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Boo Boo at St. Louis County animal shelter

Boo Boo at the St. Louis County Animal Care and Control shelter on Thursday, May 1, 2014.

ST. LOUIS • It appears that Boo Boo the bear will not have to die for its teething transgressions.

But the traveling petting zoo that brought the biting baby bear to Washington University this week again finds itself defending its business practices.

Cindy’s Zoo, a farm in the woods just outside of Moscow Mills, has repeatedly been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for animal welfare violations. The USDA has cited owner Cindy Farmer for 17 incidents of “noncompliance” since 2011, and nine in the past year.

The violations have ranged from the dangerous — sharp wires sticking out at rabbits’ eye level — to the unsanitary — pigs living in their own excrement.

Now, the Washington University event, at which students were invited to handle animals, including the cub, as a stress reliever during exam season, has brought a new round of inquiry to the animal farm.

“We are looking into this,” said Tanya Espinosa, spokeswoman for the USDA, which oversees live animal exhibits, including petting zoos. She said she couldn’t elaborate.

On Thursday, it seemed that 2-month-old Boo Boo faced imminent death. It chewed and clawed 18 students, the university said, breaking skin and raising fear that it might have transferred rabies to those who cuddled it.

But by Friday afternoon, the Missouri Department of Conservation sent a note to the St. Louis County Health Department saying the bear was safe. Boo Boo had not been exposed to rabies, officials believed.

The Conservation Department had traced the bear’s origins to the point that it was confident the bear could not have gotten rabies, said Pat Washington, spokeswoman for St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

University administrators were relieved. Students were not at risk, they said, and would not need treatments.

“We are very pleased that this unfortunate situation has come to the best possible conclusion for everyone involved — our students, our community, and the bear cub,” said university spokeswoman Susan Killenberg McGinn.

Cindy’s Zoo brought the bear onto campus Sunday with pigs and goats for the annual event, sponsored by Congress of the South 40, which offers programming for students living on the South 40, a residential part of campus.

The bear was a hit. Seniors loved posing with it for snapshots; the university mascot is a bear.

The university emphasized in a statement that it had not known Cindy’s Zoo was bringing the bear. The agreement with the zoo owner was to include only domesticated farm animals, said Killenberg McGinn.

On Wednesday, Dr. Alan Glass, director of Student Health Services, sent an email to students asking those who had been nipped by the bear to notify his department. The email also provided a link with information about rabies.

In a similar situation, a domestic animal would be held for 10 days and observed for symptoms of rabies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A wild animal, however, could be infectious before it starts showing symptoms, and must be euthanized, the centers said.

The bear was picked up by the county health department and transferred to the state conservation department.

Washington, the Dooley spokeswoman, said the state still had the bear. The state will decide on the bear’s future home after about a week of observation.

Farmer, the zoo owner, did not return a phone call seeking comment, nor did she answer her door.

But now she faces a new USDA inspection. Espinosa, the department spokeswoman, said inspectors were authorized to look into her facility, Boo Boo’s past behavior and the incident itself.

It could be the sixth USDA visit to Cindy’s Zoo in about a year. Espinosa said the department had to inspect such facilities only once a year.

The USDA’s most recent visit, during which the inspector listed 75 animals, from dromedaries to porcupines to a whiptail wallaby, was clean.

But the farm has been cited in the past year for expired vaccinations, pigs kept in a room “close to pitch dark,” jagged metal in the porcupine enclosure, and a water bowl so dirty “a thick buildup of black-brown debris” covered the bottom.

At one point, an inspector arrived at the farm to see a young goat, on top of a feeder, with its head and body stuck inside an empty wire hay basket. “The goat appeared to be suspended in the air with the weight of its entire body resting on two wires,” said one USDA inspection report.

“It is unknown how long the goat was stuck in this position,” the May 2013 report continued, “but when pointed out by the inspector, the licensee immediately freed the goat from the hay holder.”

And, the report noted, the incident was a repeat violation.

Boo Boo’s troubles have already cost Farmer business. Rosalita’s restaurant downtown had scheduled Cindy’s Zoo animals to appear this weekend for Cinco de Mayo festivities. City ordinances already prohibit appearances by wild and carnivorous animals. But when the city’s health department heard about the incident at Washington University, it called Farmer on Friday seeking current animal health records.

Farmer said she didn’t have time to produce them, health director Pamela Walker said, leading the department to declare that the animals couldn’t come.

“Why put kids at potential risk?” Walker said.

Mark Schlinkmann, of the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this report.

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Doug Moore is a former reporter for the P-D. Currently, policy director for St. Louis County Council.