2013-11-26 / Front Page

Exotic Feline Rescue Center Faces IOSHA Fines For Safety Violations

Staff Report

A lioness relaxes in the sun as tourists visit the Exotic Feline Rescue Center. (News Staff File Photo) A lioness relaxes in the sun as tourists visit the Exotic Feline Rescue Center. (News Staff File Photo) An incident at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in June has turned into a major problem for the big cat sanctuary. While cleaning a tiger’s enclosure, Marissa Dub neglected to close a safety gate that separated her from the cat. News of the incident spurred an investigation by Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA).

On November 13, IOSHA issued a report which noted multiple safety violations. A total of seven “serious” violations were listed and two “knowing” violations, which imposes $69,000 in fines on the establishment.

Among the serious violations were, no training for operating heavy equipment, no drinking water available unless they brought their own or purchased it from the EFRC, no access to safety items for personal protection, no training on the use of harmful chemicals and exposure to harmful chemicals. The serious violations will cost the center $13,000 while the knowing violations will cost a bit more; a $56,000 fine for two violations. The first: structure, height, and openings of wired fencing are unsafe and operation of sliding gates where cats are kept is inhibited due to mud or ice and snow, depending on the season. Listed as the second violation: employees must enter cages for cleaning, watering, medicating, and other activities that do not have a separation between them and the cat.

Started in 1991 by Joe Taft, the sanctuary near Centerpoint houses more than 220 large cats including tigers, lions, cougars, bobcats, lynx, leopards, and other exotic cats.

“In our 23 years of operation, we have never had a problem with IOSHA,” Taft stated. “We are working with IOSHA to resolve the violations we believe to be legitimate and we will contest what we believe to be unfounded. We have an exemplary safety record and an exemplary compliance record and continue to do so.”

According to the release from IOSHA, the EFRC has 15 working days to set a meeting with investigators. At this time, a review of the violations and remedies to the problems will be discussed.

A nationally recognized leader in big cat rescue, conservation and care, Taft believes his facility to safe and knows the results of a closure.

“If it causes us to shut down, a number of the animals will have to be killed and that would be a tragedy,” said Taft, who has a close relationship with many of the animals.

IOSHA does not routinely inspect places of employment unless there is a complaint or an injury or casualty. There is not a record of a past investigation into the center.

Of the center’s 12 employees, Taft does not believe any of them feel they experience unsafe working conditions.

“If we have any employees who feel unsafe, they have not expressed their concerns to me. The lady who was injured is still employed and has been back to work for a long time. She is certainly not intimidated,” Taft added. “We value our employees quite highly.”

Although Taft could not respond directly about many of the violations, he did respond to the accusation that employees do not have access to water.

“It is really not the case. There is water available for the employees and bathrooms available for the employees,” he noted.

The $69,000 fine will make a big dent in the center’s annual operating budget of $700,000.

Taft believes his care and conservation operation houses the second largest collection of big cats in the United States.

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