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Rustic Retreat Deer Park pays citation; still non-compliant with local, state and federal law

Thomas Mueller holds a wolfdog at Rustic Retreat Deer Park in Elkhart Lake, WI.

Rustic Retreat Deer Park owner Thomas Mueller has paid a $539.50 citation to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for failing to obtain a license for his wolfdogs but he remains non-compliant with local, state and federal law.

Mueller began offering public deer and 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.

Visitors interact with a wolfdog at Rustic Retreat.

Mueller began operating Rustic Retreat Deer Park without ever obtaining an agriculture use permit from the Town of Russell. In Sept. 2021, the Town of Russell Board denied Mueller’s agriculture use permit for Rustic Retreat Deer Park. His continued operation without a permit could result in daily citations or other penalties.

A conservation warden with the DNR said Mueller acquired his wolfdogs without ever obtaining a Captive Wildlife Permit, which is required to own wolfdogs in Wisconsin. On Nov. 25, 2021, Mueller posted Facebook comments indicating that the DNR has now amended his license to include the wolfdogs.

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.”

USDA records indicate Rustic Retreat Deer Park owner Thomas Mueller does not have a Class C license.

Mueller’s activity is considered “exhibiting” and his continued operation without a USDA Class C license is a violation of federal law.

USDA Animal Welfare Regulations require wolf enclosures to have a secondary perimeter fence to prevent physical contact between animals inside the enclosure and animals or persons outside the perimeter fence. When Mueller takes the public into his wolfdog enclosure, there are no fences or barriers preventing physical contact between people and animals.

Public encounters with wolfdogs are dangerous to both the public and the animals. The Wisconsin Division of Public Health mandates that any wild animal that bites a person must be euthanized if that person chooses not to receive rabies vaccinations.

Roadside Zoo News has reached out to the DNR for more information about the situation at Rustic Retreat Deer Park.


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