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Petting zoo owner charged with animal cruelty at Minnesota county fair

The Animal Fest petting zoo area was partially assembled Wednesday afternoon at the Wadena County Fairgrounds. Following charges against the owner, the petting zoo is not to be part of the activities this week. Michael Johnson / Forum News Service1 / 2
Daniel E. Wallen2 / 2

WADENA, Minn. — There will be one less attraction at the Wadena County Fair this week after a petting zoo owner was arrested for domestic assault at the fairgrounds and later charged with two counts of animal cruelty after reports of numerous petting zoo animals not receiving proper care.

Daniel E. Wallen was arrested Tuesday, June 18 at the fairgrounds following a domestic assault report. During the course of that investigation, one of the Wadena police officers on scene had concerns of some of the animals that were part of Wallen’s Animal Fest petting zoo. Upon questioning a relative of Wallen on scene, further details were shared.

Reports of eight pot-bellied pigs with mange, a skin disease caused by parasitic mites, and a baby llama with a broken foot not tended to, were the main charges outlined in a separate complaint brought against Wellen while he was in the county jail. Other reported abuse included the use of an extension cord to beat one of the animals and excessive roughness with a camel.

Wallen was hired by the Wadena County Ag Society to display his animals in a petting zoo Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week.

Upon arrival, the hay-eating animals had no feed and a fair board member brought a load of hay for them to eat, according to the complaint filed by Wadena Police Sgt. Brandon Pearson.

Pearson shared further details including four pot-bellied pigs crammed into a dog carrier.

“In my opinion this carrier should have only held one pig,” Pearson wrote.

He noted that each of the eight pigs appeared to have mange and “I watched each of the pigs scratch themselves to the point of bleeding,” he wrote.

While the animals were to be examined by a vet last week while at the Hennepin County Fair, a petting zoo employee said the vet briefly looked at them before signing off on the necessary paperwork.

Later on Tuesday, Keith Streff, a senior agent with the Animal Humane Society, arrived and performed an investigation, according to the complaint. Streff and staff with the Animal Humane Society could not be reached Wednesday for further details.

The complaint said that all the animals were later removed from the fairgrounds and sent to a facility in Brainerd.

A fair board member said that “Animal Fest broke their contract with the Wadena County Ag Society, so they will not be participating in the 2019 Wadena County Fair.”

It was added that Animal Fest did not agree to the terms of the contract.

No details were shared about what they did not agree with.

The two charges of animal cruelty and two counts of domestic assault against Wellen were all misdemeanor charges. He’s scheduled for pre-trial on the animal cruelty charges in August. Animal Fest is headquartered in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The Wadena County Fair will still have a petting zoo hosted by the local FFA chapter members.