What’s going on between Scatter Joy Acres and the Nebraska Humane Society?

By on September 12, 2020

***UPDATE (9-18-20)- the Omaha World Herald reports that the animals are being returned to Scatter Joy Acres and no charges are being filed. Read the context below, then see the paper’s story for details on the outcome here.***

If you haven’t been privy to this news story via television coverage or social media, here’s a quick summary and some further reading.

Editorial note: We’ve supported the Nebraska Humane Society BIG TIME in our eight years online here. We love the shelter. We’ve also written about Scatter Joy and can attest to its great impact on the community. No editorializing here…just facts and resources for you.

What happened?

The Nebraska Humane Society received some third-party concerns regarding animals at area zoo/sanctuary Scatter Joy Acres. Among the domestic animals (dogs, cats, camels, etc.), there were various wild animals, which the NHS confiscated upon investigation.

Citing city code, NHS took a number of animals, including one porcupine, one Coatimundi, and seven Patagonian Cavies from Scatter Joy Acres as wild animals are forbidden inside the city limits.

The shelter cites safety and law as it explains its actions. Scatter Joy Acres has maintained it is a non-profit petting zoo, which exempts it from code cited by the shelter.

What’s the controversy?

The shelter cites city code, saying the animals are wild and in the city limits. Scatter Joy says its status as a zoo exempts it from the code cited. Ultimately, the courts will decide which group is on the right side of the law.

Advocates for Scatter Joy on social media feel the shelter is overstepping and that the animals were safe, clean, and useful. Therapy sessions the animals participated in with area youths can’t be held without the animals, and a protest was organized. Parents of special needs children have expressed positive outcomes for kids who have visited the animals in question.

The shelter is concerned about safety as these are not domestic animals. In a recent Facebook post, for example, the shelter explains how dangerous a porcupine’s quills are should they be used by a spooked porcupine.

What’s a domestic animal, what’s a wild one? Can a wild one become domesticated? How is Scatter Joy different than Henry Doorly Zoo? What about the good things the animals can do, albeit as wild ones inside the city limits?

We’re not scientists or attorneys. The questions above are being asked a bunch on social media and folks feel differently about what constitutes domestic and wild and whether circumstances and environment play a part. There are good things coming from having these animals available for visitors, no doubt. Whether they’re happening legally is not so black and white.

What happens next?

There’s a hearing on Oct. 6 in Douglas County. Stay tuned for updates.

For more, read these articles from local news organizations:

WOWT: https://www.wowt.com/2020/09/08/animals-seized-from-omaha-petting-zoo-parents-to-protest/

3NewsNow: https://www.3newsnow.com/news/local-news/nebraska-humane-society-seizes-non-domestic-animals-from-scatter-joy-acres

KIOS: https://www.kios.org/post/petting-zoo-prepares-legal-fight-humane-society

KETV: https://www.ketv.com/article/scatter-joy-acres-claims-humane-society-is-unlawfully-seizing-animals/33957804

Omaha.com: https://omaha.com/news/local/nebraska-humane-society-wrongly-seized-animals-omaha-rescue-says/article_569d7ef6-1009-50b9-99cd-e5dff57361c4.html

Also, read the Nebraska Humane Society’s response to the goings-on in this Facebook post:

