A Hauppauge sloth exhibition business that Suffolk County officials said was violating health code has also been charged with Islip Town code violations.
Management of Sloth Encounters, on Veterans Memorial Highway, was issued a notice of violation for change of use without a permit, lack of fire extinguishers, lack of carbon monoxide detectors and for electrical hazards, town spokeswoman Caroline Smith told Newsday. The violations came after a July 25 inspection by town fire marshals.
“They will have 30 days to rectify the issues, or they will receive a summons,” Smith wrote in an email.
Islip Town code prohibits possession of wild animals, with limited exceptions for educational or scientific purposes and circuses, carnivals or outdoor shows. Smith said a town fire marshal attempted to issue a citation for violation of that section of code Monday, but the business was closed. The fire marshal left a copy of the violation on the door, and another copy will be sent via certified mail, Smith said.
"There's nothing educational about this," said John Di Leonardo, president of the advocacy group Humane Long Island. "It's teaching all the wrong lessons about (these) animals: that, rather than belonging in Costa Rica, they belong on Route 347 being hugged by strangers for money."
Larry Wallach — an East Rockaway man who registered the business slothencounters.com at the address with the state in July — could not be reached for comment.
Sloth Encounters charges $50 per hour to hold, feed and pet its sloths, which include baby sloths, according to its website. It charges more for birthday parties and yearly memberships.
Long Island animal advocates accused the business of exploiting animals soon after it opened this summer, and county officials cited it for operating as a petting zoo without having obtained the necessary permit. Management later submitted a permit application.
In an email to Newsday last month, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Wallach “subjects solitary, nocturnal sloths, including a vulnerable baby, to grabbing hands, noisy crowds, and ramshackle cages.”
A man who answered the phone at Sloth Encounters in July said Wallach did not own the physical business, only the website. Wallach’s Facebook page includes many pictures of sloths inside the business, one captioned: “Busy busy at sloth encounters come on down.” The page also describes him as former "humane Commissioner" for Long Beach. City officials did not comment.
Wallach —who has lived with animals including a declawed cougar and a wallaby, as Newsday has reported — had a USDA animal exhibitor license that expired in June, according to records.
USDA inspections of six sloths in his possession in May and June found no violations, but Wallach has accumulated 14 violations since 2014, according to records. The agency listed most as "non-critical;" only one, having to do with care for a tiger cub with a fractured foot in 2021, was "critical."
In 2013, Wallach’s exhibitor license was suspended six months under a settlement with USDA. The agency accused him of failing to provide adequate veterinary care to animals and other violations of the Animal Welfare Act, according to a copy of the complaint on the Internet Archive. He did not admit or deny the allegations, according to a settlement order for the case.