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Dade City's Wild Things blocks PETA officials at gates for court-ordered site inspection

Times Staff Writer

DADE CITY — Dade City's Wild Things founder Kathy Stearns refused to let People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals officials enter her facility on Thursday for a court-ordered inspection, court filings show.

The inspection was granted by a federal judge so PETA experts could observe the care and housing of 22 tigers on the property. PETA sued Wild Things in October, alleging its tiger cub encounter business, in which visitors can pay to cuddle or swim with weeks-old cubs, violates the Endangered Species Act.

A judge had granted an emergency injunction July 14, ordering Stearns not to remove any of the tigers from the zoo after PETA officials said they learned Stearns "was scheming to transfer its tigers" before the scheduled inspection.

But on Sunday, 19 tigers arrived at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma after a 1,200-mile journey on a cattle truck, entertainment director Joe Maldonado confirmed. Maldonado said a pregnant tiger gave birth during the haul and all three cubs died.

He said he did not know the whereabouts of the other three tigers cited in the court order.

The day before the inspection, Stearns' attorney William J. Cook emailed PETA legal counsel stating "Since there are no tigers at the facility, there is nothing to inspect and we will not be doing an inspection."

Cook petitioned the court on Tuesday, requesting to withdraw as Stearns attorney. Cook stated he had notified Stearns of the order for her not to remove the animals the same day it was filed.

"It is her view that she is not legally bound to do what she cannot do — show them tigers," Cook wrote on Wednesday. "She is also saying that my motion to withdraw led her to believe that the inspection was not going to happen."

On Thursday PETA filed a motion asking the judge not grant Stearns' request to delay a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Contact Tracey McManus at or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.