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November 19, 2013

Clay County animal refuge fined $69K for violations

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Workplace-safety regulators have fined a western Indiana animal refuge $69,000 for safety violations discovered after a tiger mauled a woman at the center in June.

Investigators with the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration found dangerous conditions at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center the agency said were “likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. The agency fined the center $56,000 for “knowing” violations and another $13,000 for “serious” violations, The Herald-Times reported.

IOSHA cited concerns with fence height, gaps in the cages and the operation of sliding gates at the refuge that houses 220 cats, mostly tigers but also lions, pumas, cougars and other exotic felines.

Owner Joe Taft, who started the animal rescue center in 1991 with just three big cats, said he stands by the safety of the center and the care it provides to unwanted and rescued exotic felines.

“In our 23-year history, we have never had a problem. Our fences are compliant with federal regulations and if you have ever been here, it should be apparent that there is no danger,” he said Tuesday, Nov. 19. “All of our employees feel safe here, even the young lady who was hurt last summer, who has been back working for quite some time.”

Marissa Dub suffered severe head, neck and vocal cord injuries in the June 21 attack at the animal refuge near Center Point in Clay County. That attack occurred after she failed to secure a sliding cage gate.

Taft said the center employs 12 people who feed the cats, administer medications and clean out cages. He has 15 working days to seek a meeting with IOSHA officials to review the safety orders issued and compromise on how to alleviate those concerns.

Taft said it costs about $3,000 per year to care for each cat and the center’s annual budget is about $700,000. He said he’s worried the fines will put the animals and the center in jeopardy.  

“We think the quality and caliber of work we do here is high. We are disappointed by this response from the state,” Taft said.

IOSHA spokesman Bob Dittmer said the agency does not routinely inspect workplaces unless there is a safety complaint or an incident that results in injury or death. He had no record of any past investigations at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues permits and licenses for exotic animal possession and launched an investigation at the center after the June tiger attack. The results of its inquiry have not been released.

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