Animal welfare group appeals to GuZoo to hand over lion with broken tooth

Calgary-02/03/00-Lynn Gustafson, owner of GuZoo near Three Hills, with a lion cub on his lap in 2000 as Sassy the basset hound gets a closer look.

Photograph by: Chris Relke, Calgary Herald

By Jen Gerson, Calgary Herald October 27, 2011

CALGARY — An animal advocacy group has offered to pay to repair the teeth of a lion at the controversial GuZoo — as long as its owner surrenders the creature to the Alberta SPCA.

Bill Gustafson, who helps his father run the attraction near Three Hills, said the zoo will not be taking the group up on its offer.

“The dumb thing is that this lion probably would have lived out its days quite happily,” Gustafson said. “He broke a canine tooth two or three years ago now and has been living and eating happily.”

Gustafson said the lion probably wouldn’t survive the surgery as it is too old.

The Council of Concerned Albertans for Animal Welfare and Public Safety (CAAWPS) sent the zoo owners a letter on Wednesday.

“We are very concerned that due to finances and to avoid further involvement from the SPCA (and potential charges), you will have no choice but to euthanize (the lion),” the letter says.

The Gustafsons were ordered to decommission their private zoo in June after the provincial government found a list of deficiencies involving improper paperwork and confinement.

The Gustafsons shot back with a request for a judicial review. A judge is expected to hear the case in late January.

In addition to the lion, CAAWPS listed several other concerns in a second letter released to the media.

Among them, the group alleges the farm-zoo gave away piglets and received parrots contrary to a government order.

Dave Ealey, a spokesman with Alberta Fish and Wildlife, said officials were looking into the claims.

“The court order is around whether or not animals are allowed to move in or out without authorization,” he said. “It’s not a no movement at all situation. It’s something where they need to be informing us about movement.”

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GuZoo to remain open after deal reached with Alberta government

CALGARY – A long-awaited judicial hearing to determine the future of a controversial roadside zoo has been put over indefinitely.

While the deal struck between the province and the zoo’s owners to adjourn the hearing means that GuZoo near Three Hills can remain open, the owner says he isn’t entirely happy.

“Hell no,” Lynn Gustafson said Thursday. “I want my day in court. I wanted to show that government can’t just walk all over people. Even a murderer gets an appeal, so this is wrong.

“Now, who knows when I will get that chance.”

After a years-long battle, Gustafson was ordered to decommission the private Central Alberta zoo in June after the provincial government found a list of deficiencies involving improper paperwork and confinement. The Gustafsons shot back with a request for a judicial review.

A judge was expected to hear the case Jan. 31.

On Thursday the government announced the adjournment, saying the zoo, home to roughly 400 animals, can continue to operate.

“The lawyers have determined there is still information to be exchanged and details to sort out,” said Dave Ealey, a spokesman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.

He said the zoo, which is closed for the winter, will have to follow court-ordered conditions to ensure visitors and animals in the zoo have no contact and the animals are well cared for, Ealey said, adding there are 15 “significant” conditions imposed.

“There’s been no alternative date set,” said Ealey, adding the case is “awkward” and “a complicated legal procedure.”

He said SPCA officials are in contact with zoo owners.

“We don’t have someone out there with a stethoscope daily, but our guys say the SPCA is in regular contact with (Gustafson).”

Animal rights activists are hopeful the adjournment means the province is moving closer to shutting the zoo down for good.

“I am not sure why this is taking so long,” said R.J. Bailot, a spokesman for Zoocheck Canada. “We have already seen enough good reason for government to revoke his permit. I don’t know what more has to happen.”

Gustafson said he is growing weary of the battle.

“All that this harping has done has cost people money and eaten up my kids’ inheritance,” he said. “The animals are fine. If they weren’t healthy, they never would have lived this long.”

Gustafson said he closed the attraction Nov. 1 for the winter for the first time in the zoo’s 20-year history “mostly to keep the crazies out,” but is allowing visits by appointment and by pass holders.

Times have been tough since June, Gustafson said, noting he was “forced” by the government’s “strict” conditions to cull many of his domestic animals to feed some of the other zoo animals.

“There were extra horses, a herd of about 20 Highland cows that were unique and kind of fun to have around and five or six white-tailed deer that we had to butcher,” said Gustafson. “We had to keep slaughtering them off to feed the carnivores: the lions, tigers, wolves and a cougar.”

The cull continued from June to September until the government allowed the zoo to feed the animals road kill once again and live chickens, he said.

Gustafson expects to reopen the attraction in the spring if a hearing isn’t held before then.

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