John Dollarhite and his wife Judy are facing a hefty fine after selling rabbits and rabbit meat by the pound from their home through their business Dollarvalue Rabbitry in Nixa, MO.
The couple was given a notice in April by the USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that they were being fined $90,643 and could avoid further penalties and dealings with the USDA if they paid it by May 23, which they declined to do. They could now face up to $4 million in penalties.
The fine is being issued by the USDA, which oversees the sale of animals, for selling more than $500 worth of rabbits in one year and for operating without a license. Between 2008 and 2009 they sold 619 rabbits, which earned them $4,600, with a profit of about $200.
The USDA reportedly found out about Dollarhite when an inspector was examining records at a licensed pet store who had obtained some of their rabbits. In 2009, an inspector showed up at their property and asked to do a spot inspection. She noted that cages were slightly too small and that there was a rust spot on a feeder, but the rabbits looked otherwise well cared for.
The Dollarhites didn’t hear anything else until they were contacted by an APHIS investigator in 2010 for a meeting, after which they traded all of their equipment and shut down the operation.
The Dollarhite’s claim that they had absolutely no idea they needed any sort of license to do what they were doing. Dollarhite likens the business to running a lemonade stand, which is great, except that rabbits aren’t lemons.
The business was started about 6 years ago as a way to teach their son about responsibility. Soon after, they became well-known for their rabbits and took on some big buyers, including the theme park Silver Dollar City and Petland.
The USDA is also telling a different story. According to Dave Sacks, a USDA spokesman, Dollarhite contacted the USDA in 2006 asking for a license application kit, which they also stated was sent to him. Dollarhite says he never made that request.
The USDA is standing by their fine with the stance that they need to punish those who violate the Animal Welfare Act to ensure people get the proper licenses to operate.
“This is the only way we can ensure these animals are getting the care they need,” Sacks said.
Meanwhile, Missouri politicians and the Tea Party who were all about helping out commercial dog breeders a few months ago are setting up protests and taking steps to help the Dollarhites out of this jam.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/captainsubtle/