They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

Roy Mitchell recollects the instant he discovered his rural Ontario neighborhood had acquired a brand new resident. 

A rumour was once spreading in the course of the tiny town of Maynooth within the fall of 2020. Somebody had just bought out all of the rooster at the native No Frills, considered one of the world’s handiest best grocery shops.

Mitchell recalled hearing that the man said, “These are for my kitties.” 

but the “kitties” he was referring to weren’t house cats.

“He introduced his tiger to the automobile parking space, or a lion or one thing,” Mitchell mentioned. “and people were telling me, ‘Did you hear in regards to the man … he’s going to start out a zoo.’ ” 

Mitchell, an artist who had moved from Toronto a couple of years in advance, was gobsmacked. “It was like … what? can you start a zoo?”

the man was once Mark Drysdale, an unique animal owner who had not too long ago bought land in Maynooth, located in the municipality of Hastings Highlands approximately 265 kilometres northeast of Toronto. 

He desired to open a roadside zoo along with his choice of animals, together with 10 large cats: 8 lions and tigers. He also had lemurs.

Mitchell immediately feared the worst: “Lion escape. Tiger escape. Lemur, not so bad. i would not care a couple of lemur, however maybe they are bad, i have no idea.” 

Drysdale’s plan for Highland Big Cat Adventures could be his third such endeavour in lower than a decade. it might additionally ignite the latest in a chain of bitter battles with Ontario municipalities over unique animal bylaws.

A catch 22 situation for municipalities

Drysdale’s efforts have exposed a serious quandary for municipal officers: stay worried residents protected at the same time as navigating an individual’s right to maintain wild animals.  

Ontario has no rules governing who can own unique animals. As A Substitute, it is as much as municipalities to enact bylaws to prohibit specific species.

Animal rights advocates say this has resulted in a patchwork of rules that may steadily fail to give protection to animals in opposition to mistreatment.

to start with, none of the towns Drysdale moved to had a bylaw. But at the behest of involved citizens, one after every other, the communities enacted bans on unique animals. 

“it’s been hell,” Drysdale said. “It starts with townships, after which there is a crew that call themselves Zoocheck.”

Drysdale reserves different animosity for Zoocheck, which he accuses of stirring up fear in each and every of the municipalities where he is lived.

Julie Woodyer, campaigns director for Zoocheck Canada, stated the organization’s function is to protect wild animals and has been following the controversies around Drysdale’s facilities for years.

He first came to the crowd’s attention in 2014 when he and his first spouse, Joni Prepare Dinner, had been operating Ringtail Ranch and Rescue, a zoo in Wainfleet, Ont., in the Niagara area. 

Between 2013 and 2018, Wainfleet officers documented 17 circumstances of biting and scratching on the zoo. 

The Niagara Area Public Well Being stories, received by means of Zoocheck Canada by means of get right of entry to to information requests, referenced a spread of animals, together with a donkey, a type of South American raccoon, a lynx and marmosets. in one instance, a local baby-kisser was ambushed through a lemur named Lawson. On some other occasion, Drysdale was once bitten on each forearms via his lion.

Wainfleet enacted an exotic animal bylaw in 2018. That used to be the same year that Ringtail was once close down after being declared a well being hazard. 

Quickly after, Drysdale moved to Grand Bend, Ont., a vacationer the city at the southeastern shorelines of Lake Huron.

it will change into the site of most likely his mightiest combat. 

Tammy Nyyssonen pets Tamara, her namesake tiger, on this undated photo taken at Roaring Cat Retreat, a facility in Grand Bend, Ont., that she once operated with Drysdale, her then husband. (Tammy Drysdale/Facebook)

From Beethoven to important cats 

Rising up in Brampton, Ont., Drysdale was once the kid who at all times introduced home strays. 

“It used to be almost certainly the neighbour’s cat, but I brought it home besides, pretending it used to be a stray,” he said, including he’s at all times been more well-off round animals than other people.  

within the ’90s, he and Joni started taking in unwanted St. Bernards whilst sales of the breed spiked following the discharge of Beethoven, a comedy starring the same kind of dog.

