Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ashville Game Farm loses big cat license

Ashville Game Farm loses big cat license

 

By JIM KINNEY, The Saratogian

 

11/20/2007 Ballston Spa, NY: The owner of a Washington County zoo whose tiger scratched a 4-year-old boy at the Saratoga County Fair in 2006 is no longer permitted to own big cats, the Saratoga County District Attorney's Office said.

 

Jeffrey Ash, owner of Ashville Game Farm, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Saratoga County Court to giving the Saratoga County Fair faked insurance documents and also to not leaving enough space between the tiger and the public at the fair.

 

As a result, Ash, 54, of Greenwich, is no longer permitted to own lions, tigers or leopards, Murphy said. He'll be in court in Ballston Spa Jan. 19 for sentencing and will then have six months to remove all eight big cats from his property. He will also serve three years of probation.

 

"I just want to make sure they are going to the right home," Ash said by phone Tuesday. "We've raised them from babies."

 

The menagerie includes two African lions, tigers, mountain lions and leopard. Ash said he'll keep the business going by displaying other exotic animals that don't pose as much of a risk, like camels.

 

District Attorney James A. Murphy III said the state Department of Conservation will also investigate Ash with an eye toward possibly banning Ash from owning and displaying bears as well.

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates zoos. Ashville Game Farm has not had any enforcement action taken against it previously, said USDA spokeswoman Jessica Danielle Milteer. Inspection reports for the facility were only available through the federal Freedom of Information Law. The Saratogian has filed a FOIA request.

 

Riley Willard, now 5, was sitting on a bench at the fair in 2006 getting his picture taken with a baby kangaroo when a Bengal tiger reached through its cage and swiped at his forehead.

 

The boy needed 14 stitches.

 

Riley's family sued the fair, prompting officials there to discover that Ash provided them with a faked insurance certificate in order to bring the animals on the grounds.

Ash pleaded Tuesday to second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, a misdemeanor in satisfaction of that part of the case, Murphy said.

 

The Saratoga County Fair no longer accepts faxed insurance documents from vendors at the fair, General Manager Dick Rowland said Tuesday. A fax from an insurance company is OK initially, but must be backed up by a certified copy from the insurance company.

 

"What we do is we spot check," Rowland said. "We call the insurance company and make sure the coverage is in place."

 

The fair's insurance company settled with the Willard family for $32,500, according to papers on file at the Saratoga County Clerk's Office.

 

"Something can always go wrong," Rowland said, adding that the tiger wasn't a problem before the incident. "The rest of the week it lay in the cage and slept," he said.

 

"You wouldn't think situations like that would arise."

 

The fair wasn't the first time Ash had been in the news. In 2005 another tiger named Tehan escaped form the Ash's zoo on a rural road east of Schuylerville. The cat was recovered with out incident, but area schools kept children inside from recess.

 

"I can't believe he's still in business," Rowland said.

 

http://www.saratogian.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=19044227&BRD=1169&PAG=461&dept_id=602469&rfi=6

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