Islip officials are “doing the best that we can” to regulate a controversial sloth exhibition business, Supervisor Angie Carpenter told about 20 animal rights advocates calling for its closure at a town board meeting Tuesday.
Earlier, town attorney John DiCioccio said the business, Sloth Encounters, which operates out of a former pool supply store in Hauppauge, had until Aug. 29 to remedy violations to portions of the town code dealing with fire safety and possession of wild animals.
“If the property is not brought into compliance on that date, the fire marshal’s office will go back, issue appearance tickets, and the property owner will end up in court with the Town of Islip,” he said.
A Sloth Encounters manager would not comment Tuesday afternoon.
Sloth Encounters charges $50 per hour to hold, feed and pet its sloths, which include baby sloths, according to its website. Long Island animal advocates and the animal rights group PETA have said the business exploits animals and should be closed.
They have also criticized Larry Wallach, an animal exhibitor who registered the business slothencounters.com with the state in July. Newsday has previously reported that Wallach lived with a declawed cougar and a badly malnourished wallaby. United States Department of Agriculture inspections of six sloths in his possession in May and June found no violations, but Wallach has accumulated 14 violations since 2014, according to federal records. The agency listed most of those violations as "non-critical." Only one, having to do with care for a tiger cub with a fractured foot in 2021, was "critical."
Wallach could not immediately be reached for comment
“We are asking the town to take its laws seriously and shut down Sloth Encounters immediately,” said John Di Leonardo, president of the advocacy group Humane Long Island and an organizer of Tuesday’s protest.“If they don’t shut him down, absolutely we will have protests” at the business.
In an email after the board meeting, Di Leonardo said "our members continue to urge the Islip Town Board to take steps to shut him down immediately rather than waiting weeks to consider protecting animals and the public."
Earlier, protesters gathered outside Islip Town Hall before the board meeting with sloth-themed signs and chanted slogans like “No excuse for animal abuse.”
Jerry Foster-Julian, a motorcycle instructor from Huntington Station, said she had come out to ask town officials to “step up and do their job … Sloths and other wild animals do not belong in captivity.”
Karenlyn Stacher, a registered nurse and state-licensed animal rehabilitator from Merrick, said during the public portion of the board meeting that exhibition of sloths — solitary, mostly nocturnal animals that sleep about 15 hours a day — amounted to torture.
"Why are you allowing these animals that have feelings, that have emotions, to be tortured on your watch?" she asked board members who did not respond.
Valley Stream teacher Irene Ippolito said during the meeting that the town faced a potential public health crisis. Monkeypox, COVID-19, Ebola and swine flu all jumped from animals to humans, she said.
"Consider the danger of what could happen … if they bite a child or fleas jump from the animal to the human."
Islip Town code prohibits possession of wild animals, with limited exceptions for educational or scientific purposes and circuses, carnivals or outdoor shows. DiCioccio and town spokeswoman Caroline Smith have not answered Newsday’s questions about whether Sloth Encounters’ sloths can be legally kept under the code.
Thomas McKevitt, a municipal law expert and Nassau County legislator, said municipal code prohibiting “obnoxious or dangerous” animals was common. It remained unclear Tuesday whether sloths would fall under that category, McKevitt said.
Because the penalty provision of Islip’s wild animal code was repealed in 1982, the town “can’t give a summons or ticket to appear in district court,” he said. But town officials can enforce the code by bringing an injunction in Suffolk County Supreme Court, he said.