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Missouri woman faces loss of her Festus-area chimps after contempt finding

Missouri woman faces loss of her Festus-area chimps after contempt finding

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ST. LOUIS — A caretaker for several chimpanzees at a facility near Festus is defiant in the face of a court order this week that says she must turn over all of the chimps to an animal rights group.

Tonia Haddix said she has no plans to comply with the order, which says she repeatedly failed to follow a consent decree signed with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in which she agreed to give up four chimps. She was allowed to keep three, but only in a facility built to specific standards with a full-time chimpanzee caregiver, a part-time maintenance worker and experienced volunteers.

Haddix told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday that one chimp, 38-year-old Tonka, died over the weekend, likely of a heart attack or stroke. She called it a “great loss to everybody here,” and said, “He definitely was my favorite.”

Tonka was one of the three chimps that were to stay with Haddix at a new facility in Missouri, while the four others remained near Festus, with Haddix providing for their care.

Haddix also faces a fine of $50 a day until she complies with U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry’s order, which says, “Haddix is either incapable or unwilling to provide the level of care for the three chimpanzees that she agreed to provide — and that I ordered her to provide — by the explicit terms of the Consent Decree.”

Haddix said that in similar disputes with PETA, “most people give up” and turn over their animals, “but I’m not willing to do that.”

Asked what would happen if someone showed up to enforce Perry’s contempt order, Haddix said, “If PETA ever, ever attempts to get on that property,” police will escort them off.

“I guarantee you right now, they don’t want to encounter me,” she said of the group, adding, “‘cause it will not end nicely.”

Haddix said she would take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that “hopefully” she could drag out the fight until all the chimps die.

PETA lawyer Jared Goodman said Wednesday that Haddix is entitled to appeal, “but frankly there is no basis for appeal.”

Goodman said PETA would seek to transfer the chimps “as quickly as possible.”

The judge’s order Tuesday caps a more than four-year dispute over the fate of the chimps, after a 2016 PETA lawsuit claimed that chimps were being held in inadequate conditions at the Missouri Primate Foundation facility, at 12338 State Road CC near Festus. The suit said the chimps’ treatment violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

Haddix has previously said she’s spent $500,000 on the lawsuit and chimp care, and got involved to help primate foundation founder Connie Braun Casey when Casey was unable to care for them. Haddix later took custody of the chimps and took over defending the lawsuit.

Under the consent decree with PETA last fall, Haddix agreed to send four chimps, Tammy, Connor, Candy and Kerry, to the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida, when facilities there were ready. She was allowed to keep Crystal, Mikayla and Tonka.

But PETA complained that Haddix was not holding up her end of the deal, and wasn’t building the new facilities in Missouri.

In April, after a contentious hearing in U.S. District Court in St. Louis at which she was found to have violated the consent decree the first time, Haddix said she was planning to hire a lawyer and either fight the decree or comply with its terms.

No lawyer is listed for Haddix. She sent several single-page letters to the judge, one saying she’d been unable to get a lawyer to agree to help her and another arguing that requiring her to care for four chimps promised to PETA violates the 13th Amendment, which bars “indentured servitude.”

Haddix said Tuesday that an indoor enclosure at a facility in Eldon, Missouri, southwest of Jefferson City, has been completed, and concrete has been poured for the outside enclosure, which is now being erected.

Haddix said her fight is being financially supported by other exotic animal owners and lovers via a GoFundMe account.

She said she’s also researching how she can file a complaint against Perry, claiming the judge is biased in favor of PETA.

Goodman responded, “Throughout this proceeding, Judge Perry has been incredibly impartial to all of the parties involved,” adding that Perry gave Haddix an extension of a month and a half and didn’t start enforcing the fine during that time.

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Related to this story

A judge's order finding Tonia Haddix in civil contempt of a consent decree with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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