Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hey, Lady With The Wolf Petting Farm--Take A Hike

     Of all the cockamamie ideas.  Some lady from Minnesota (Terri Petter, owner of Fur-Ever-
Captive Wolf Headed For Deadwood
Good Grief, Do We Need This?
(photo from www.argusleader.com)
Wild, which should be redubbed "Fur-Ever-Confined" for the sake of truth in advertising) and her company that raises wolves wants to bring a bunch of their puppies to Deadwood, stick them in a cage--right on the main drag south of town yet!--and charge people money to pet them.  What an "attraction" like that has to do with Deadwood's image as a beautifully-preserved artifact from the old west is beyond me--and I predict that the business itself, if allowed to open, will be an epic floppola.  I don't think the lady, whose dream it is to create this affront to mother nature, did much in the way of due diligence.   If she had, she would know that Deadwood's market consists of grown-ups who basically have one thing in mind--gambling in a town with a unique historic character.  Much as Deadwood would probably love to have a family-friendly persona that's central to its civic identity, the fact is that you don't see many children romping around the city's commercial venues.  And every petting zoo I've ever seen has children in mind as the core of its business.  The idea needs a serious rethink purely on marketing grounds.

     In terms of its addition to Deadwood's overall marketing schemata, this idea also stinks at that level.  Can you imagine the public reaction if the company's Deadwood facility looks anything like the animal confinement camp the company maintains in Minnesota, pictured below?  Good grief, Deadwood, get a grip.  Widely disseminated pictures like this you don't need.  I've got interests in the tourism business, out by the Badlands, and I'll be the first to acknowledge (and thank) Deadwood for the nice boost they give to all of western South Dakota's tourism venues.  People may be destined for Deadwood, but they make plenty of stops along the way, a fact that gives all of us a stake in the fortunes of that amalgam of fun and history in "the gulch."  A confinement full of creatures taken out of their natural elements and presented to folks as cute little pettable things doesn't have much marketing appeal in this day and age, when even stalwart attractions like Sea World have to deal with widespread criticism of its confining practices. That the venerable Bear Country U.S.A. attraction in the Black Hills has managed to escape this kind of attention probably says a lot for the maintenance of a decent habitat with plenty of space for the attraction's denizens. But just 17 acres allotted for the captive wolves these people want to bring to Deadwood? Depending on breed, a wolf pack's territory can range anywhere from 38 to 1,000 square miles.  
     You don't have to be an animal rights activist to recoil at the prospect of these wide ranging animals confined to just a few measly acres so people can pet them for profit.  Petter
Terri Petter's Facility In Minnesota
"Don't Fence Me In"
(photo from Rapid City Journal, 5/18/15)
and her supporters, if she has any, can justifiably point to other for-profit petting zoos in the region and could well have a case for installing theirs on that basis.  But there's more to it than that on the public-relations front.  What becomes of the wolves after their tenure as petting objects is the source of much controversy, which is well-detailed by Cory Heidelberger in his Dakota Free Press blog as well as the Rapid City Journal article linked at the beginning of this post.  If these animals are killed and skinned after their useful lives in a petting zoo are over, as critics contend, then the whole project is utterly abominable. Owner Terri Petter calls these allegations "lies" and told the RCJ that "the accusations are ridiculous." I think Heidelberger makes a pretty good case that they are neither "lies" nor "ridiculous," and I look forward to seeing a point-by-point refutation by Petter when public hearings about this are held in Pierre tomorrow by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board.

     Whether or not the "front for a fur farm" label is justified, Deadwood officials and business types should give the prospect of this facility a hard look.  For a city that depends on image as the core of its marketing program, an attention-getting, controversy-creating blot like this can only be a harm.  And if it harms Deadwood, it harms the whole tourism industry out here.  Legal grounds for the petting zoo may well exist, but the sideshow that comes with it will be unpleasant, distracting, and likely to tarnish the area's reputation.  Just look at what's happened to Sea World and its investors since the  controversy over its captive whales has erupted. The company lost $25 million during the fourth quarter of 2014 and its stock is down by a third during the past 12 months. My abhorrence of this as an animal lover notwithstanding, my instincts and experience as an entrepeneur sense trouble ahead for business. Based on what's happening at Sea World, I'd say it has all the makings of a potential public-relations catastrophe.  
     We don't need it, Ms. Petter--please take a hike

Addendum:  added 5/20 @1810 hrs: South Dakota regulators (the Animal Industry Board) today gave Petter a permit to set up her confinement but denied her application to make it a petting zoo on advice from a state veterinarian who cautioned against human contact with these animals. Petter calls this "great news" and claims "we can still educate," which is "what we wanted to do all along."  The AIB refused to listen to any testimony about how Petter's organization maintains its facility in Minnesota. Here are some recent TripAdvisor reviews about the Minnesota facility.   Here's the AP story on today's hearing.


  1. The Black Hills once had such an abomination--the Hill City Zoo. It's long gone thank goodness, and we don't need this kind of thing again. I'm surprised that she is still allowed to operate in Minnesota.

  2. Why is she moving to South Dakota? Could it be the intense legal brouhaha she is currently embroiled in back in Minnesota? Could it be she is hoping to put it over on us naieve Black Hillsbillies? Take a hike, toots.

  3. Thank you for this well written and descriptive article. We teach our children not to pick up animal babies that are around us in the wild and then a business like this moves in and wants these wild animals petted . . .really? What is the message? On top of that, they are caged in a small area and they pace . . .anxiety issues in animals and this business presents this as educational? Bah humbug!! This is teaching ignorant values . . thank you, again, for staying on top of this.

  4. Here's todays verdict: http://www.startribune.com/sd-regulators-allow-wolf-cubs-fox-kits-at-wildlife-center/304479141/

    If she just wanted to "educate" us then why is her business here the one listed under the fur license when she owns a non-profit that's all about education?

    1. I enclosed your article's url in the addendum to my post above so readers can link directly to it. Thanks.

  5. Once again, state government bureaus and commissions fail the public will. The Animal Industry Board has been an enormous disappointment for decades and they will continue to be so until a concerned public demands that reforms in policy and structure of the board are implemented. Case in point........ What has this board done to prevent or even curtail the spread of H5N2. The virus that the public, veterinary, and wildlife management community were well aware of more than 5 years ago! What did this board do to prevent or curtail the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in captive cervids before that disease spread into wild herds in the Black Hills. This board is impotent and in place only to protect the livestock industry. It has no interest or qualification to regulate anything but cattle and sheep.

  6. Yet she butchers wolf pups for their hides when they're too old for people to do 'pet and plays' them.
    It's a fur farm disguised as a 'educational' facility. Plain and simple.

  7. The link to the Star Tribune posting about the AIB meeting seems to be broken. I suppose it might have just been the AP posting that's still around on several sites including http://www.kdlt.com/news/local-news/SD-Regulators-Allow-Wolf-Cubs-Fox-Kits-At-Wildlife-Center/33132498