Drysdale mentioned as quickly as other people heard they took in rescues, he began getting calls about undesirable exotic animals, and their assortment grew. 

“you have got individuals who buy monkeys. you got people who purchase lemurs. you were given people who smuggle something across the border. you have got X animal and so they do not want it anymore.”

It was once in Wainfleet that Drysdale began obtaining large cats.

Online, there are photos and videos galore of Drysdale and his animals — one video displays him enjoying fetch with a lion named Savannah behind his Wainfleet assets.

WATCH | Mark Drysdale and Savannah the lion in Wainfleet: 

“So, that may be a cat that may be absolutely loose,” Drysdale told CBC, noting he would be “crucified” for admitting that’s how he walked his lions on his property. 

But he said the cats stay via his facet as a result of “the sector past their cage and past me is a global they do not need to find out about.”

Drysdale insists his animals are bonded to him and that his lions have been never a possibility to the public. 

“on this international, we now have tens, if no longer masses of thousands of canine assaults every single 12 months. what number of lion assaults do you understand of?”

Drysdale would possibly not have been eager about lion assaults, but it quickly was clear his neighbours were.

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

an indication hooked up to a tree outside Drysdale’s Grand Bend house in April 2020 advertises the former Pineridge Zoo, which was positioned on the similar property. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

New existence for an old zoo

Through social media scuttlebutt in spring of 2019, Colin Butler learned that someone used to be seeking to revitalize the old Pineridge Zoo in Grand Bend. 

The CBC reporter in London, Ont., was right away intrigued since the former zoo was once identified for animal escapes.

“Other Folks waking up within the morning and discovering a warthog in their outside or something like that, right? So, I Thought, ‘Oh my God, this thing’s coming again.’ So, i began taking a look into it,” Butler recalled. 

He discovered that it used to be Drysdale who wanted to open a zoo called Roaring Cat Retreat on the grounds of the vintage facility, and that his Wainfleet operation had been shut down through health government.

Butler stated Drysdale advised him Roaring Cat Retreat was once “going to have these big, big fences, and the whole thing used to be going to be protected.”

Whilst Butler approached the town’s mayor for remark, he wasn’t conscious about Drysdale’s plans. “And it didn’t sound like he used to be comfortable with the theory, either.”

Butler’s coverage of the plan result in a series of public meetings in Lambton Seashores, the municipality the place Grand Bend is found.   

Drysdale said they were not made aware of those meetings.

Inside Of days of newsletter of Butler’s article, the municipality of Lambton Shorelines passed an unique animal bylaw. 

The transfer infuriated Drysdale, who said he didn’t get an opportunity to give his enter and used to be offended the town could “just pass a bylaw that may be going to … make the tens of heaps of greenbacks worth of work that we positioned into that assets beside the point.”

Grand Bend large cat house owners vow to stick and combat a town corridor that is treated them ‘like garbage’

But as a result of he had animals on his land sooner than the bylaw used to be passed, Drysdale insisted it did not pertain to him and vowed to combat it in courtroom.  

Soon, his Grand Bend operation was once accepting guests, setting the level for a lawsuit filed via the municipality. In The End, Drysdale could be compelled to move again.

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

3 lions peer through their enclosure while perched on an increased platform at Drysdale’s Grand Bend assets in April 2020. Drysdale insisted an exotic animal bylaw glided by the Municipality of Lambton Beaches at that time did not pertain to him as the animals were on his land ahead of it used to be enacted. (Colin Butler/CBC Information)

Court injunction ends roaring

one of essentially the most commonplace proceedings levelled at Roaring Cat Retreat was, smartly, the roaring. 

“Are we actually at that time in society the place a lion roaring would be thought to be a noise criticism over youngsters screaming?” Drysdale lamented. 

“Other People pay tens of lots of bucks to head to Africa and actually see a satisfaction of lions roar.”

