Accomodations at Henry's Ark questioned

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By John Foster

Sandra Oxendine's granddaughter loves visiting Henry's Ark. So when Oxendine was in town from Knoxville, Tenn., on Nov. 17, the pair was excited to see deer, horses, bison and maybe even a yak or capybara at the free private zoo on Rose Island Road just inside Oldham County.

They'd always enjoyed their trips in the past, but this time, they were shocked by what they saw.

Oxendine said her family saw gerbils and rabbits caged without food and water, a bony horse that struggled to walk and an ill-looking camel that couldn't even get up. One deer looked like it had ulcers on its horns. All this was in muddy premises, she said.

"Animals have feelings like humans," Oxendine said. "It just really hurts me when animals are neglected."

Oxendine is one to call when she thinks her neighbors' dogs are being left out in too hot or too cold of weather or anytime she thinks animals are being neglected, she said.

She filed a complaint with Oldham County Animal Control before the close of business Nov. 17. She was told animal control officers would investigate first thing Monday morning, but she said she worried some animals might not make it through the weekend.

Barbara Rosenman, director of Oldham County Animal Control, said she visited Henry's Ark the following Monday, where she found an old, arthritic camel and a sick horse and dog. All animals at the zoo had access to food and water, she said. The rabbits and guinea pigs were bright-eyed and glossy-coated. Both conditions deteriorate quickly if the animals are not cared for, she said.

All of the animals are under the care of a veterinarian.

Henry's Ark meets regulations required by the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Rosenman said.

The guidelines stipulate animals must have access to food and water, shelter must be provided for animals requiring shelter and veterinary care must be provided to prevent suffering.

Henry's Ark Director Penny Schaefer said Oxendine's complaint isn't the first. The zoo hosts 40,000 to 60,000 visitors a year and a handful of visitors complain about conditions.

People come out expecting a zoo, and find a farm, she said. And as a farm, sometimes it gets muddy. Sometimes the geese are cranky. Sometimes it smells bad.

Not all of the animals are young, strapping specimens you'd see in a metropolitan zoo, either. Many are rescued from people who didn't want them anymore.

"They are not prize animals, they are not beautiful either," Schaefer said, "but this is home and the place they get to spend the rest of their days."

She said people have suggested she euthanize some of the older animals, such as Lady Di - a camel more than 30 years old.

She likens the complaints to visiting a nursing home and suggesting the same for elderly people who aren't as healthy and beautiful as they once were.

"It's just crazy," Schaefer said.

She said the time might come to euthanize Lady Di, but that time is not now, when she can still stand and move around occasionally.

"It may not be pretty when she runs, but she will get up and run," Schaefer said.

A horse and dog that Oxendine complained about are also older animals, but under a vet's care, she said. The horse is wormed every three months and has its hooves trimmed every six weeks. It is not neglected, she said.

As for the deer's antlers, Schaefer said they form strangely after a buck is castrated. Sure, sometimes, it may be injured and bleed, but letting it bleed is less dangerous than the side effects of a tranquilizer dart, she said.

Rosenman, who is certified to conduct cruelty investigations through the University of Missouri-Columbia Law Enforcement Training Institute, said Oxendine's complaint is the fourth formal complaint of neglect against Henry's Ark in the last two years. None of the complaints have resulted in citations against zoo officials, she said.

The staff at Oldham County Animal Control receives numerous complaints about neglect of animals - up to four a day in the summer - and they investigate every complaint, but most fall short of neglect. Rosenman said she wouldn't cite residents for having a bony horse that was more attractive as a filly, for keeping a malamute outside on a cold day, for having a greyhound that shows a few ribs or for a sheep standing in a muddy field.

Rosenman said what most complainants know about animals they learned at the Louisville Zoo - or from a Disney movie.

"This is people applying human standards to the care of livestock," Rosenman said.

But Oxendine, who said she learned about livestock growing up on a New York dairy farm, disagrees.

Even after reassurance from Rosenman, she said she won't take her granddaughter back to Henry's Ark.

"I really feel those animals out there are not being cared for properly," she said. "I don't care what animal control says."

Schaefer said although the complaints are occasional, it's irritating for her that visitors come to a free zoo that serves as an educational service to the community and go behind her back to complain to authorities.

Schaefer has devoted her life since 1984 to caring for animals at Henry's Ark. Schaefer starting running the farm in 2006 following the death of the zoo's namesake, Henry Wallace.

"I don't know too many people who dedicate every day of their life to taking care of animals..." Schaefer said. "I have a love for animals and it far outweighs any complaint someone has."

E-mail us about this story at: jfoster@oldhamera.com.