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Special Memories Zoo lawsuit update

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is being awarded default judgement in the case against the Wisconsin roadside zoo accused of keeping their animals in deplorable conditions and denying the animals food, water and medical care.

The ALDF submitted a proposed judgement and order on Friday, agreeing to settle their lawsuit against the zoo if SMZ agrees to all the terms of the judgement.

In 2019, the ALDF enlisted country music star Tanya Tucker in their crusade to shut down the roadside zoo with a location in Greenville and a winter location in Hortonville. The ALDF offered to avoid litigation if SMZ would agree to let ALDF rehome all the animals to legitimate sanctuaries at no cost to SMZ.

Instead, SMZ began selling the animals. In Feb. 2020 the ALDF filed their intent to sue the roadside zoo, and a month later SMZ announced they were closing due to owner Gene Wheeler’s declining health. Days later, a barn on the zoo’s winter property caught fire, burning 35 animals alive. When authorities investigated, they found 16 decaying animals on the property that were not involved in the fire. Zookeeper Gretchen Crowe said she hadn’t checked on those animals in more than two months.

Gene passed away in July, 2020 but the lawsuit continued against zoo owner Dona Wheeler and head zookeeper Gretchen Crowe.

The ALDF's proposed judgement includes these stipulations:

>Dona Wheeler and Gretchen Crowe are permanently enjoined from maintaining a public nuisance by confining animals in inhumane and unsafe conditions.

>Dona Wheeler and Gretchen Crowe are permanently enjoined from possessing or exhibiting animals, and from participating in any business or entity that possesses or exhibits animals.

>The SMZ property site, including the various cages and

improvements on the zoo property, can not be sold or otherwise transferred for use in the

animal exhibition industry.

>Dona Wheeler and Gretchen Crowe would be required to pay the legal fees of the ALDF.

If the ALDF is not granted all of these terms, they are asking to continue pursuing discovery in an attempt to rehome the zoo’s animals, which were shipped off to other roadside zoos across the U.S..

At today’s hearing, SMZ’s lawyers argued against some of the terms. They said Wheeler and Crowe should be allowed to keep household pets, and they argued the zoo’s property and cages should not have restrictions on their sale and usage.

The ALDF argued the property and cages are covered under their public nuisance claim, and selling the cages and enclosures for animal exhibition will continue to “perpetuate the suffering” of animals.

The judge asked the ALDF to submit a motion for attorneys fees with supporting documentation and SMZ will have 21 days to respond to the motion. The judge is expected to rule on some of the ALDF’s requests after today’s hearing.

1/8/2021 Court documents:

Download PDF • 196KB

1/8/2021 Proposed order:

Download PDF • 126KB


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