Rabbit Raisers Defeat USDA, Won’t Pay Any Fines!

Remember back in May when I reported disturbing news about John and Judy Dollarhite facing $4 million in USDA fines for selling too many bunnies?   That news was followed by a dozen and a half posts about federal agents bullying the Nixa, Mo., couple as well as several others across the country — even magicians who pull rabbits out of hats!  Well, there’s finally some good news to report about this case.

On their Facebook page, USDA Bunny Tyranny of the Dollarhite Family, the Dollarhites announced victory Tuesday night:

“We have a signed settlement with USDA. It isn’t everything we had hoped for because there wasn’t an apology included for all the nightmares we have endured these several months. There is no fine. They stipulated a 2 year ban on obtaining a USDA license, which we never wanted, nor can I ever envision us wanting anything to do with USDA. Thanks to: Clair McCaskill and her office staff, Glen Chambers (Roy Blunt’s chief of staff), and Billy Long for their tenacity and support in getting us to this point. Thank you to Clay Bowler for breaking the story, Bob McCarty for picking it up from there, Dr. Gina Louden (internet radio host), Beth Ann with the Common Sense Coalition Radio, Dave Gahary (internet radio host and journalist), Donna Osborn (editor of Christian County Headliner) Trent Loose, Super Dave (internet radio host). In addition to the former list; thank you, thank you, thank you to our friends and even total strangers that have prayed and called into legislators, USDA, and APHIS to voice your opinions on this situation. We are so thankful for all of you! Today, John and I celebrate 24 years of marriage. This is an anniversary we’ll remember always. Most of all, we give glory to our Lord and Savior for His strength and guidance.”

I take this as a sign that out-of-control government agencies can be brought under control when Americans band together to fight for what’s right.  And prayer helped, too!

Congratulations, John and Judy!

Roy Blunt Sides With USDA Against Missouri Man Facing Up to $4 Million in Fines for Selling Bunnies

The visual I found on the official website of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) at 9:42 a.m. Central today seems an appropriate metaphor for the way the longtime congressman-turned freshman senator and members of his staff have rushed to the aide of Nixa, Mo., resident John Dollarhite.

Two months ago, Dollarhite contacted Senator Blunt for help in fighting USDA fines of up to $4 million in fines for selling too many bunnies.  The senator replied with an electronic letter in which he said, among other things, that “Eliminating the option of humanely reducing the horse population may lead to even greater suffering on the part of these horses.”  In other words, Dollarhite said, the senator’s staffers weren’t much help and his interaction with them left him “pissed off.”

Now, fast forward to the present day, and things aren’t looking much better.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

On the Facebook group page, USDA Bunny Tyranny of the Dollarhite Family, the head of the Dollarhite household posted the following status update early this morning:

Roy Blunt is for BIG Goverment….. I called Roy’s office in Springfield & Jefferson City today. They are supportive of the USDA and I should NOT have the right to own any animals of any kind because I did not have a license…… Please protest Roy’s Offices.

A short while after reading the Facebook update, I spoke with Dollarhite by phone to hear details about the calls which left him calling for protests at the senator’s offices.  He gladly provided them.

After the folks at Senator Blunt’s Springfield office recommended he contact Elizabeth Behrouz at the senator’s Jefferson City office, Dollarhite said he did just that only to have the lady who answered his second call tell him that “Liz” was on the phone and, therefore, unavailable.

Dollarhite said he briefly tried to address his concerns to the nameless female voice on the phone but stopped after finding she was “very rude and very unfriendly” to the point that it was like she was telling him, “Well, you got what was coming to ya.”

Eventually, Dollarhite punted, saying, “I wasn’t going to sit there and argue and debate it with her.”  Instead, he left his name and number along with a request that Behrouz call him back.  A short while later, she called him.

A conversation ensued, Dollarhite said, and Behrouz told him that they could only ensure the USDA received his letters/complaints.  Supporting a constituent wasn’t on the “menu” of services.

Stunned, he said he asked the woman if she believed the USDA was overstepping their bounds in coming after him in the manner in which they have, “…and she said, ‘No!’”

“It was very evident during the phone call that they’re against me,” Dollarhite said, referring to Blunt staffers represented by Behrouz.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  I contacted Behrouz prior to writing this piece, but she refused to speak with me and, instead, referred my questions to Amber Marchand, communications director for the senator, who was not a party to the aforementioned phone call with Dollarhite.  More on that interaction shortly.

