When Louisiana SPCA director Laura Maloney entered Edwin McHardy "Mac" Stoutz's Uptown home in early February, she encountered a scene she calls heartbreaking: three baby primates; three kinkajous (raccoon-like mammals native to Central and South America), two reptiles and 28 tiny marsupials called sugar gliders, kept in what Maloney describes as squalid, too-small cages. Another sugar glider was dead and many animals were dehydrated or simply scared, she says. "It was a very sad situation."
Police, tipped off that the house contained exotic animals that are illegal in Orleans Parish, obtained a search warrant and confiscated 36 live creatures and one dead animal Feb. 7 from the house at 2 Versailles Blvd. belonging to Stoutz' father, attorney Edwin A. Stoutz Jr. Present at the raid were Maloney and her husband, Dan Maloney, general curator of the Audubon Zoo. Several zoo workers were on hand to remove the creatures.
Also confiscated were Stoutz' business cards and a sale board listing the prices for exotics. Among the animals seized was a caiman, a South American reptile similar to an alligator, and a crocodilian reptile that the SPCA says may be an endangered species. Stephen Clark, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is investigating that charge. Mac Stoutz was issued a citation for cruelty to animals, keeping wild or exotic animals as pets, and keeping animals in unclean conditions.
Clif Stoutz, Mac Stoutz' brother and attorney, disputes Maloney's version of the animals' condition. "She's putting so much bad info out there," he says, adding that the animals were in transit and therefore kept in travel kennels. Furthermore, he adds, his brother, whose business card describes him as a "broker, caregiver (and) transporter of exotic animals," just hadn't had time to clean out the cages as he had planned. And the crocodilian reptile in question is not endangered, he says, but is "a Siamese crocodile, which is legal to possess."
In a report on the sugar gliders, a zoo veterinarian determined that three were severely malnourished. "I'm skeptical about anything the zoo has to say at this point," Clif Stoutz says. "They put so much information out there to make us look bad." He points out that a second sugar glider had died while in the zoo's care. "It's like having a litter of puppies; some of them die," he says. "They weren't being treated cruelly. They weren't in bad conditions."
He believes Laura Maloney and Dan Maloney were acting not out of concern for animal welfare, but out of greed. "If [Laura Maloney] places them in the zoo, her husband takes control of them," he says. "They take them from the owner, and if they're worth something they can sell them. ... [T]hat's $20,000 worth of animals that the zoo or SPCA can get their hands on."
Both Maloneys admit they wanted the zoo to take custody of the exotics, but deny it's for the reasons outlined by Stoutz. "First of all, it's irrelevant that we're married," Dan Maloney says. "We try to give any animal welfare group a hand when dealing with exotics." Secondly, he says, "none of the animals that were brought to us were valuable to zoos. The welfare of the animals was our main concern. We were going to place those animals at our own expense to a sanctuary; no money would have changed hands.
"Stoutz is accusing everybody else of wanting money for the animals, and none of us wanted money for them," he says. "There seems to be only one party in all this who wants money for those animals."
In court the following week,
Magistrate Judge Anthony Russo turned the animals over to Stoutz' boss, Cheryl Morgan, a Lakeview resident who deals in exotic animals. Morgan owns land in Texas, where it's legal to keep such animals. She and Clif Stoutz say the creatures were legally hers, and were en route to her south-central Texas ranch when they were intercepted.
"The thing before me was a motion to quash the search warrant," Russo says. "The only thing the defendant wanted was to get the animals back to Texas as soon as possible. The city attorney said, 'I agree, we don't have anything to gain by holding them, but that does not mean we are not pursuing the charges.' And everyone understood that, and everyone agreed -- let's just return the animals and at least that's one thing out of the way." Russo says the fate of the animals took up the hearing, and the search warrant was not addressed.
Assistant City Attorney Jerry Archer, asked that morning to handle the case, recalls he was puzzled upon learning the search warrant had been obtained from the district attorney's office and not the city attorney's office. "The warrant was, in my opinion, defective ... it did not specify what statute was violated," says Archer.
"Rather than have the warrant quashed and have no hope at trial level in municipal court, the judge indicated he wanted to return the animals to their rightful owner," Archer says. "If the warrant fails and the evidence is not admissible, then the property has to go back as long as it's not contraband." Because Stoutz is listed on Cheryl Morgan's U.S. Department of Agriculture license as a registered agent, he could legally transport the animals -- though not in Orleans Parish, according to Archer.
At the hearing, Judge Russo didn't see documents proving Morgan owned the animals, but says no one contested her ownership. Nor did anyone challenge the suitability of Morgan's ranch as a home for the animals. Russo says he viewed "a photo album with a layout of the wildlife preserve that she has in Texas" and deemed it acceptable.
In what both sides describe as a heated meeting, the Stoutzes and Morgan picked up the exotics from the zoo the next day. Clif Stoutz says they then took the animals to a veterinarian to obtain health certificates, as per court order, before leaving for Texas. Morgan says the creatures, all bred in captivity, will either be sold or will restock her animal collection.
