[b]Jackson animals found to be fit[/b] SCOTT STEEPLETON, NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER January 18, 2006 12:00 AM The animals at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch zoo are not being mistreated, according to a federal agency that inspected the menagerie after a complaint by an animal rights group. On Tuesday, Darby Holladay, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the News-Press that claims of cruelty by the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were unfounded. “Whoever files a complaint, we usually send someone out to check out the situation as quickly as possible,” said Mr. Holladay. “PETA filed their complaint on Dec. 19. On the morning of the 21st, one of the animal care veterinarians went on-site and determined that the animals were in good health.” The zoo at Mr. Jackson’s 2,600-acre ranch off Figueroa Mountain Road in Los Olivos has been home to elephants, giraffes, snakes, orangutans, tigers and a crocodile. Recent reports in European media and in tabloids allege the animals are being kept in substandard conditions. But Mr. Holladay, speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., said the federal animal care specialist who saw the animals last month reported “they did not have any problems.” The USDA decision comes as the man who oversees the zoo is asking a court to force Mr. Jackson pay some unpaid veterinarian bills. Martin Dinnes, owner of Dinnes Memorial Veterinary Hospital, said in court papers that Mr. Jackson owes $91,602, according to the Associated Press. Dr. Dinnes helped the singer acquire flamingos, giraffes, elephants and orangutans, said his lawyer, Brenton Horner. Dr. Dinnes continues to treat the animals, Mr. Horner said. A hearing was set for May 2. Lisa Wathne, PETA’s captive exotic animals specialist, told the News-Press by phone from Seattle on Tuesday that she hopes the USDA is right about its recent visit. “They said that they will not be taking any action. They said that they didn’t find any problems,” Ms. Wathne said. “I hope that these animals are being cared for.” PETA did not try to corroborate the published reports before making its complaint, said Ms. Wathne. “Because Neverland is not open to the public, it’s very difficult to get information about the place. But when we hear accusations like that — and many accusations — we have to take note,” she said. No matter what December’s visit revealed, Ms. Wathne said more should be done. “The USDA enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act, which establishes minimum standards of animal care, and I have to emphasize minimum,” said Ms. Wathne. “The USDA takes action only when the animals are dying or are in dire straits.” Mr. Jackson, 47, hasn’t been seen at Neverland since shortly after being acquitted of child molestation charges last year and apparently is setting up a new life for himself in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain. PETA has long offered to help the singer relocate his animals to accredited facilities, and in light of Mr. Jackson’s new place of residence — The Associated Press reported Tuesday that he’s also apparently negotiating a position as a consultant with a Bahrain-based company that plans to set up theme parks and music academies in the Middle East — Ms. Wathne said the offer stands. PETA isn’t waiting for an answer. Instead, the group plans to file a similar complaint with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, because a couple of the species it says are at the ranch, African elephants and orangutans, are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. “A real big problem when someone like Michael Jackson or any other celebrity owns exotic animals is it encourages members of the public to do it,” Ms. Wathne said. “They’re encouraging exotic animals as pets, and that just perpetuates the very cruel trade in exotic animals.” But Mr. Holladay, the USDA spokesman, said the facts of the visit to Mr. Jackson’s place — and any previous ones — speak for themselves. “I’m unaware of any violations of the Animal Welfare Act at Neverland,” he said. Brian Oxman, a lawyer for Mr. Jackson, welcomed the USDA’s position. “That’s very nice and we appreciate it,” he said. Source: http://www.newspress.com/Top/Article/article.jsp?Section=LOCAL&ID=564666442201563195 >>Your comments: http://community.mjeol.com/index.php?showtopic=9484

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