California big-cat park appeals safety orders

Associated PressJuly 14, 2014 

— The operator of an animal park in Central California said Monday he's appealing orders to increase security more than a year after a volunteer was killed there by a lion.

Dale Anderson, founder of Cat Haven in the foothill community of Dunlap east of Fresno, said that the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health wants him to put locks on more cage doors, have workers pair up and arm them with pepper spray.

Anderson said he has worked around large cats for 23 years and fears these safety measures were created by state officials who lack his experience and may put workers in greater danger. More locks would not add safety if the rules aren't followed, and working in pairs creates complacency, he said, adding that keepers may shoot pepper spray into their own faces.

"They're turning around and trying to tell me how to put my procedures together," Anderson said. "Where is this coming from?"

On March 6, 2013, 24-year-old intern Dianna Hanson of Seattle died when a 550-pound lion named Cous Cous escaped from a partially closed feeding cage, breaking her neck. Officials shot and killed the lion when it couldn't be coaxed away from the body.

Anderson said local, state and federal officials cleared Cat Haven of any wrong in the death, calling it an unfortunate accident.

CalOSHA spokesman Peter Melton said in a statement that his department is focused on protecting workers, including those around exotic animals. The state's attorneys have offered to negotiate with Cat Haven, but the park hasn't responded, Melton said.

Cat Haven remains open to the public and is home to 31 cats from a dozen species of all sizes.

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