Feds work to shut down Cicchelli Second Chance Rescue and Exotics


April Cicchelli is shown with a cougar at Cicchelli Second Chance Rescue and Exotics.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is engaged in legal action to shut down the roadside zoo Cicchelli Second Chance Rescue and Exotics in Lake City, Michigan.


Cicchelli Second Chance Rescue is owned by Ryan and April Cicchelli.


Read more about Cicchelli Second Chance Rescue:

Facilities that exhibit animals to the public are required to obtain a USDA Class C license under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which includes regular inspections to ensure the humane care and treatment of animals.


In October 2020, a USDA official observed the Cicchellis operating their roadside zoo without the federally required license. The agency cited them with an official warning and notified them that they needed to obtain a license to continue operating.


The Cicchellis obtained a license in October 2021. In the 10 months that followed, the USDA inspected the facility six times and cited them for 36 AWA violations.


Numerous primates and kinkajous were found to be in freezing conditions. Several animals were suffering from medical conditions but had not received veterinary attention. 22 animals were housed in barns with no lights. Endangered ring-tailed lemurs were living in an unsafe dog kennel on concrete floors in a garage infested with mice. Some animals had no access to water.


A new federal requirement indicates licensees must apply for a new license before obtaining certain wild and exotic animals including cougars and other big cats. Just a few weeks after obtaining their license to exhibit animals to the public, the Cicchellis purchased a cougar cub from a butcher shop in Montana.


The Cicchellis hid the cougar in their home. When the USDA completed an inspection in January, April repeatedly lied to inspectors and said she didn't have a cougar. Records indicate it was only after inspectors stated they were in possession of a health certificate for the cougar cub that April admitted to purchasing a cub and permitted officials to inspect the animal.


The Cicchellis were not authorized to obtain a cougar and their home was not an authorized location to house a big cat. They subsequently applied for a new license and were denied.


The Cicchellis also lied to inspectors about their acquisition of a North American river otter, even after the USDA inspector provided a health certificate from Michigan, disposition records from the seller signed by April, and screenshots of Facebook messages between the seller and April.


In July, the USDA found two young timber wolves that were chained to trees while being forced into public petting interactions without direct control or supervision. The USDA determined that the Cicchellis did not have adequate experience or knowledge to care for the wolves and some of the other exotic animals.


Court documents indicate the USDA can terminate the license of anyone who has made false or fraudulent statements, provided false or fraudulent records, or has been found to have violated “any Federal, State, or local laws or regulations pertaining to the transportation, ownership, neglect or welfare of animals, or is otherwise unfit to be licensed.”


The USDA is now working to terminate the Cicchelli's license to exhibit animals to the public, which would shut down their roadside zoo. (Download the court documents here)


“Permitting the Respondents to continue to hold an AWA license would be contrary to the Act’s purpose of ensuring humane treatment of animals because the Respondents have been found to have made false or fraudulent statements to the Department,” court records say. “Respondents’ actions constitute an abuse of the licensure privileges of the AWA.”


The Cicchellis are required to respond to the allegations before a judge makes a final decision. In the meantime, they’re regularly advertising $200 season passes to their roadside zoo for 2023. If the judge terminates their license, Cicchellis Second Chance Rescue will not be open to the public for the 2023 season.