View of Cricket Hollow Animal Park west of Manchester, Iowa, in October 2019. 

MANCHESTER, Iowa — Multiple people who bought or took animals from a pair of former Manchester roadside zoo owners said they did so before an Iowa District Court judge ordered the zoo closed and the animals removed.

Those witnesses spoke Friday during the third day of a virtual hearing in a contempt case against Tom and Pam Sellner, former owners of Cricket Hollow Animal Park. The plaintiffs allege that the couple violated a court order in 2019 by removing animals from their property before rescue operations could begin.

Deb Virchow, a friend of Pam Sellner, testified that Sellner gave animals to her before Judge Monica Wittig ruled to close the zoo following a six-day civil trial and ordered the Sellners to surrender their animals to animal welfare and rescue groups.

Virchow said she sold or traded some of the animals but returned sugar gliders, macaws and cockatiels to Pam Sellner on Nov. 16, 2019, before Wittig reached her ruling.

Animal welfare groups began rescue operations on Dec. 9, 2019, clearing out indoor buildings at the zoo before returning on Dec. 12 for animals being kept outside.

Robyn Dobernecker, animal welfare intervention coordinator for Animal Rescue League, said the sugar gliders and birds were among animals she found inside zoo buildings on Dec. 12. She testified that all buildings had been double-checked in the Dec. 9 rescue, so it was not possible they were missed.

“We went to every single cage and checked every single cage and removed all animals out of those cages at least twice,” she said.

Tom Sellner testified Friday that he did not know anything about the transfer of animals to Virchow or anyone else, as his wife takes care of all paperwork.

Other witnesses also testified that some of the Sellners’ animals were sold before the court order. Ted Manson, who co-owned some reptiles with Pam Sellner, said all snakes were sold before that time.

“I just remember knowing that after the first day (of the 2019 trial) when the judge visited the zoo, I and Pam both knew that no matter what happened that judge was never going to side with the zoo,” Manson said.

Wildlife exhibitor Bob Sawmiller also testified Friday that he owned bears and mountain lions removed from the Sellners’ zoo, so they were not subject to the court order.

Documents presented at the hearing show that Pam Sellner agreed to transfer animals back to Sawmilller before the court order was issued, but he did not pick them up until Dec. 4.

Sawmiller testified that he was aware of the court order when he came to pick up the animals.

“I knew what would happen when the rescuers came,” he said. “They grab everything they can get their hands on.”

The hearing will continue at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12.

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