When I asked Dollarhite if he feels like a man without a senator, he didn’t answer the question directly but did get a sharpened point across: “I’m not a Democrat, but at least (U.S. Sen.) Claire McCaskill tried.

“Claire McCaskill’s camp seems to be of the position that they think it’s a bunch of bull,” he said, adding his belief that the Blunt folks “think the USDA is just” in pursuing him with threats of nearly $4 million in fines and/or a lifetime ban on owning and breeding any animals — not just rabbits.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Central today, I called Marchand at Senator Blunt’s Washington, D.C., office, was told she was unavailable and asked to send my inquiry to her by email.  At 10:14 a.m. Central, I did just that.

After providing some brief background about the Dollarhite case, I asked Marchand two questions and informed her that I had a deadline of Noon Central:

1.  What, if anything, does Senator Blunt plan to do to assist Mr. Dollarhite as he tries to avoid surrendering his Constitutional rights and maintain his freedom to be the rural landowner/farmer/animal lover that he is?

2.  Does Senator Blunt see any conflict of interest in the fact that the USDA person trying to impose such harsh penalties on Mr. Dollarhite is a former attorney for the Human Society of the United States?  See Animal Rights Activism Fuels USDA Rabbit Chase for details.

Forty-five minutes later, Marchand replied via email:  “Hey Bob, I’m in a meeting, but we do not comment on constituent casework.  Thanks, Amber.”

Am I surprised that Senator Blunt’s folks seem so reluctant to discuss the Dollarhite case?  Not at all.  After all, this case involves fighting for Constitutional rights and freedoms — things members of the Tea Party Movement cherish — and the senator is definitely not a Tea Party guy.

If you don’t believe me, step back in time to Feb. 28, 2010, when Senator Blunt was in the heat of a Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Kit Bond’s retirement.  What he said during an interview with me — which begins about 15 seconds into the video below — led me to a conclusion that would become the headline of a post published later that day:  Roy Blunt Needs Education About Tea Party Folks.

Despite being against him during the primary, I highlighted a handshake conversation I had with Senator Blunt in a pre-general election post, Everything Changes After the Primary Ends.  I told the senator that, despite the fact that I rode him hard during the primary, he had my support in the general election.  After all, I thought the ultra-liberal Democrat nominee Robin Carnahan was a much worse option.  Today, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between the two of ‘em.

UPDATE 7/19/11 at 4:22 p.m. Central:  Cross-posted at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com.

UPDATE 7/19/11 at 5:22 p.m. Central:  For the second time in seven weeks, Mark Steyn discussed one of my stories — this story, to be specific — while guest-hosting The Rush Limbaugh Show today.  Listen to the segment online if you’re a member of Rush 24/7.

UPDATE 7/27/11 at 10:52 p.m. Central:  I was on the road today, but was advised that U.S. Rep. Billy Long of Missouri’s 7th Congressional District — a guy who’s received a lot of attention on this blog — actually did something worthwhile.  In short, he wrote letter to the USDA’s Sarah L. Conant on behalf of John Dollarhite.  Stay tuned for updates as to whether or not it helped.

UPDATE 10/29/11 at 10:33 a.m. Central: The Dollarhites go to Washington.

If you enjoy this blog and want to keep reading stories like the one above, show your support by using the “Support Bob” tool at right. Follow me on Twitter @BloggingMachine. Thanks in advance for your support!

Missouri Rabbit Raiser Responds to USDA Proposal (Update)

Facing a July 29 deadline, John and Judy Dollarhite of Nixa, Mo., responded Friday to officials at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service with a “Substitute Stipulation Agreement” that, hopefully, will allow the couple to avoid fines of up to $4 million in fines for selling too many bunnies.

The substitute agreement, prepared on behalf of John Dollarhite by attorney Richard Anderson, was submitted almost a month after I reported on John Dollarhite being “not happy” with the USDA’s revised offer which came on the heels of substantial national attention — including coverage on Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, The Rush Limbaugh Show and The Drudge Report — about their plight.

The substitute agreement was addressed to Sarah L. Conant, a USDA bureaucrat with a very long title — Chief, Animal Health and Welfare Enforcement Branch, Investigative and Enforcement Services — who was the focus of my June 27 post, Animal Rights Activism Fuels USDA Rabbit Chase.

