GREAT FALLS — A decision by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to revoke the license of Animals Of Montana, Inc. (AMI) was affirmed in the District Court of Lewis & Clark County earlier this month.
Animals of Montana is considered a roadside menagerie, and before its permit was revoked, the company provided animals for filmmaking and photo shoots. The company owns a grizzly bear, black bears, coyotes, gray wolves, bobcats, lynxes, a Siberian lynx, a badger, red foxes, a pine marten, porcupines, fishers, and a black leopard.
FWP is responsible for licensing these types of facilities and businesses, according to an FWP news release. In 2015, FWP inspected the Animals Of Montana facility and found numerous violations, which resulted in the department filing a "notice of revocation, imposition of penalties and opportunity for hearing."
After an administrative hearing last year, FWP Director Martha Williams decided to revoke the license. Animals of Montana filed a petition for judicial review in District Court and the court supported Williams’ decision.
With the license revoked, FWP says that Animals Of Montana cannot use the animals to make money.
Animals of Montana filed a notice of appeal of the decision to the Montana Supreme Court, but on Tuesday, February 4, the court ruled: "The Court's January 25, 2016 stay is DISSOLVED. AMI's permit is REVOKED and cannot be renewed. AMI and FWP will coordinate to determine the disposition of the animals at the facility."
Their Facebook page states: "All of Animals of Montana’s animals have been with them since their eyes opened and will be with them for the rest of their lives. They are all treated with love, respect and trained with the utmost kindness and positive methods while keeping their own unique needs in mind. When visiting Animals of Montana you will be amazed how their animals actually “work your camera” rather than having to chase the animals(s) around for the footage or the photo you are after. What separates Animals of Montana from the competition is the fact that all of their animals are worked with day in and day out from just days old. They develop a special bond with their trainers which in turn eliminates misbehaving, unruly, scared animals."
Court documents filed in the case state that the permit for Animals Of Montana included the following stipulations:
- Animals may only be taken off site with authorization (and an indemnity agreement) from the Department [of FWP]. Any time the animals are taken off premises and worked outside a cage, a firearm or tranquilizer gun will be ready and available in the event the animals become violent. The owners are responsible for maintaining the appropriate types and suitable quantities of suitable tranquilizing drugs. [When animals are being used outside cages for photographic purposes], they must be under the direct control of qualified handlers and must remain within exterior fencing surrounding the facility and within an electric wire enclosure surrounding the training area. No direct contact between the public or clients is allowed with animals at any time. Animals taken off site and worked outside of their enclosures must remain with either suitable fencing approved by the Department [of FWP] or within an approved electrified barrier to which the animals is conditioner. Again, no contact with the public or with customers is allowed. Failure to comply with the terms of these conditions or other state laws or regulations regarding roadside menageries shall, in addition to any criminal penalties, be grounds for revocation of the permit.
After Animals Of Montana conducted a photoshoot in February 2015, FWP employees met with the owner, Troy Hyde. Court documents say that Hyde admitted AMI had conducted a photoshoot in the Pioneer Bar on February 1, 2015. Hyde admitted he did not have a tranquilizer gun, and AMI had not set up an electrical barrier. Hyde admitted he did not "know exactly where we were going to be or what we were going to be doing."
In November 2015, FWP inspected AMI premises and subsequently filed a "notice of revocation, imposition of penalties and opportunity for hearing" alleging twenty-five violations.
A contested case hearing was held and the hearing officer concluded that FWP had proved twenty-two of the twenty-five alleged violations3, including transporting animals outside the facility to a photoshoot for which there was no FWP authorization, using a weed-whacker to scare a tiger into moving, multiple insufficiently secure cages, unroofed cages, multiple failures to padlock cages, insufficient availability of fresh water, and multiple cases of cramped or unsanitary cages.