MANCHESTER, Iowa — A former owner of a now-shuttered Manchester roadside zoo testified Tuesday that some animals were left behind by rescuers during a court-ordered animal removal operation.
Pamela Sellner testified during the fourth day of a virtual hearing in a contempt case against her and her husband, Tom, who are the former owners of Cricket Hollow Animal Park.
Sellner said she found animals in buildings after animal rescue groups left the zoo on Dec. 9, 2019 — including animals found when those groups returned three days later. She also testified that rescuers were using an outdated inventory list while reporting animals as “missing” during the initial rescue.
“Maybe they took what they could, but they didn’t take everything,” Sellner said of the first visit by the rescue groups. “... They were using an inventory that wasn’t current, and some of it was just their guesses. I don’t know what they were thinking.”
The animal rescue and zoo closure were ordered by Iowa District Court Judge Monica Wittig after a six-day civil trial in October 2019. Hundreds of animals were removed from the facility after the judge found their living conditions to be “deplorable.”
The plaintiffs, assisted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, allege that the Sellners violated the court order by removing animals from their property prior to rescue operations.
Sellner testified Tuesday that she sold or transferred some animals after the civil trial but before the court order was issued. She gave plaintiff attorneys records of these sales and transfers after being served a subpoena in October 2020.
Included in the paperwork Sellner turned over was a document recording the transfer of multiple animals from Sellner to her friend, Deb Virchow, who testified last week. Both women testified the document was not falsified.
Mark Songer, a forensic document examiner, testified Tuesday as an expert witness that Virchow’s signature on the animal transfer document did not match other Virchow signatures he studied, including one on a letter to plaintiff attorneys.
“There’s a strong possibility that the questioned signature was not prepared by Mrs. Virchow,” Songer said. “... If I were going to put a numeric value to it, I would say like an 85 percent.”
Sellner was initially served a subpoena for animal sale and transfer documents during the Dec. 9, 2019, rescue visit, with documents due by that afternoon. Sellner said she did not comply with that subpoena because she was told she was allowed more time to prepare documents.
“I said, ‘I don’t have them all prepared, and I’m not gonna waste my day putting them together, and my attorney said I didn’t have to get them together that day,’” Sellner said.
Sellner also said she was angry when animal rescuers came to the zoo that first time.
“It was a very sad day to think all the deceit and ignorance of your group could destroy people’s businesses and livelihoods,” she said. “I spent my entire life putting that together for children, and you stole it.”
Attorneys have the next week to submit closing arguments through documents. Wittig said she plans to have a decision made in the contempt case in the next few weeks.