Below is the “meat” of the cover letter that accompanied the substitute agreement:

Mr. Dollarhite has reviewed the proposed Stipulation Agreement of June 22, 2011, and is of the opinion that it does not adequately reflect the terms that had previously been discussed with him. Specifically, the Stipulation Agreement provided by the USDA asks Mr. Dollarhite to waive any future right to challenge the USDA’s jurisdiction over his alleged activities and it seeks to prohibit him from engaging in future activities that in no way violate the Animal Welfare Act or current regulations adopted pursuant to that Act. This is neither fair, nor acceptable. Mr. Dollarhite is absolutely willing to conform his future behavior to the restrictions imposed on all other citizens, but he will not sacrifice his right to be treated like his neighbors or to question the USDA’s authority in any legal proceeding that should arise as a result of his actions. Accordingly, Mr. Dollarhite proposes the attached Substitute Stipulation Agreement.

On the pages that followed, Anderson listed three terms to which John Dollarhite is willing to agree IF officials at APHIS agree not to institute an administrative enforcement action against him:

1.  John Dollarhite agrees not to initiate any legal action challenging the jurisdiction of the USDA or the constitutionality of the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. § 2131 et. seq.) (AWA) and the regulations promulgated thereunder (9 C.F.R. § 1.1 et seq.); provided, he reserves his right to raise jurisdictional or constitutional arguments as affirmative defenses to any administrative or legal action against him initiated by government agencies or officials.

2.  John Dollarhite agrees not to sell, own, or possess buy or sell breeding rabbits or other animals for the purpose of exhibition or resale under any circumstance under which a valid USDA license is required by the AWA regulations [9 C.F.R. § 2.1(a)(I)] without first applying for, obtaining, and being issued the required license. “Breeding rabbits”, for purpose of this paragraph, are rabbits which have not been spayed or neutered. [Under current AWA regulations, Dollarhite may own and possess breeding rabbits not intended or used for exhibition or resale (for example, meat rabbits kept only for home consumption).]

3.  John Dollarhite and any partnership, firm, corporation, or other legal entity that he controls or in which he has a substantial interest, financial or otherwise, shall not engage in activities governed by the AWA (7 V.S.C. § 2131 et seq.) and regulations issued thereunder (9 C.F.R. § 1.1 et seq.) as related to breeding rabbits, either directly or indirectly, on or off 1537 Osburn Lane, Nixa, Missouri 65714, without first applying for and obtaining an AWA license for the exhibition or resale of rabbits and shall not hereafter in any manner violate the terms of the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. Section 2131, et. seq.), or the AWA regulations (9 C.F.R. Sec. 1, et. seq.)

It remains to be seen whether or not Conant and her fellow animal rights activists at the USDA agree to the conditions of what is, in essence, John Dollarhite’s refusal to cede his Constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Stay tuned to see what happens next.

To read previous posts in this ongoing saga, click here.

UPDATE 7/18/11 at 5:22 p.m. Central:  It’s worth noting that, after posting this news, I learned Dave Roland of Freedom Center of Missouri played an instrumental role in crafting the Dollarhite’s response to the USDA.

UDPATE 7/18/11 at 6:54 p.m. Central:  Cross-posted at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com.

UPDATE 9/8/11 at 8:48 a.m. Central:  It appears the Associated Press has finally caught wind of the Dollarhite’s case.

UPDATE 10/29/11 at 10:32 a.m. Central: The Dollarhites go to Washington.

If you enjoy this blog and want to keep reading stories like the one above, show your support by using the “Support Bob” tool at right. Follow me on Twitter @BloggingMachine. Thanks in advance for your support!

Rebel Rabbit Raisers Expect USDA Visitor Today (Update)

Twenty-five days after breaking the story about John and Judy Dollarhite facing $4 million in fines for selling bunnies, the couple is expecting a visitor today at their home in tiny Nixa, Mo., 30 minutes south of Springfield.

At 3 p.m. Central, one or more representatives of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is scheduled to visit the Dollarhite home “to see if we have any rabbits and cages,” said John Dollarhite, speaking with me four days after the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader reported on the matter as if it had been resolved.

Contrary to what the newspaper reported, Dollarhite told me June 3 that he was withholding any public comment on the alleged “alternative” offer until he and his attorney had had a chance to review.  I reported on his once-bitten-twice-shy stance in the third update to my May 24 post, USDA Appears To Be Caving on Rabbit Fines.

Of course, as I reported in my first of more than a dozen posts about this case, USDA inspectors will not find anything, because the Dollarhites traded everything associated with the rabbit operation more than 15 months ago.

Stay tuned as I plan to offer an update about the USDA visit later today and the terms of any agreement they reach with the government.

