ST. LOUIS — A federal judge on Wednesday found a Missouri woman in contempt of court for violating a settlement agreement with an animal rights group over the care of seven chimps originally from a facility near Festus.
Tonia Haddix now has 14 days to find a lawyer and try to strike a deal with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry, who found that Haddix had violated a 2020 consent decree. If she fails to do so, she risks a fine of $50 a day until she complies with the agreement.
"I am getting an attorney because I'm suing them," Haddix told Perry at one point, referring to PETA. She later vowed that she would not deal with PETA.
Haddix, who has been representing herself in the lawsuit, signed the consent decree with PETA last fall, agreeing to send four of the chimps, Tammy, Connor, Candy and Kerry, to the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida. Three other chimps, Crystal, Mikayla and Tonka, are to stay with Haddix, but in a facility built to specific standards, including a requirement for a full-time chimpanzee caregiver, a part-time maintenance worker and experienced volunteers.
Jared Goodman, a lawyer for PETA, told Perry in court that Haddix had complied with "none or virtually none of her obligations," and had sent misleading progress reports about the work she's done.
Haddix bought a property in Stoddard County, southwest of Cape Girardeau, but said she later decided to build the facility in Eldon, southwest of Jefferson City.
Haddix, who broke down sobbing at one point in court, insisted that she has never failed to care for the chimps, which she compared to her own children. She estimated she's spent $500,000 on the lawsuit and chimp care, and got involved to help Connie Braun Casey of the Missouri Primate Foundation when Casey was unable to care for them.
Haddix said she thought the consent decree was not a court order and could be changed by either side.
Outside the courthouse, Haddix was more defiant about her challenge to the agreement for the chimps, saying, "I'm going to fight for all seven."
PETA first sued in 2016, claiming that conditions at the Missouri Primate Foundation's facility, at 12338 State Road CC near Festus, violated the federal Endangered Species Act. In addition to the foundation, which cared for rescued chimps and retired zoo animals, Casey and her then-husband once ran Chimparty, which supplied chimps for parties, commercials and other activities.