Every Other criticism arose after lion cubs had been spotted wandering in a residential area. Drysdale said a girl who complained overreacted.

a pair of lion cubs escaped from Roaring Cat Retreat in Grand Bend

“Sadly, a few woman used to be getting mail, and it turned into a large factor. , it isn’t, ‘Baby lions are out.’ Oh, no, it’s ‘Lions are out.’ distinction among a toddler lion and a lion.” He claimed the lock on their enclosure were minimize.

In The Long Run, an Ontario court judge decided in late 2019 that even as the property used to be a zoo, Lambton Beaches had rezoned it years earlier. 

The municipality used to be granted an everlasting injunction in opposition to Roaring Cat Retreat, which intended the animals needed to be removed from the property. 

Via June 2020, the roaring in Grand Bend had stopped.

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

A bought sign is noticed out of doors the Grand Bend home of Mark and Tammy Drysdale in November 2020. The couple moved from Grand Bend to Maynooth, Ont., approximately 265 kilometres north of Toronto. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Some Other transfer, a lobby starts    

Before Drysdale and his 2nd spouse, Tammy Nyyssonen, arrived in Maynooth in late 2020, they called to invite the mayor if an unique animal bylaw existed in Hastings Highlands. 

They were instructed it did not. Drysdale recorded the call and published it to social media.

Their zoo dreams spurned, Grand Bend’s big cat couple set their points of interest on a new the town

“you understand what our former mayor should have performed?” asked Mitchell, the Toronto transplant to Maynooth. “He will need to have googled Drysdale.” 

Mitchell used to be astounded that there have been no regulations fighting homeowners of large, exotic animals moving “from municipality to municipality to municipality.”

He quickly organized a gaggle to foyer Hastings Highlands to go an unique animal bylaw, nevertheless it may take months to achieve any traction. 

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

Roy Mitchell of Maynooth, Ont., started the gang Electorate for a safe and Humane Hastings Highlands to lobby for an exotic animal bylaw within the municipality after learning of Drysdale’s plans to open a zoo there. (Ken Fraser)

Tragedy moves 

In July 2021, Ontario Provincial Police visited Drysdale’s Maynooth property on the request of Hastings-Prince Edward Public Well Being Unit to test on the animals as an issue of public safety. 

according to officers’ notes, received by way of CBC thru get right of entry to to knowledge requests, the lions on the property “killed the tiger and ate it” for the reason that animals were “able to dig a hollow underneath the fence to get between enclosures.” 

Officials referred to there wasn’t sufficient food or water for the large cats and that fruit loops have been left for the lemurs. 

A provincial animal welfare officer inspected the next day, and Drysdale and Nyyssonen had been subsequently charged with one rely each and every of allowing distress and four counts each of failing to comply with the criteria of care laid out within the Provincial Animal Welfare Products And Services Act, known as PAWS. 

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor Normal mentioned the four lions that killed the tiger have been “relocated voluntarily via the homeowners” who had been allowed to move them to an unknown location.

Inside weeks of the charges, town council voted unanimously to cross the exotic animal bylaw, and Mitchell’s staff, Voters for a secure and Humane Hastings Highlands, declared victory. 

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

Drysdale, proper, and his former spouse, Tammy Nyyssonen, are pictured on their Grand Bend belongings in April 2020. An animal welfare officer inspected their Maynooth belongings in July the next yr and the 2 have been later charged beneath the Provincial Animal Welfare Products And Services Act. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

For his phase, Drysdale stated his tiger had been killed by way of lions but was once adamant it hadn’t been eaten.

He rejected police claims that lions had dug between the enclosures. As An Alternative, he mentioned, the tiger have been left in a typical space and managed to get in with the lions. 

Government allowed Ontario couple to ‘voluntarily relocate’ FOUR lions that killed and ate tiger

He additionally mentioned he used to be in prison whilst the tragedy happened. 

Drysdale mentioned he and Nyssonnen were using after they had what he known as “an argument,” and that he then led police on a automotive chase.