UPDATE 6/13/11 at 4:44 p.m. Central: Two USDA inspectors — one from Tulsa and one from Fayetteville, Ark. — visited the Dollarhite home this afternoon and conducted a brief, two-minute inspection.  According to Clay Bowler, a Springfield-based blogger who witnessed the inspection, said the inspectors were shown the property and the distinct lack of rabbits and rabbit-related equipment on the property.  Before departing, they said their next step would be to send their report to the USDA APHIS regional office in Colorado.  That means, at this point, their remains no resolution to this matter, so stay tuned!

UPDATE 6/13/11 at 7:15 p.m. Central: Clay Bowler offers more details about the USDA agents’ visit to Nixa in his post, USDA Field Reps offer John Dollarhite Apology During Inspection; Fines Still Have Not Been Dropped.

UPDATE 10/29/11 at 10:30 a.m. Central: The Dollarhites go to Washington.

If you enjoy this blog and want to keep reading stories like the one above, show your support by using the “Support Bob” tool at right. Follow me on Twitter @BloggingMachine. Thanks in advance for your support!

How to Get Your Story on Drudge – Sort Of

Having spent much of the past five days “Chasing Rabbits,” I was excited to see a headline related to my work appear on the Drudge Report just after midnight (i.e., early early early Thursday morning):

USDA fines Missouri family $90k for selling rabbits without license...

“My rabbit story made Drudge!” I thought to myself upon seeing the link above as it appeared 10 headlines below a photo of the presidential limousine (a.k.a., “The Beast”).  And then I clicked on the link.

It turned out that the world’s most-famous fedora-wearing blogger had not linked to my original story about the case of John and Judy Dollarhite’s nightmarish interaction with agents of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  Instead, he had linked to a Yahoo! News story which was a republication of a Jonathan Strong story they had picked up from The Daily Caller.  Unfortunately, the Yahoo! News story was published with my last name misspelled the way it was during its first hour of life at The Daily Caller — that is, before Strong received a phone call during which I asked him to take the “h” out of my last name.

And how did The Daily Caller’s Strong get the idea for the story?  He read my story about the Nixa, Mo., couple that was facing a $90,643 USDA fine for raising rabbits when it was published May 20 at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, a site at which I am a regular contributor.  Then he called me for the Dollarhites’ phone number.  And I gave it to him, on the precondition that he include a link to my original story in his piece.

And where did the BigGovernment.com story originate?  Like all of my pieces that appear on the site, it first appeared on my almost-five-year-old site, BobMcCarty.com.

Am I responsible for the rabbit story coming to life? You might say that, but the first breath of life that bunny story ever breathed came from Clay Bowler at Bungalow Bill’s Conservative Wisdom.  He called me May 18 with the news and asked if I would use my contacts and resources to try and make the story go viral, and I said, “Yes.”  And I published my original story the next day.

Am I disappointed that Drudge didn’t link to my original story?  In a way, I am.  After all, a Drudge link tells the world in its own unique way, “You’ve arrived!” — unless, that is, you’re John Edwards and you made Drudge today.  At the same time, however, I realize that a link on his site would probably have caused my servers to crash and, thereby, prevented people from reading any of the seven follow-up pieces I’ve published about the Dollarhite’s case.

If you’re one of those people who haven’t read them all, links to those stories appear below in chronological order (oldest to newest):

USDA Stands Behind Hare-Raising Fine (5-19-11);

Senator’s Letter About Horses Does Little to Help Constituent Facing $4 Million Fine Over Rabbits (5-20-11);

Couple’s Hare-Raising Story Gains Traction (5-21-11);

Anti-Tyranny Protest Set Wednesday in Ozark, Mo. (5-24-11);

Family Refuses to Pay $90K Fine for Selling Rabbits (5-24-11);

USDA Appears To Be Caving on Rabbit Fines (5-24-11); and

USDA ‘Rabbit Police’ Stalking Magicians (5-25-11)*.

*Though not related to the Dollarhite’s case, this story involves the same kind of hare-brained enforcement of USDA regulations.

If you enjoy this blog and want to keep reading stories like the one above, show your support by using the “Support Bob” tool at right. Follow me on Twitter @BloggingMachine.  Thanks in advance for your support!

