Lawsuit filed against McClelland’s Critters

Published 8:21 pm Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Enterprise woman has filed a lawsuit against the owner of McClelland’s Critters Zoo in Banks, after her 1-year-old son’s arm was deeply gashed by one of the zoo’s leopards.

Emily Natalio filed suit in the Pike County Courthouse Tuesday after her son’s arm was cut by a wild animal through the fence at McClelland’s Critters, leaving the boy with more than 100 stitches in his arm. The incident occurred Feb. 8, but the family did not file any police reports or complaints at that time.

“I represent a little boy injured by the leopard, and we filed a lawsuit for damages,” said George Beck, Natalio’s attorney. “Our position was they are wild animals that ought to be properly fenced and kept.”

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McClelland’s Critters is located on 70 acres of land and has several wild animals, including ligers, bears and even tigers and is owned by resident Michael McClelland.

Beck said whena relative took took Natalio’s son to visit the zoo, they were escorted by McClelland. While there, the wild cat reached through the fence and cut the child’s arm, Beck said.

“The leopard just reached out of his cage and cut (the boy’s) arm open,” Beck said. “There’s no double fence and no protection.”

Natalio’s suit alleges the animals are not properly enclosed and is claiming negligence and wantonness, among other charges.

After hospitalization and medical treatment, the lawsuit claims the child suffered both physical and mental anguish, and the family has and will continue to face great medical expenses.

The document also claims McClelland “permitted a wild animal to come in contact” with the boy.

Natalio doesn’t request a particular amount in damages, just simply what the jury may award in its discretion.

McClelland has not filed a response with an attorney yet, and he could not be reached for comment. No trial date has been set at this time.

Probate Judge Bill Stone said McClelland does have a county license to operate the business, and he is unsure of who regulates the zoo at the state level.

In addition to filing suit, Natalio said she also filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture.