Sloth Encounters at 551 Veterans Memorial Hwy. in Hauppauge.

Sloth Encounters at 551 Veterans Memorial Hwy. in Hauppauge. Credit: James Carbone

Sloth Encounters, a Hauppauge business that charges $50 per half-hour to hold, feed and pet sloths, was ticketed this week for possession of wild animals and other alleged Islip Town code violations, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Four appearance tickets issued Monday also covered occupancy of a building without fire marshal approval, prohibited use and change of use without a permit. 

Spokeswoman Caroline Smith, in an email, said tickets were issued Monday for Fifth District Court in Ronkonkoma for a Sept. 14 appearance. She did not say what fines or penalties the tickets might carry, and the court clerk’s office did not comment.

Sloth Encounters did not respond to a voicemail.

Islip officials also issued appearance tickets for occupancy of a building without fire marshal approval and other code violations to Sloth Encounters' landlord, a limited liability company called 777 Chris’s Way. The company could not be reached.

Federally licensed animal exhibitor Larry Wallach registered SlothEncounters.com in July. U.S. Department of Agriculture records show that Wallach keeps at least six sloths.   

With narrow exceptions, town code prohibits possession of "an animal of any species which in its natural habitat is wild, dangerous or ferocious." Penalties for violation of that section of town code were repealed in 1982, but Thomas McKevitt, a municipal law expert and Nassau County legislator, told Newsday the town could enforce the code by bringing an injunction in Suffolk County Supreme Court prohibiting the business from harboring sloths or by invoking a provision of state law allowing a district court judge to issue a temporary restraining order.

Town officials could seek fines or imprisonment if the businesses don't comply and the businesses can fight the tickets in court, McKevitt said, but "that gets very costly. Many times they'll come to some agreement where they agree to leave."

Wallach has rehabilitated exotic animals and worked with the Nassau and Suffolk SPCA organizations, but in 2013, his exhibitor license was suspended for six months after the USDA accused him of failing to provide adequate veterinary care to animals and other violations of the Animal Welfare Act. He did not admit or deny the allegations. 

In 2017, Hempstead Town officials issued summonses to Wallach for harboring a malnourished wallaby and a ball python.

This July, a Suffolk County spokeswoman said the business was operating in violation of the Suffolk sanitary code because it lacked a petting zoo permit, which it later obtained. 

Members of the animal rights group Humane Long Island have said Sloth Encounters is exploiting animals and at an August Islip Town Board meeting called on town officials to close the business. Group president John Di Leonardo said Wednesday the sloths should be sent to sanctuaries and that town officials should "work with the USDA to revoke [Wallach's] license so he won’t be able to mistreat animals or endanger the public."

Wallach told a local news outlet last month that the sloths had been bred in captivity and were treated well. "What I'm doing with the sloths is fantastic — they're treated beautifully, they eat beautifully."

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