USDA ‘Rabbit Police’ Stalking Magicians (Update)

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the past several days, I’ve been reporting about “Chasing Rabbits,” the name I’ve given to the case of the USDA assessing John and Judy Dollarhite a fine of $90,643 because the Nixa, Mo., couple sold more than $500 worth of rabbits in a calendar year.  Along the way, I came across second-hand details of a similar, but continuous, effort being waged by the federal agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  Today, I contacted Tim Sonefelt, a South Carolina magician, family entertainer and entrepreneur who broke the story three years ago in the Journal of KIDabra International, The Association of Family and Kid Show Performers, and obtained his permission to reprint it below in much the same fashion as it was published the first time.

By Tim Sonefelt, Guest Blogger

What happens when your photo is taken for the newspaper with your fluffy little bunny rabbit?  Great publicity, right? Well, not if a U.S Department of Agriculture agent buys a copy of that paper!  Enter the Rabbit Police!

Yes, you read correctly, the RABBIT POLICE, and the above story is how my buddy Gary Maurer in Hilton Head Island, S.C., was “busted” in the summer of 2006!

Gary is a full-time performer working heavily during the tourist season at numerous resort areas and tourist attractions on the island. One day, the local newspaper showed up at the show and took some photos to accompany a short blurb about the tourist area. The photo that ran included one of Gary’s beautiful Angora Rabbits.

Imagine Gary’s surprise when, a couple of weeks later, a field inspector from the USDA contacted him explaining that he needed to have a license to use the rabbits in his show. He was so surprised, in fact, that he though it was a joke! He was quickly informed it was indeed no joke.

They made arrangements for the inspector to make the three-hour trek from Columbia, S.C., to Hilton Head and Gary went through the process to become licensed.

“She was very polite and helpful in explaining everything. She also seemed to understand the lunacy of the whole thing. At the same time, I guess she has a job to do,” said Maurer. “She also asked me if I knew other magicians who used rabbits. I told her she’d have to find that out for herself!”

Gary said she also informed him that she knew about SCAM, South Carolina’s annual meeting of magicians and had plans to show up there. As of yet, we’ve not had an opportunity to tar and feather anyone from the USDA!

One instance could be an isolated case. Enter Nick Propst from Columbia.

Nick is a weekend warrior in Columbia. He’s proficient in kids and family shows and does his fair share of events in the area, ranging from churches to birthday parties. Nick also has a few rabbits in his arsenal of props.

Nick was at work one day when he received a call from his wife. Seemed she was a little unnerved. Some lady had rang their doorbell. When his wife answered, the unidentified lady asked for “Nick the Magician.” Nick’s wife told her that he wasn’t home, thinking it odd that a prospective customer would come to their home. The conversation subsided, and the door was closed.

Then, the still-unidentified lady sat down on their front porch and started writing. In a few minutes, she rang the bell again. When Nick’s wife answered the door, she was handed a note telling them she was with the USDA and that he’d need a license for his rabbits. Seems she’d found him by searching the internet and discovering his web site.

“Nobody knows about my web site except my family!” Nick said.  “Not a great business move, I know. The point is the site is not ‘out there.’”

Mrs. Propst agreed to give Nick the note, and the door was again closed. Mrs. Propst was about to leave. When she entered their garage from their house, she saw a lady with her hands pressed against the glass of their outer garage door. The USDA “rabbit lady” was peering into their garage! If that’s not creepy enough, she also made herself at home and browsed around their yard before leaving. (Hum “The Twilight Zone” theme song here!)

This happened to Nick in August of 2007. Just before I got word from him that this had happened, I had done a week of library shows in Columbia (the S.C. Rabbit Police’s apparent headquarters). Some of the libraries had put my name on the marquee. My name in lights . . . sort of. Three of the four bulbs were burned out!  I arrived back home on Friday evening after a long week away and found the voice mail light flashing. When I listened to the messages, I too had received a call from the USDA “Rabbit Police.”

It seems that the field inspector noticed my name on the sign as she was passing by. She stopped in and asked what time my show was. Thankfully, she had missed me by one day. Otherwise, we may have had a face-to-face encounter! She had asked the librarian (whom I know quite well after working for her all these years) if I had used a rabbit. She said, “NOT THIS YEAR!!”  Gee thanks! I dismissed the call and deleted the message, since I don’t have a rabbit.

Next I checked my email. Lo and behold there was an email from her. This rabbit lady really does her homework. I think she needs a hobby! So, since I have an opportunity to start a dialogue with her without talking on the phone, I decide to ask her a few questions. My first one was, “When did the government find yet another way to interfere with small businesses?”

Yes, I REALLY asked her that. I also asked if I RENTED my rabbit, who had to have the license – the owner or the person doing the show? She responded, saying that the person doing the show has to have the license. She was VERY nice in her response contrary to my sarcasm.

