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Animal rights advocates come out in force against Suffolk County business Sloth Encounters LI

"Sloth Encounters" sparks heated battle over cuddling creatures
"Sloth Encounters" sparks heated battle over cuddling creatures 02:24

ISLIP, N.Y. -- There is a heated battle on Long Island over Sloth Encounters LI.

The business provides a so-called "one-of-a-kind experience," allowing one-on-one holding and feeding of the small mammals.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Tuesday, animal advocates say they are demanding its closure.

Animal specialist Larry Wallach, along with investors, opened Sloth Encounters LI in Hauppauge this spring, delighting enthusiasts.

"My business is to educate the public on wildlife. If you go to any other sloth encounter it's nowhere near this," Wallach said. "Humidity, state-of-the-art heaters, enclosures. They have tons of room."

But animal rights advocates, led by anthrozoologist John Di Leonardo demand Islip shut him down.

"Sloth Encounters is teaching children all the wrong lessons that animals are ours to dominate and to keep captive next to an ice cream shop on Route 347. These animals belong in Costa Rica or a reputable sanctuary," DiLeonardo said.

They brought a stack of USDA violations for Wallach, dating back years, and a petition after the business was cited for fire code violations. Wallach said they were immediately corrected. The building, which used to be a pool supply store, has a Suffolk County petting zoo permit, but lacks a town of Islip change-of-use permit.

"If you decide to change the use to something dramatically different than what was there, you have to apply for a change-of-use permit. At this moment, they are operating illegally," Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter said.

Wallach said he is working on getting the permit, and has never abused an animal.

"They are safe. They get great food. I have great vet care," Wallach said.

"They are nocturnal. They are sensitive. They don't want to be held. They don't want to be touched, and we already have reports of two bites," DiLeonardo said.

The sloths' popularity can't be denied.

"I've always had an affliction to want to hold sloths," Sloth Encounters LI visitor Begahn Busto said.

"I don't see any downside to it. The animals are healthy and happy and people are enjoying this," employee Ashley Herkommer said.

"They shouldn't be on display for people to handle," protester Tanya Beichert added.

Nothing is expected to move very quickly. The town must give Sloth Encounters LI until month's end to comply with town code, and if not, the case could end up in court.

More than 200 have also signed a counter petition supporting Sloth Encounters LI. 

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