By Guest Blogger Kristina Snyder
In 2014, I walked into DEW [Domestic Exotic Wild] Animal Kingdom and Sanctuary (now DEW Haven) and my life was forever changed. After visiting legitimate Global Federation of Accredited Sanctuaries (GFAS) and then visiting DEW Haven in Mount Vernon Maine, I knew that this “farm with alternative livestock” as they now claim, was no sanctuary or rescue at all. It was a breeding and selling zoo with the infant animals often taken away shortly after birth to be handled by humans, and then sold around the country and indeed the entire continent. This is life in the captive exotic and wild animal trade. Animals are simply living commodities and indeed Bob Miner, co-owner of DEW Haven along with his wife Julie, made that very clear in an article published in The Kennebec Journal on February 18, 1996:
“I wanted something that would keep its monetary value, something unique that I could raise and see a profit from. I got to know quite a few people – really nice people – who dealt with exotics like me….it depends on where the market is but right now,” Miner said, “bobcats, llamas, and deer are his main commodity.”
When I found out that DEW Haven was the subject of a new Animal Planet series called Yankee Jungle which ironically had a tagline of “At This Sanctuary the Animals Are Family”; I knew what kind of harmful repercussions this show would have. Indeed, none of the animals at DEW Haven have ever been definitively proven to be a rescue via documentation or public coverage of the event common to legitimate sanctuary rescues; in fact most of the animals that reside at DEW Haven were actually born there. People would donate to DEW Haven believing they were helping endangered species and conservation efforts in the wild when in fact there is no evidence of DNA matching of pure wild species. For example the tiger cubs DEW Haven promoted in 2014 and illegally allowed the public to feed at less than two weeks old for a fee of $50 were mixed Siberian and Bengal and therefore not a pure endangered species, although they were touted as such. They are what the government and agencies that oversee backyard, roadside zoos like DEW Haven term “generic” animals. One of those cubs was euthanized because of a “congenital neurological abnormality” per USDA report. So in essence that little cub was taken from its mother, and, while sick, handled by humans for money, and then euthanized. That information was kept from the public.
Although Yankee Jungle was canceled once DEW Haven’s past violations and Bob Miner’s felony record were revealed by James West in Mother Jones in an expose released March 18, 2016 http://www.motherjones.com/media/2016/03/animal-planet-yankee-jungle-reality-canceled. Harm is still being done because the laws protecting captive animals are inadequate and the exotic animal trade continues basically unfettered
With the new wildlife in captivity proposals passed by the state of Maine, it will be harder for DEW Haven to breed as prolifically and obviously as they have before. However Julie Miner made it clear at a Department of Inland Fisheries and Wilddlife Advisory Council meeting that breeding animals is important to her revenue:
“The second part [of the proposed regulations] that concerns us is which animals we can or cannot breed – this would be affecting not only our revenue [emphasis added] but possibly our ability to work with other facilities with blood lines &/or exhibit. Also the ability to replace our own exhibit animals as others get old &/or pass.”
-Julie Miner, Advisory Council meeting minutes June 11, 2016 http://www.maine.gov/ifw/aboutus/commissioners_office/advisorycouncil/minutes/2016june.htm
Legitimate GFAS sanctuaries actually rescue animals but do not breed them. True sanctuaries certainly do not sell infant exotic animals to places like Bear Path Acres in Virginia, a facility where DEW Haven sold, as stated on their Facebook, two lion cubs in 2011 which is now indefinitely closed because of violations. They put animals first and there are sufficient funds and donations to provide proper care for their animals without having to breed new ones. There is no shortage of exotic and wild animals that need a true sanctuary and a forever home. However, Julie Miner and DEW Haven have made it clear that only baby animals will do the trick. At DEW Haven their “love” of their animal family members is selective and subjective, depending upon how large the dollar sign is and what photo ops can come from it.
Please do the responsible thing and support only legitimate GFAS sanctuaries. If you truly want to help conservation efforts donate to organizations like Panthera https://www.panthera.org/ or Born Free http://www.bornfreeusa.org/ and If you feel the need to cuddle an animal, go to your local SPCA and help one of the many homeless dogs and cats that we as a society domesticated thousands of years ago and sometimes have no compunction about abandoning.
Above all, leave the wild in the wild where it belongs and educate but don’t participate. After all, real animal lovers are people that do what is best for the animal. Let us not forget that the greatest source of humane treatment or cruelty comes from humanity itself. The choice we make speaks volumes about who we are and the values that we hold.
Kristina Snyder is an animal welfare advocate and former board member of the New Hampshire Animal Rights League. She has collaborated with organizations such as Born Free, Animal Defenders International, and Big Cat Rescue to help bring awareness to the plight of big cats and other exotics in captivity.
For more perspectives about Maine’s wildlife and other related matters, tune into a new radio program Into The Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evening from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9