. I wouldn't even feed that to my dog. After they left we would go back to feeding fresh food if we could.”
The informant alleges she witnessed many animals die at Animal Gardens including numerous deer and a baby tiger. The informant said very few animals received veterinary care.
The informant said Montana would purchase tiger cubs each year for Animal Garden’s “Baby Barn” and then at the end of the summer the tigers were sold to circus trainer Wade Burck; spending the rest of their lives forced to perform or locked in a cage.
Wade’s operation was later turned over to his son Adam who was cited in June 2021 with seven USDA violations after inspectors visited his facility in McHenry, IL, and witnessed tigers living in cramped transport cages inside a hot barn infested with maggots.
“I was able to visit Wade's facility in McHenry 14 years ago and conditions were horrible then as well,” a witness said. “The tigers were all in small cages with catwalks going in between them. If you didn't watch your step you could easily be grabbed by a tiger. He showed us the barn where he would shackle all his elephants when he had them. It sounds like things aren't any better with his son taking things over.”
Animal Gardens stopped obtaining tiger cubs for their Baby Barn in the early 2000s.
USDA records for Animal Gardens go back to 2014 and Roadside Zoo News did not obtain the inspection reports prior to 2014. From 2014-2021, Animal Gardens received a total of 14 USDA violations.
Most notably, in March 2017, the facility was cited for a perimeter fence adjacent to a lynx enclosure that was in disrepair which could “allow unauthorized persons and wild animals to gain access to the animals,” according to the report.
Four months later, two lynx cubs were stolen from the roadside zoo by former employee Loren Wiseman. The cubs were later returned and Wiseman was arrested. Wisconsin court records indicate Wiseman was not formally charged in the case.
In August 2017, a young bobcat at Animal Gardens climbed out of its enclosure and into an adjacent lynx enclosure and the lynx attacked and killed the bobcat, according to a USDA inspection report. The USDA cited Animal Gardens with a critical violation for their bobcat enclosure which did not adequately contain it or protect it from the lynx.
More recently, on June 30, 2021, the USDA inspected Animal Gardens and cited them with three non-critical violations.
The facility had no records of acquisition or disposition for numerous animals, according to the inspection report.
The USDA inspection report details enclosures for the Siberian lynx, wolves, raccoons, calves, African porcupines, capybaras, goats and sheep, that were in such a state of disrepair that they could be dangerous and cause injury to the animals.
Some of the enclosures did not have a perimeter fence which is required under the Animal Welfare Act. In some areas, the existing perimeter fence was in disrepair or was unsafe.
Animal Gardens was given until August 14 to correct the violations.
“Exotics do not deserve to live in a roadside zoo in inadequate environments,” a source said. “They aren't babies to dress up and hand around to take selfies with. [Animal Gardens] profits greatly off of the animals’ exploitation.”
Animal Gardens June 2021 USDA inspection report: