Petting zoo faces compliance issues with Department of Agriculture

Where Pigs Fly farm is facing compliance issues with the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Owner Cindy Brenneke said if she doesn't enclose all of her cats, she will have to stop charging a fee and accepting donations at her facility. (Megan Sanchez/KRCG 13)

An Osage County petting zoo owner on Wednesday said state regulations may force her to close in the next 90 days.

Cindy Brenneke owns Where Pigs Fly farm just east of Linn. Since the 62-acre compound opened in 2015, she said it has hosted animals ranging from alpacas and llamas to dogs and cats--more than 100 of them.

"These cats have a job here," she said. "They actually keep the mouse population down."

Brenneke said the United States Department of Agriculture has inspected the facility in the past. They had said dogs and cats needed to be in enclosures, but Brenneke explained that their facility is not a shelter, but a farm. The dogs and cats have a purpose on the farm, and putting them in captivity would not work. She said the USDA agreed, and she has not had any issues.

However, on September 11, the Missouri Department of Agriculture came to the facility for a scheduled pre-inspection and found "several areas that needed improvement." This included the need to enclose the cats.

"A lot of these rules just aren't making any sense to us," Brenneke said. "And so basically, if we don't get rid of the cats or enclose the cats, then they can shut down the pig museum, which this is the only pig museum in America, the thrift shop, and basically everything."

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According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Where Pigs Fly falls under the Animal Care Facilities Act for several reasons.

"Where Pigs Fly Company falls under the Animal Care Facilities Act law as an animal shelter because they are (1) taking in dogs or cats, (2) adopting out dogs or cats, and (3) harboring dogs or cats as a not-for-profit," a department spokesperson wrote in a statement. "Where Pigs Fly Company also falls underneath the Animal Care Facilities Act because they are charging a fee to interact with their cats and dogs, and remain open to the public as an exhibition. To have their cats and dogs as part of an exhibition facility, they must also meet the requirements expected under the Animal Care Facilities Act."

Department spokesperson Sami Jo Freeman said inspectors came to Where Pigs Fly because the department received "a complaint from someone who had recently been at this facility and left with concerns regarding the care of the animals."

The inspector saw the business did not have a license for an animal shelter and asked them to apply for the license required under Missouri law.

The department received the application on Aug. 22, but a license has not been issued due to issues the inspectors outlined after their visit on Sept. 11. One of those issues was cats roaming free.

Brenneke said caging them will not work.

"Keeping them in an enclosure would just be horrible for them, and anybody that works at a sheltered facility knows that keeping cats in close spaces is not healthy for cats," she said. "Any veterinarian will tell you that too. These guys have been through enough. These guys are all rescues. They don't deserve to be thrown in cages."

Freeman said Brenneke had 90 days to comply with the regulations and therefore receive her license, or, if she chooses not to comply, she will have to stop charging admission at her facility and accepting donations.

Brenneke said for her, this would mean shutting down.

"We need to be inspected like a farm would be inspected, and you would think that the Department of Agriculture of all departments in the world would realize what a farm is supposed to be like," she said. "A farm is not supposed to be cat free or dog free. Those are the animals that are on the farm, and I think that they need to just step back and say, hey this is not a shelter. This is not a breeding facility. We need to keep that in mind when we're doing our inspections."

Brenneke said Where Pigs Fly hosts people from all walks of life and from all parts of the world. She said it would be a shame to see it go. She said for senior citizens, children and people with disabilities, the cats in particular are therapeutic.

"You don't often meet cats that are this socialized," she said. "There's a reason they're socialized like this. They're not locked in cages all day. They're out with the people. They're out getting love and attention, and it makes huge difference on their attitudes and their lives."

Freeman said the department's goal is to work with people toward compliance.

"Our Animal Care Team always has worked, and will continue to work, with individuals to get their facilities into compliance with the Animal Care Facilities Act," she wrote in a statement. "Our inspection process is intended to ensure compliance with our statues and regulations and to identify areas that need improvement to reach that ultimate goal of compliance. It is not intended to put anyone out of business."

Brenneke said the department identified a few other issues with her farm. She said she is working on complying with those standards. Department staff did not immediately disclose what those other compliance issues were.

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