by Carla Knapp
Logansport got an introduction Wednesday night to the world of exotic animals when Joe Schreibvogel, known on stage as “Joe Exotic,” performed the first of five live shows at the Logansport Mall.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, meanwhile, is hoping to bring Schreibvogel’s performing days to an end, not only in Logansport but across the country.
PETA spokesperson Lisa Wathne said that Schreibvogel, who owns G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Oklahoma, has been on the organization’s watch list for years.
“We get more complaints about G.W. Exotics and their traveling animal show than almost any other show in the country,” said Wathne.
Wathne said the majority of the complaints PETA had received came from people who had attended Schreibvogel’s traveling show and felt the animals were being mistreated. She said that PETA’s investigations “found the animals, at home and on the road, were really being exposed to miserable conditions.”
Wathne said she has sent information packets to city officials and mall operators in the towns where Schreibvogel will be performing, including Logansport.
Mayor Mike Fincher was one of several people who received the packet several weeks ago. He said he conducted his own background check on Schreibvogel, but found little disparaging information.
“We investigated, we called the USDA, we called the previous shopping center where this outfit was in New Mexico and they had nothing but raving reviews,” said Fincher. “According to the people I’ve talked to, they’re very professional and very clean. The USDA said that after an investigation, there were no infractions. I found no reason to keep them from coming.”
The packets include information about an incident in January in San Angelo, Texas, where a woman was injured while interacting with a tiger cub at a show.
Also included in those packets are documents from the USDA describing citations, most of which occurred before 2004, for poor facility maintenance, animal handling and living conditions. The documents state that Schreibvogel was fined $25,000 by the USDA for those violations and placed on 18 months’ probation.
Schreibvogel, who travels the country year around, acknowledged paying the fine, but he said it was for fences at his park in Oklahoma that didn’t meet minimum height requirements for animal enclosures. He added that he had faced no criminal charges.
“If I had done something wrong, they would have taken my license away and shut me down,” said Schreibvogel, who started the traveling show after his brother was killed by a drunken driver. “I get very offended and very sick of defending my name and my brother’s name because of PETA.”
Schreibvogel said he operates the animal park in Oklahoma as a rescue facility for exotic animals surrendered by private citizens who buy them as pets only to discover they cannot adequately care for them. He takes the animals on the road both to educate the public and to fund the animal park, a nonprofit corporation.
Wathne said PETA’s goal was to stop traveling shows like Schreibvogel’s, and the organization is encouraging the city of Logansport to enact legislation to prohibit such displays in the future.
Fincher, however, said he sees no reason to disallow the show.
“We fulfilled our obligation and did our due diligence,” said Fincher. “Whether I agree with them or not, they’ve broken no laws and I felt we couldn’t stand in the way of the mall having an attraction.”
Carla Knapp can be contacted at (574) 732-5150 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org