Russo's order caused backlash -- first by the Maloneys, who argued that an animal-welfare agent should have been present during the hearing -- and later by animal activists and the media, who blasted Archer for failing to ask a zoo or SPCA official to appear at the hearing. Also under fire were City Attorney Charles Rice for supporting that decision, and Russo for sending the animals to Texas without first hearing testimony from an animal advocate.
Russo argues it was the city attorney's job, not his, to call witnesses -- and that the case belonged in a municipal courtroom anyway, not a state court. He says he had assumed an animal welfare agent would be present.
Grumbling among animal activists that Stoutz may have received favorable treatment in court because of family connections -- his father is a well-known attorney and his mother, Michie Bissell, is a former Regional Transit Authority administrator and Mayor Nagin's appointee to the city Human Relations Advisory Commission -- are "an insult to myself and to the entire judicial system," says Clif Stoutz.
"All parties were present. How can we get favorable treatment when the DA is present and the city attorney is present?" he asks. "They just don't like it when things don't go their way."
The SPCA might be happier with
the outcome of the case had there been a less problematic search warrant, says Archer. "The confusion of the jurisdictions between the state and the city -- the line was blurred, and that's what created the problems of the validity of the warrant. So it was more of a legal issue than a humane issue as far as I'm concerned," Archer says.
Laura Maloney says the SPCA plans to work more closely with the New Orleans Police Department from now on. "This kind of case is unusual," she says. "[City Attorney Rice] apologized and said he'd definitely work with us in the future."
Dan Maloney just wishes he'd had the chance to testify. "I think Judge Russo didn't know anything about the possible cruelty charges; he didn't know about the potential that there was endangered species, and he wasn't told anything about the potential for public health risks," he says, specifying that "Old World" and "New World" primates -- which should be housed separately to prevent the transmission of diseases that can be passed to humans -- were found together in Stoutz' home.
Russo says that "the only allegation I think the city had made, insofar as the cruelty issue goes, was the cages may have been smaller than they required. Ms. Morgan was stressing how much each one of these animals costs, and she said they're very expensive and she is certainly not going to do anything to mistreat them because of the cost factor."
Archer says that because the hearing was held to examine the search warrant -- not the treatment of the animals -- everything that occurred in court was legally sound, including the decision not to call testimony from animal advocates. "Nowhere on any documents that I saw was anyone listed from the SPCA," he says. "As far as I'm concerned, if they're not a witness, they have nothing to add except emotional input."
The confiscation was the second time animals have been taken from Stoutz. More than a dozen creatures including kinkajous, marmosets, primates such as lemurs and tamarins, and other exotics were seized from his father's Fontainebleau-area house last August. Those, too, were sent to Morgan's Texas ranch.
Stoutz is scheduled to appear in municipal court March 27 to answer to the three municipal animal-related charges. Another city attorney, Joseph Landry, will handle that case, Archer says.
"The owner of the residence (Stoutz's father) has assured me anyway that his house would no longer be used to house any sort of animals except pets," Archer says. "And if it does happen again, I would urge the SPCA to bring their request for a warrant to someone in the city attorney's office." Morgan also says she plans to find an alternate place to keep the animals when they are being transported through Louisiana.
In what kind of home are the
animals now? On that point, too, there is sharp disagreement. "Judge Russo was making the best judgment he could on information that was provided for him, but he refers to her place as a 'wildlife refuge' in Texas," says Dan Maloney. "That's a mistake. Even the most generous stretch of definition would not qualify her place as a wildlife refuge. She's not looking to provide sanctuary for animals. That's not what she does."
Texas does not ban exotic animals for private ownership, but requires them to be registered. For this reason, breeders, dealers, roadside zoos, private collections and hunting ranches stocked with exotic game have proliferated throughout the state.
Morgan's Web site touting her Beeville, Texas ranch, Exotic Animal Co., promises potential buyers that "if you are looking to buy an exotic animal of any sort you have come to the right place! ... She will find the exotic animal you are looking for within her own collection or through her contacts. If the exotic you are looking for is out there to be had, Cheryl Morgan will find it for you!" Morgan has sold animals to be used in movies, commercials, zoos and print ads, the site says.
"I sell exotic animals, which is perfectly legal," Morgan says. "I have a USDA Class C exhibitor's license; it's the highest license that you can get, which means you can do anything with that license. You can buy, sell, sell for profit."
She says the SPCA and Audubon Zoo were acting out of elitism -- not wanting exotics to live anywhere but in facilities accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), as Audubon is. "AZA zoos just do not like people owning exotic animals, point-blank. It's one of their things," Morgan says. "The SPCA gets to have their animals every which way but loose; the zoos have their animals in a little mobile they take every which way. How are they allowed to do that, and I'm not?"
According to USDA regulations, a Class C licensee "may buy and sell animals as a minor part of the business in order to maintain or add to his animal collection." Says Dan Maloney: "You're not supposed to sell animals with a Class C (license) for pets; it's not supposed to be a commercial venture."
Asked if she wouldn't better fit a Class B category meeting the definition of a dealer "whose business includes the purchase and/or resale of any animal," Morgan says the USDA itself determined which license she should hold. "This is the one they decided to put me under," Morgan says, noting that it's the same class as the license held by the Audubon Zoo. A USDA spokesman did not return calls for comment.