This is in response to concerns raised about the Nebraska Humane Society’s (NHS) recent action at the Scatter Joy Acres facility. NHS Animal Control is required to investigate potential violations of city laws that deal with animals. These city laws are designed to protect both animals and the public. NHS has received numerous complaints from third-parties regarding certain animals housed at Scatter Joy Acres. In April of this year, NHS received a call from a government agency concerned about a raccoon in the children’s interactive-display at Scatter Joy Acres. This raccoon had been caught in the wild, and at Scatter Joy Acres, it was held in an unsecure enclosure. While the owner has a State of Nebraska wildlife permit, this permit does not allow for animals to be caught in the wild and placed in captivity. Scatter Joy Acres violated this by housing a captured, wild raccoon and putting it on display. NHS Animal Control officers and wildlife officials at the scene removed the raccoon from the facility. It was later appropriately released into the wild. At the same time, the officers made the owner aware that an African porcupine at the facility was in violation of city laws, and new living arrangements needed to be made for the animal. In May, NHS received another third-party call, concerned about a transport of dogs arriving at Scatter Joy Acres. Animal Control officers and an inspector from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture arrived at the facility to investigate. The owner explained that the animals would be part of its dog rescue operations. However, the facility wasn’t designated a dog rescue operation and had never applied for the required permit. Our officer informed the owner she needed to acquire a permit, thus helping her obtain a license as an animal rescue facility. In August, NHS Animal Control was again contacted by a government agency concerned about wild, non-domestic animals having contact with the public at Scatter Joy Acres. Based on evidence supplied by the government agency, an independent Court authorized a search warrant for NHS to check for non-domestic animals. The African porcupine was still located at the facility along with a Coatimundi, and seven Patagonian Cavis. All of these animals are wild, non-domestic animals and require a City of Omaha permit and an inspection of the facility to ensure the safety of the animals and the public. The owner has never applied for, nor received, the required permit and inspections. While NHS left all domestic animals at Scatter Joy Acres (e.g, camel, pig, goat, cow), the wild, non-domestic animals were removed from the property under the Court authorized search warrant. When asked about the origins of the animals, the owner told Animal Control that the animals had been purchased at an animal auction. The animals are currently in the care of professionals who are appropriately housing and caring for them. Non-domestic animals can be a danger to the public. Raccoons are known rabies carriers and have no vaccination protocol. The last coatimundi purchased in Douglas County attacked its owner and put her in the hospital. Porcupines, when startled, can defend themselves in an instant; their quills can cause serious puncture wounds. All of the species removed by NHS are wild, non-domestic animals and known to be unpredictable – the law recognizes this fact. That is why proper permitting and inspections are vital. In this case, Scatter Joy Acres did not request, nor was issued, the required permit, did not allow any inspections, and the animals were kept in violation of the law. This violation exposes the animals and the public to significant risk. Animal Control is bound to uphold the law. The animals were removed from the environment and the owner was cited.

Scatter Joy Acres and Facebook users have discussed the issue on the Acres’ page here. Like the page and follow the news as it progresses there and on Pets in Omaha. Here’s a statement from SJA:

In response to the Nebraska Humane Society statement, we certainly understand that laws exist for a reason. We have warmly enjoyed cooperation with NHS through the years.As a federally licensed private non-profit zoo, we also understand that there are cases for exemptions. Such as Chapter 6 Article IV Section 6-82 of the Omaha Municipal Code, which clearly exempts Scatter Joy Acres, as a non-profit zoo.To specifically address their accusations, the raccoon in question was an orphan that was bottle fed from infancy by a man in Iowa. When he died, his family knew the raccoon could not live in the wild, since it had never done so. The raccoon was in a secure enclosure and at no time was the public allowed to access it. They could only view it. We were in the process of assessing options for the animal, when it was seized and we received a citation. Possession of this animal is covered under our Captive Wildlife permit from the State of Nebraska.As to the porcupine and cavies, they are rodents. Chapter 6 Article I Section 6.1 of Omaha Municipal Codes lists rodents among the pet animals. This being the case and knowing we are a petting zoo exempted as mentioned previously, this should not be an issue.The referenced May incident during which animal control officers and representatives from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture arrived at Scatter Joy Acres when no one was there. During a phone conversation with our Executive Director, Joy Bartling, the NHS officer accused Joy of transporting animals without proper health certifications. The animals in question were foster dogs under the control of Nebraska Animal Loving Advocates (NALA). As such, NALA had the proper paperwork. A NALA representative spent two hours with them explaining the situation. Of the animals that NALA Rescue transported with our assistance, only a few were at Scatter Joy Acres, most were being fostered by NALA members. On the advice of the NE Department of Agriculture representative, we obtained a Nebraska Shelter license to avoid further problems. SJA has a USDA Class C Exhibitor license and a Captive Wildlife Permit, among others. To maintain these licenses, we are regularly inspected by the USDA and Nebraska Department of Agriculture to ensure that all applicable regulations are being followed and animal welfare and public safety issues and concerns are addressed.As an exempt facility under City Code, we see no reason for NHS oversight or regulation.#GiveThemBackWe look forward to NHS and the City of Omaha recognizing our status, as the State of Nebraska and US Government have already done, returning our animals, and resuming business as usual.

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