I called Mark Daniel, our chief cook and bottle washer, and told him I wanted to post this on the KIDabra Discussion Board. It was literally days before the convention. After some discussion, we decided that it was best to share this information after the conference, once we knew more about it. I agreed to talk to several people and write a ‘fair and balanced’ (for all you Fox News folks) report.

Just a few weeks ago, Mark called and asked me to write this as an article rather than a post on the board, because he’d heard of yet another instance of the Rabbit Police striking in another state! He put me onto the trail of Brad Machette, one of the busiest fair and festival workers on the East Coast. Before I had a chance to call Brad to interview him, Mark called back and said, “You’ve got to talk to Marty Hahne of Dazzling Magic, too. He has an incredible story.” Since I have so much free time, I called both of them.

First, Brad’s bust:  While working an agricultural fair in North Carolina, Brad discovered an issue which required local veterinarians to examine his livestock which include a rabbit and a chicken. Yes, Brad uses a chicken. We won’t get too deep in this issue other than to say if you are in North Carolina (and possibly other states) and use livestock that is handled or petted by the public (i.e. the people watching your show), you have to have a hand-washing station within sight of where you display the animals.

Brad didn’t have a hand-washing station. So, being the professional he is, Brad improvised and made what he called the “Redneck Handwashing Station.” He even called it that in his show.

The regulation required Brad to actually stop his show at the “point of petting” for he and the audience member to go over to the Redneck Handwashing Station to wash their hands. This improvised sanitation facility consisted of a few bales of hay, a longneck garden sprayer, a garden hose, a plastic container, soap and paper towels. Before you ask, no, hand sanitizer is not an acceptable substitute.

After Brad thought he’d satisfied all the regulations, along came the RP (Rabbit Police), N.C. Division!

They informed Brad of the law and told him they could have fined him on the spot for not having a license, even if he didn’t know about it. I’d guess that comes down to the “ignorance of the law is no excuse” clause. As I understand the law, you cannot use your rabbit legally even after you’ve applied for the license until you actually receive the documents, which have to be with you at all times.

Fortunately for Brad, they inspected and licensed him “on the spot” and gave him his license number even though he didn’t physically have his license. Interestingly enough, Brad was told his rabbit had to have at least as much off stage time as it did on stage time. Now THAT’S funny. Apparently, there is a rabbit union out there as well!

Marty’s story dates back to the summer of 2005 and has some really interesting moments in it. If you know Marty, you realize he has a very lively sense of humor. Keep that in mind as we proceed.

Marty was busted at a library show. He was working a library system he’d never worked before. He was all set up for his show, rabbit loaded and just about ready to start. Suddenly, the librarian came to him and said, “Marty, I need to see you in my office immediately” with a look of dread in her eyes. Marty couldn’t possibly imagine what was wrong.

Once they got in to her office, she informed him that there was an inspector from the USDA in the audience and that she would give him trouble about his rabbit. Marty, being quick on his feet, replied, “What rabbit?” “Exactly,” said the librarian, “Let’s hide him in my office until she leaves!” Sounded like a good plan.

Marty does the show, the whole thing, while scoping out the audience trying to figure out which person was the inspector. Then he spotted her. A burly-looking lady wearing boots, jeans and a denim shirt. He smoothly omitted the rabbit routine, and the show went fine. Afterwards, several moms were asking about his shows for schools, birthday parties, etc. Then, suddenly, the conversation was halted by a badge being shoved into the mix.

“I’m with the USDA, and I need to see the permit for your rabbit,” she said.

“There wasn’t a rabbit in the show,” Marty replied.

“I know, but there’s a rabbit with you in this photo from the show yesterday!” she countered.  I forgot to mention that this was Marty’s second day of shows for this system.

Marty was able to put her off until she could come to his home for a proper inspection. Figuring he’d appeased the inspector, he planned on using his rabbit for the remainder of the shows. Upon getting to the second show that day, however, the librarian told him that she’d heard of the problems his rabbit had caused. Word traveled fast thanks to email! Every other librarian in the system — and even the entire county — had heard about the “problem” Marty’s rabbit had caused.

Finally, it was time for the  inspection at the Hahne’s home. Marty decided to ask some questions.

“My friend has a snake,” he said. The inspector quickly told him they don’t regulate snakes.