USDA-licensed facilities are subject to periodic, unannounced inspections. The last available inspection report of Morgan's ranch, dated May 2002, found six violations including an injured capuchin monkey in need of immediate veterinary care, no records available for inspection, and inadequate shelters for primates. Morgan says all the violations have been corrected, and the records violations were due to an employee not knowing where the documents were kept. "Ask [the Audubon Zoo] to show you their paperwork," she says. "I bet there's 10 pages of things they have to correct."
The zoo's latest available inspection report from May of 2001 also shows six violations, including drainage problems, walls and ceilings that needed re-sealing, and a need for another nutria shelter. "The difference is, our violations are for drainage or poor surfaces, which are a big deal to the USDA. I don't think we've ever been cited for the condition of an animal since I've been general curator," Dan Maloney says.
"It would be laughable that Cheryl Miller would think that our inspections would be the same as hers. Her facility has very little in common with us, other that there are live animals there," he says, adding, "She represents everything we try to discourage."
Out in the wild, monkeys engage in behaviors that most people wouldn't want to have in their homes. They fling feces and play aggressively on whatever structures are available. When they get bored, they like to destroy things.
Many people don't realize that monkeys will maintain that behavior in captivity even with diligent training, says April Truitt, director of the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, Ky. Plus, primates who reach sexual maturity often become violent, she says.
"Baby monkeys cost between $3,000 and $6,000," Truitt says, "and exactly three years from today are going to be worth nothing. And some poor fool out there is going to be begging someone like me to take this animal off their hands, this formerly beloved pet who is now biting the hell out of everybody."
How does a person provide a good home for an exotic animal? If you listen to Dan Maloney, it takes a lot of time, space, money, specialized knowledge, guaranteed veterinary care and the commitment to ensure the animal is well maintained throughout its lifespan, regardless of what happens to the owner. Maloney doesn't think most people have what it takes to keep exotics.
"Where those animals end up should be a concern for everyone, and it's hard to imagine that everyone (selling exotics) is as concerned as the AZA-accredited facilities as to where the animals end up," says Maloney, who says the zoo has a rigorous screening process for any potential new home for an animal in its care.
"So many (exotic) animals have such peculiar dietary requirements and some have behavioral requirements that are difficult for individuals to provide. It's not impossible, but it's extremely difficult and it's a much greater commitment than a dog, cat, even a ferret," he says. "It's a different level of commitment that most people don't really understand, and they don't have the training and resources."
The American Veterinary Medical Association echoes Maloney's opinion. "Exotic animals and wildlife ... do not make good pets," the AVMA warns on its Web site. "They can be dangerous. It is illegal to buy or keep them in most states. Owning a young, exotic animal can be a passing fancy. As the animal matures, it can become aggressive and probably will be unhappy in captivity."
But Morgan disagrees, saying she's sold exotics to plenty of good homes. "They're quite expensive animals, and everybody I've sold an animal to contacts me constantly. They call back if they have problems, and need to know if they're doing something different and how to handle a problem -- I still talk to people I sold animals to 20 years ago."
She also takes issue with the notion that a person has to be formally educated in order to be a good caretaker to exotics. "I worked for the SPCA; they trained me somewhat; just owning (exotics) yourself -- that's pretty good training. I've owned two zoos in Texas; I've done classes on captures and things like that; drugs, how to put them down, how to keep them safe, how to move them. I belong to the International Society of Zoo Culturists; I belong to the Simian Society. I get continuing education to make sure I get new and updated information constantly."
The same goes for Mac Stoutz, says his brother. "He's an expert. He's been fooling with animals since he was 12 years old; he's not some fly-by-night animal keeper," Clif Stoutz says. "What better experience do you have then getting out in the world? Classrooms can't teach you what he has learned from experience."
Many people do, however, eventually surrender their exotic pets to humane societies, sanctuaries and zoos. Dan Maloney says that in the four zoos where he's worked throughout his career, he's had exotic pets literally dumped over the fence. Most were victims of poor diets and habitats, says Maloney, who estimates that the Audubon Zoo fields about two dozen phone calls per year from people seeking monkeys as pets -- and about the same number of calls from people wanting to get rid of their pet monkeys.
These concerns have prompted Maloney to work with the AZA to help establish better federal standards for facilities that keep animals, and to rein in the exotic animal trade, which he says exploded in the last decade with the advent of the Internet. He may get some help in Congress; a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate in January would make it a crime to sell some of the more extreme exotics -- wildcats -- across state lines. Bill sponsors say pet lions, tigers, cougars, cheetahs, leopards and other wildcats have abounded in recent years.
"There are hundreds and hundreds of other small, and in some cases, not very well-run facilities, and some of these facilities are simply clearinghouses for selling and buying exotic animals," Maloney says.
Truitt says she sees the results in her sanctuary, which is full of former pets. "It's very frustrating for folks like me who take on the responsibility of taking care of the castoffs of this trade," she says. "It's a terrible problem. But there's a lot of money to be made."