The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) has confirmed Opie Acres is under investigation by several state and federal agencies after owner Jerry Harvey amputated an opossum’s leg earlier this month.
Opie Acres is a nonprofit wildlife rehab located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that focuses on opossums. On July 17, 2022, Opie Acres posted photos showing Harvey amputating the leg of an injured opossum.
Harvey performed surgery without gloves, in an unsterile environment, without veterinary supervision or guidance. He also administered medications and antibiotics to the opossum.
In comments, Opie Acres stated that most veterinarians do not work on wild animals. Roadside Zoo News spoke to wildlife rehabilitators in Tennessee and Ohio who both confirmed they employ regularly attending veterinarians to treat native wildlife.
Opie Acres said Harvey is a certified veterinary technician that performs all of the veterinary procedures at the facility. Tennessee veterinary records indicate no one by that name is certified as a veterinary technician in the state.
Several commenters pointed out the dangers of an untrained individual performing complicated surgeries on wildlife.
“This is a surgery that an actual professional could find challenging to do properly,” one commenter said. “How did you identify and tie off nerves to minimize ghost pain? How did you know pain was controlled? Being unconscious doesn’t equal pain-free.”
Past social media posts indicate Harvey has performed other invasive surgeries without veterinary supervision including amputating an opossum’s tail.
U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations indicate licensed facilities must employ a regularly attending veterinarian and personnel involved in the care and use of animals must have adequate guidance. On July 19, USDA inspector Susanne Brunkhorst completed a focused inspection at Opie Acres and found no violations.
TWRA Captain Rusty Boles said the USDA is only able to regulate education animals exhibited to the public. Because the opossum whose leg was amputated is not being used as an education animal and is considered a "rehab" animal, the USDA was unable to take any action regarding Harvey’s treatment of the animal.
Boles confirmed TWRA is investigating Opie Acres.
“We are well aware of this incident and prior incidents that he has,” Boles said. “There are numerous agencies investigating this right now and the numerous agencies, once everyone is done with their investigations is when we’ll take action. We’re on top of this.”