The Oleson Park Zoo is overcrowded with animals, including exotic species that volunteers aren't trained to properly care for, according to a critic of the Fort Dodge attraction who addressed the City Council Monday.
"I don't want to have the zoo closed," said Amy Von Bank, of Fort Dodge. ''I never once said I wanted to see the zoo closed.
''What I want to see is a smaller, more manageable, more humane zoo,'' she added.
A peacock struts around its pen in the Oleson Park Zoo Monday afternoon in Fort Dodge. The zoo’s status was the subject of a discussion Monday evening involving the City Council and the Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo.
Another zoo critic, Barbie Garst, of Fort Dodge, had harsher words for the site
''I refuse to take my kids to the Oleson Park Zoo because of the filthiness,'' she said.
During the same council session, Jim Kramer, the president of the Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo, defended the work of the volunteers and noted that inspectors from the United States Department of Agriculture have never reported violations of animal care standards there.
''Like any regulator, it's their job to find things that can be improved,'' he said. ''The important thing is they have not cited or criticized us on the selection and care of animals.''
Jerry Patterson, a Fort Dodge resident who was involved in a 2000 zoo expansion, said it's a place where families can bond while viewing animals. He described it as a ''very therapeutic place.''
Contrasting views of the zoo's status were outlined during an hourlong workshop session that preceded Monday's council meeting.
The discussion, which was always polite, was the latest phase of increased attention the animal enclosure in the park at the south end of 17th Street has received since two Arctic foxes that once lived there died in late June. Von Bank, a former veterinary technician who once worked in the Bronx Zoo in New York City, brought the deaths and the condition of the zoo to the attention of Mayor Matt Bemrich and to a much larger audience via social media.
Bemrich reported on Monday that the city has the power to levy a tax of up to 27 cents per $1,000 of taxable value to pay for a zoo. He asked the council to consider that levy when it works on the 2013-2014 budget early next year.
The mayor said private fundraisers to support the zoo should also be considered.
The discussion on Monday produced no final conclusions, however. Bemrich said city officials will continue reviewing the contract between the local government and the Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo, the volunteer group that owns and cares for the animals. He said that contract will be the subject of another workshop discussion with the council before it is presented for final action. A date for that workshop discussion wasn't set.
The zoo has existed for about 25 years, according to Kramer. Up until the late 1990s, it was filled with geese, deer, sheep and goats.
In 2000, the Kiwanis Club agreed to help with an expansion and improvement of the zoo. The Friends of the Zoo was established the following year, and the ownership of the animals was transferred to that group. Since that time, Iowa Central Community College students built the barn, and pens were created to house birds and small animals. A variety of new animals were introduced.
That's the problem, according to Von Bank. She said the zoo has 100 animals, including exotic species that require special care.
Robin Rongved, a zoo supporter from Gowrie, said claims of 100 animals are misleading.
''Everything I saw looked pretty good,'' she said. ''There's no neglect that I saw. There's no abuse.''
''I think a lot of this has gone too far,'' she said of the zoo criticism.