Missoula County officials told proprietors of an exotic animal display at the Western Montana Fair to pack up and go home Friday morning, after numerous complaints about the size of the animals’ cages were filed with local and state agencies.
The exhibit, Animal Alley, housed 18 wild animals, including foxes, lizards, a tarantula, a chinchilla and a peacock, among others. The animals were inside individual cages or aquariums – some of which were so small the animals couldn’t turn around in them.
An American alligator and a snapping turtle, for example, both sat in aquariums spanning the length of their body. Neither animal could move extensively or turn around to face another direction, explained Missoula Animal Control supervisor Jeffrey Darrah.
But he said the exhibit, run by David Stewart of New York, didn’t violate any ordinances in Missoula and the man had all the proper paperwork required by the state. Darrah and his team examined Stewart’s operation on Thursday.
“Upon inspecting the conditions, they met those requirements,” he explained. “There was nothing there that was really out of line as far as the animals being uncared for.”
“All the animals appeared to be healthy,” he said.
But many Missoulians disagreed.
Animal Control, the county fair office and Montana state veterinarian all received numerous complaints about the size of the animals’ cages.
After a meeting with Darrah and Missoula Police Sgt. Bob Bouchee, fairgrounds director Todd Garrett decided to ask Stewart to leave. However, they didn’t seize the animals because Stewart didn’t break any laws.
“If we can satisfy community members’ requests, then we will,” Garrett said. “That’s what we did today.”
Stewart will be paid through Sunday, according to his contract.
Stewart has shown the exhibit at several fairs in Montana, including Flathead County and the State Fair in Great Falls, and there were no complaints, Garrett said.
“A lot of times, it’s the community and the values and how they feel about it,” Darrah said. “You could go to another town in another state and generate no complaints.”
Stewart declined to comment about his eviction Friday morning, while he was loading the animals into his pickup truck. However, Stewart told the Missoulian on Tuesday that the animals stayed in their smaller traveling cases in the truck the entire night. Some of the smaller animals traveled in Tupperware containers with holes punctured in the plastic top.
According to county officials, Stewart hasn’t showed his display before in Missoula and he will not be invited back to the fair next year.
“We learned that animal acts are not something that the community wants and we won’t pursue those in the future,” Garrett said.