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Indiana judge rules in favor of state, grants inspection of Wildlife in Need

The decision will allow the state to inspect the entire property and prevent Tim Stark and Melissa Lane from removing animals.

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis judge has granted the state access to Wildlife in Need to count animals and check their welfare.

Judge David Dreyer's decision to gran the state's request for a preliminary injunction, gives the state permission to execute an inspection of the property. It will be the first inspection by any government agency in three years. 

The judge's order details the inspectors are to have access to any place animals are kept, have been kept, or will be kept. It also allows inspectors to go through any location related to animal care or where animal records are kept. 

"If the animals are not in safe and secure locations and they are in distress than we would potentially go back to court and ask the court to grant us some other order to have the animals moved from the property", Betsy DiNardi, the Director and Chief Counsel of the Consumer Protection Division, Indiana Attorney General's Office, said. 

The judge is allowing up to 18 people onto the property for the inspection including five animal welfare inspectors, three investigators from the Indiana Attorney General's Office, four attorneys from the attorney general's office, and six law enforcement officers. 

The decision is associated with the Indiana Attorney General’s lawsuit asking for the nonprofit to be dissolved. The lawsuit was filed five days after WHAS11's FOCUS investigation into abuse and neglect at the Indiana wildlife refuge.

Records show allegations of neglect go back at least ten years, and the USDA, which grants Wildlife in Need a license, has previously tried to shut the operation down before for illegally selling exotic animals, but a judge ruled they didn't have enough evidence to take away Stark's license.  

During the Feb. 28 hearing, former volunteer Darlene Ehley said she watched owner Tim Stark throw a tiger cub and stomp on it, saying “you have to show them who’s boss while they’re young."

Scott Ehley, her husband, also worked on the property as a maintenance man until he was attacked by a hyena. Ehley testified that he would bury tigers, hyenas and other "exotic animals that Stark didn't want in the dumpster."

"No one was ever taught any protocol, there was no protocol," Scott Ehley said.

During the hearing, Robert Shumaker with the Indianapolis Zoo said it is not possible for two people to provide adequate care for 200 animals, and said the living conditions described at Wildlife in Need are “indefensible” and “completely inappropriate.” 

Stark said he was not an animal abuser or "neglecter", but said that he has made mistakes.

“Letting people coming to stomp through my property is a violation of my rights," Stark said. "It’s a violation of everything this country stands for.”

He eventually said the inspectors will not be allowed in any cages or enclosures but that Stark will show them “every lousy, stinking animal on the property."

The judge's ruling stated the veterinarians on the state's inspection team may have contact with the animals that they believe need medical attention. He also ordered Stark not to "disrupt, harass or impede" the inspectors. 

The decision can be read here, and full timeline of the hearing can be found here.

WHAS11 will continue to update this story as more information is known.

More on Wildlife in Need:

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