Photo: Adam Zolkover (flickr)
The Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point is facing $69,000 in fines for violating safety regulations.
Last spring, a tiger got out of its enclosure after a sliding door did not shut all the way.
Indiana Department of Labor spokesperson Bob Dittmer says when the department’s safety administration investigated the facility, it found several instances of inadequate fencing.
“The biggest concern quite frankly is the enclosures for the animals. They were found to be basically insufficient. Gates, fences, that sort of thing. We found the number of procedural issues that violated standard safety procedures that we felt should’ve been repaired and need to be repaired,” Dittmer says.
Other violations include using dangerous chemicals without supervision or training, and not providing employees access to drinking water.
Exotic Feline Rescue Center Director Joe Taft says the violations came as a surprise. He says some of the concerns seem valid, but there are many he doesn’t agree with.
“I’m very disappointed. This is certainly not what we expected. We’ve always been in compliance with all of our regulatory agencies,” Taft says. “In our 23 years of operations we have an exemplary safety record despite the incident in the spring which has been really the only incident to ever occur here.”
Taft says the fines make the center’s future uncertain since he says his budget is already very tight.
“We’re certainly concerned about the future and how this will all play out,” he says. “You know we are hoping for the best. We have a commitment to provide care for these animals. There’s no place else for them to go. We are quite literally their last resort.”
The tight budget allots $3,000 an animal a year, while most rescue facilities budget $10,000 to $15,000 annually for each animal.
IOSHA is fining the center $56,000 for “knowing” violations and $13,000 for “serious” violations, including dangerous conditions likely to cause death or physical harm to employees.
The center has 15 business days after receiving the order to ask for a conference, which could result in a reduction of penalties.
The feline rescue center could still get some of its fines reduced if it shows the state it is working to comply with regulations, but it also being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and their findings have not been released.
The facility cares for more than 200 exotic cats, the second largest collection in the U.S.