“No,” Marty said, “I mean he feeds his snake rabbits. He breaks their necks and drops them in the cage for the snake’s food. Does he have to have a permit for that?” Again, she told him there’s no regulation for that.

“So I could break my rabbit’s neck and feed him to my friend’s snake and I wouldn’t need a license?” Marty asked.

“Correct,” she said, “But you need a license to use him in your magic show.”

Within an hour after the incident at the library, librarians at the other nine libraries in the system had heard what happened. By the next morning, the lady had emailed every library in the state of Missouri — close to 700 libraries! She informed everyone that Marty could cause problems because of his rabbit!

Who says there’s no such thing as bad press? After some talking, Marty convinced the librarian who caused the damage that an apology email to the entire state would be a good idea. Fortunately, she agreed!

They proceed to examine Marty’s “rabbit habitat.”  The inspector sees his travel cage.

“You don’t have any ‘live animal’ stickers on your carry cages,” she said.  “That’s a citation!”

Yikes! That sounds serious. Marty inquired and, according to the regulation, you must have a sticker that says “Live Animals” along with an arrow pointing upward on the travel cages. Marty asked why? The answer was that, in case he was in an accident, the rescue personnel (the Rabbit Rescue Team, I suppose) would know how to pick up the carrier.

“I figure most people would just pick it up by the handle,” Marty replied. It was at this point the inspector showed Marty the clause in her book that says verbal abuse of an inspector is a felony punishable by up to one year in prison. Ooops!

By now, you see the irony in all this. More on the technical aspects of this law later . . . on with Marty’s story.

You see, after you’re licensed, you can be inspected at random once per year. They can show up unannounced. Marty was in his office one day and saw the inspector’s vehicle pull up. He quickly closed the blinds, deciding to pretend he wasn’t at home today. If she can show up unannounced, he can be “not home.” There was a slight problem though – his front door was open with only the screen door being closed.

She rang the bell. The dog ran to the door barking like usual, but Marty stayed quiet. She knocked, but Marty stayed quiet. Then he realized his van was backed into the driveway.

She rang again, then knocked again, but Marty stayed quiet. Then his phone rang. The answering machine picked up. It was the inspector! The message she left said, “Hi Marty, this is Jane Doe with the USDA. I came by to do your inspection and your door was open. I knocked but no one came. Then I noticed there is a van backed into your drive. I think someone has broken into your house and is loading up your belongings in their van. Call me. Oh, by the way, did you get those stickers I sent you?”

By the way, Marty did get stickers – 200 of them! When he asked why, he was told that they are required to hire “at risk” workers to man the administrative offices in Colorado, and they sent two packs of 100 each instead of just two stickers. Our tax dollars hard at work. Marty may have these stickers for sale at his booth at the next convention!

Before we get into the law, here are a couple of positive things that come out of being licensed.

First, you are breaking a federal law by using your rabbit in your show without a license. You can probably “play dumb” if an inspector shows up at your show (or your house), but be warned that they can fine you on your initial offense.

Second, on a positive note, if you are harassed by an animal rights activist (PETA, etc.), you have an answer to stop them in their tracks. Gary Maurer had that happen. Here’s what he suggested. Tell them that you are licensed by the USDA to use the rabbits in your show. If they have any questions or concerns, they should contact the USDA. Then show them your license. You should have it with you at all times.

So what exactly is this law? It is the Animal Welfare Act. It was passed by Congress in 1966. Yes, it’s been on the books that long.

It protects animals not raised for food or fiber. We are considered Class C Exhibitors under the Act. An annual license ranges from $30 to $300, depending upon the number of regulated animals held. There is also a $10 application fee. To be in compliance, one must submit to annual inspection and maintain a current license and keep records from your veternarian on the health of your rabbit.

The inspectors are not interested in the props we put the rabbits into. They are only interested in the facilities or practices we use to care for the animals.

Since this law has been around for so long, why all the recent interest? I asked my regional representative, Lisa K MacElderry. Here’s part of her response:

Click to read more posts like this.

I’ve been doing this job since 1993 and our Agency has undergone 180 degree changes in many ways.  When I started, we were so understaffed (only 64 field inspectors nationwide). My training in AC (Animal Care) was one week in the office and two in the field.

The USDA Animal Care force was divided among 5 sectors nationwide and there was little communication or continuity between how things were done.

Starting around 1997, the agency started consolidating, going to 3 Region, then the current 2.  We started having national training meetings, regional meetings, and mini-meetings of supervisors groups.   Communication between regions and headquarters greatly expanded.  The goal was to put everyone on the same page, getting all inspectors to inspect the same way.  We started getting work specific training such as elephant training, and marine mammal training.

