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Battle over legality of exotic pet store Sloth Encounters continues on Long Island

Sloth Encounters exotic pet store faces legal challenges
Sloth Encounters exotic pet store faces legal challenges 02:07

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. -- A Long Island town says a business that allows customers to hold, feed and now sell sloths is defying a court order to stop operating.

Its owner claims he's complying with the law.

Sloth Encounters Long Island in Hauppauge now offers the tree-dwelling mammals for sale, along with kangaroos and other exotics.

"We are a pet store. That's it. I'm not a petting zoo. Followed the rules of the law. Everyone who has been to this store, loves it," said Larry Wallach, animal specialist at Sloth Encounters.

READ MORESloth Encounters business on Long Island ticketed for possession of wild animals, other alleged violations

Wallach offers a $50 hands-on educational session for prospective buyers, saying his business is no different than any pet store.

"For a puppy or a cat, nothing. I do not want to fill homes with animals, make money and people getting hurt because they're not doing what's right," Wallach said.

But critics say he's gaming the system by defying a court order to stop operating as wild animal exhibit.

"This is just his latest attempt to try to circumvent the law," said John DiLeonardo, Humane Long Island founder.

READ MORELong Island lawmakers eye ban on exotic animals in traveling shows

Humane Long Island led the charge to close Sloth Encounters on zoning violations.

"These are animals that belong in the tropical rain forest," DiLeonardo said. "Sloths and kangaroos are not pets and they are not props. It is cruel to keep them in your garages, your backyard or your bathroom."

Wallach says he vets all would-be buyers and insists the sloths are well cared for and legal.

"It's considered an exotic pet -- legal in New York state," Wallach said.

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

But the town of Islip has a ban on the sale of wild animals. It is seeking a contempt order against the business, saying in a statement, "They are determined to do whatever they want without regard for the law."

Wallach argues sloths are not wild animals and vows to fight what he calls selective enforcement.

Volunteers at Sloth Encounters include a retired science teacher.

"There is nothing cruel going on here. The animals are loved. He is hugging and kissing them. I think it's a cool place," Steve Mindlin said.

This case has promoted a new bill that just passed the state Senate that expands the definition of wild animals to include sloths, banning their sale. Wallach points to 21 other states where sloths are legal to sell as pets.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Monica Martinez, released the following statement:

"The intent of this bill is to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers. The bill establishes a clear definition of wild and exotic animals, and further identifies specific orders and families of both wild and exotic animals that shall not be imported, owned, possessed or sold for use as a pet in New York state some of which include sloths, kangaroos, hyenas, and armadillos," Martinez said. "It does not prohibit the sale of all wild and exotic animals. The temperament and behavior of wild and exotic animals is unpredictable. These are not animals that should be closely interacting with people on a daily basis. These animals require specific conditions and environments to survive. The habitats in which these animals live in the wild are far from conditions that exist in New York. Any entity or individual in the state of New York operating with the intent of profiting by selling wild and exotic animals, as identified in this bill, would be held accountable under the law."

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