He was later charged with unhealthy operation of a vehicle and attack, pleaded accountable and was convicted. 

Although he mentioned he took responsibility for what came about to his tiger, Drysdale also blamed police and described begging officials to take him house so he may just move the tiger to a safe enclosure.

“It was like losing a child,” Drysdale mentioned of the tiger’s dying. 

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

A lion suns itself in an enclosure at the Grand Bend assets in April 2020. In July the next 12 months, police visited Drysdale’s Maynooth property and showed that lions had killed one in every of the tigers. (Colin Butler/CBC Information)

A federal invoice profits beef up 

Zoocheck’s Woodyer is annoyed with the province, which she stated has been “promising for years” to bring in captive natural world rules, and that nothing has been performed up to now.

“So necessarily, Ontario is just like the Wild West whilst it comes to captive flora and fauna.”

They fought a zoo — Ontario towns grapple with exotic-animal owner

Julie Woodyer, campaigns director for Zoocheck Canada, stated her group has been following controversies at Drysdale’s facilities for years. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Tom Deline, mayor of Centre Hastings, mentioned his municipality lately updated an animal regulate bylaw that was introduced in 2001 whilst a person who owned a cougar moved to the realm. 

In small groups, Deline said, “other people can get very afraid” whilst it comes to unique animals and it may well from time to time mean taking the struggle to court docket — an price small towns can ill have enough money.  

“rather than have each municipality run round and check out to do some kind of a protectionist bylaw, i believe it would be higher if it used to be both federal or provincial,” he mentioned.  

The mayor of South Huron informed CBC he was once thankful that a previous municipal council had enacted an exotic animal bylaw in 2014. 

George Finch said he used to be surprised to learn that such rules were handled at a local degree and would really like to look the provincial and federal governments “step up to the plate.” 

“It’s certainly something that are supposed to be handled beyond the county level. It have to be handled at a provincial degree at a minimal.” 

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor Common, that’s chargeable for animal welfare within the province, informed CBC the legislation of exotic animal possession currently can be addressed in municipal or local bylaws. 

A PAWS committee was struck a few year ago to recommend the minister on problems, “including any long term regulations governing the prohibition or restrict of possession or breeding of exotic animals,” mentioned the spokesperson.    

as opposed to have each and every municipality run round and try to do a little kind of a protectionist bylaw, i think it could be better if it was both federal or provincial.- Tom Deline, mayor of Centre Hastings, on unique animal bylaws

Laws round retaining such animals vary, not only in Ontario, but around the u . s .. 

This makes it not possible to even estimate how many animals are stored in captivity in backyards or roadside zoos, in step with Kathy Duncan, director of nationwide programs with Humane Canada, a national group representing SPCAs and humane societies. 

“to name it a patchwork around the country can be beneficiant.”

Duncan says there is rising federal reinforce to move the Jane Goodall Act — Invoice S-218 offered in November 2020 — which would make it an offence to keep non-domesticated animals, equivalent to nice apes, elephants and tigers.

Hoping the cats come back  

Drydale says there is no want for any ban on exotic animals and insists there are good reasons for individuals like himself to possess them, pointing to animal wrangling for movie and television productions and academic purposes.

The PAWS Act is doing what it is supposed to, he mentioned, crediting the province for allowing him to relocate his animals rather than seizing them.

“It controlled me when things went south here. They did the fitting factor,” he mentioned. “They made positive that those animals were moved to a secure place.”

Drysdale stated he plans to convey the animals back to Maynooth as soon as he can.


“of their bylaw, they do have an exception for sanctuaries and those taking care of animals,” he said. “And That I used to be glad to peer that, to be honest with you. It’s roughly throwing you a bone.”

if truth be told, the new regulations best supply exemptions for shelters run by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the municipality, however people can observe on a case through case basis. 

That’s a choice the municipality would have to make.

The documentary “Of Tigers and Towns” was once produced by Joan Webber. With recordsdata from Yvette Brend.

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