Over this same time period, a coalition of animal interest groups (including AVMA, HSUS, and dozens of others) petitioned Congress for an increase in funding for us.  A stagnant budget was the reason we had not  been able to have work meetings and were understaffed.  Slowly over the last 15 years, we’ve increased to 100 field inspectors. Many animal groups say this is still not enough, especially when we start regulating birds one day About 4 years ago, I found I had time to inspect all of my assigned facilities and time to look for unlicensed activity.   In the first year, I found and had licensed multiple petting zoos.

“Parent” magazines is where I’ve found most of the animal exhibitors here in SC. My first magician in this state (Gary Maurer) got licensed after my co-worker from out of state visited her parents here and saw his rabbits in a local paper.

So, there is some info from the “horse’s mouth.” Horses, by the way, are the only mammals exempt from this law.

This law is enforced by the regional offices of the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). To get the full legal requirements for businesses regulated by the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, Chapter 1, Subchapter A, contact your local office by visiting http://www.aphis.usda.gov/.

To book Tim for an event, click here or on the graphic below.

UPDATE 5/26/11 at 7:56 a.m. Central: Cross-posted at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com.

UPDATE 5/26/11 at 10:26 a.m. Central: “I was shocked talking to a performer friend of mine in Texas today,” wrote KIDabra’s Mark Daniel in an update he sent to me late Wednesday night after reading the post above.  “He told me he was fined last Summer by a USDA agent that surprised he and his rabbit at a private event they were performing at with a first time fine of $500.00. He had never seen the lady before and she told him to pay up, then get licensed. He paid the fine and then got rid of his rabbit. A bit heavy handed I think!”

UPDATE 6/3/11 at 11:16 a.m. Central: Magician Provides Update on USDA ‘Rabbit Police’

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USDA Appears To Be Caving on Rabbit Fines (Updated)

I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that the USDA appears to be caving when it comes to the matter of “Chasing Rabbits,” the name I’ve given to the case of the USDA assessing John and Judy Dollarhite a fine of $90,643 because the Nixa, Mo., couple sold more than $500 worth of rabbits in a calendar year.

I base that conclusion on the fact that I just received the following e-mail from USDA/APHIS Spokesperson Dave Sacks:

Click to see all posts on this case.

Hello Mr. McCarty

Here is one final statement I can offer, in the event you write any follow-up stories.

We are working out an alternative to the $90K fine and plan to reach out to Mr. Dollarhite over the next week to discuss.  We are hopeful he’ll be amenable to discussing it with us and let us visit his facility as we work the issue out.

Thank you.

Dave

When I contacted John Dollarhite to find out if he was aware of the “alternative,” he said he was aware and has actually received some helpful assistance from staffers at the office of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).  Perhaps, that’s what prompted the arrival of the USDA spokesperson’s timely email.

In addition, Dollarhite said that he learned via conversations with Senator Blunt’s staffers and others that the USDA’s offices in Washington, D.C., had been flooded with phone calls from across the country about his case during the past few days.

Perhaps, the anti-tyranny protest set for Wednesday in Ozark, Mo. will be more of a party and show of force than a protest.  Let’s hope so!

“Don’t declare victory yet,” wrote Paul Hamby, co-coordinator for the Campaign For Liberty in Missouri, in an email Tuesday.  “If a thug steals your car and then calls you to sit down and work out the terms of returning it to you,  is that a victory?”

More to come.

UPDATE 5/25/11 at 4:11 p.m. Central: Cross-posted at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com.

UPDATE 6/03/11 at 2:45 p.m. Central: The Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader published a piece today under the headline, Nixa rabbit seller offered an alternative to fine.  When I contacted Dollarhite June 3, he said he was withholding any public comment on the alleged “alternative” offer until he and his attorney have a chance to review.

UPDATE 6/7/11 at 9:16 p.m. Central: John Dollarhite informed me moments ago that a representatives of the USDA is scheduled to visit his home June 13 at 3 p.m. local time “to see if we have any rabbits and cages.”

UPDATE 10/29/11 at 10:29 a.m. Central:  The Dollarhites go to Washington.

Read all of my posts about the Dollarhite’s story in “Chasing Rabbits.”

If you enjoy this blog and want to keep reading stories like the one above, show your support by using the “Support Bob” tool at right. Follow me on Twitter @BloggingMachine.  Thanks in advance for your support!