Judge Rules 57 Seized Animals from Virginia Roadside Zoo to Find New Homes, 39 to Return Amid Cruelty Allegations

NATURAL BRIDGE, Va. – A judge has ruled that many of the animals recently seized from a roadside zoo in Virginia will not be returned, following an investigation by the state attorney general. Rockbridge General District Court Judge Gregory Mooney determined on Friday that the animals taken from the Natural Bridge Zoo had been subject to abuse or neglect. As a result, 57 out of the 96 animals will be “disposed” of, meaning they will be placed with a humane society or animal shelter for adoption.

The decision comes after Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office conducted a search warrant at the zoo in December, prompted by reports of poor conditions and mistreatment of the animals. Confidential informants and undercover officers had observed these conditions throughout 2023. During court proceedings, state witnesses testified about finding deceased animals and animal parts in a freezer on the property. They also described distressing scenes, such as birds defecating on tortoises and bloated, dead goats remaining in their enclosures during visiting hours.

Contradicting the state witnesses, lawyers for zoo owners Karl and Deborah “Debbie” Mogensen brought in expert witnesses to support their defense. These experts presented a different perspective on the conditions at the zoo. However, Judge Mooney ultimately agreed with the prosecution, stating that the evidence had established beyond a reasonable doubt the cruelty and inadequate care endured by the animals.

Out of the 96 animals originally seized, 39 will be returned to the zoo as the court could not find sufficient evidence to justify their continued seizure. However, Mooney denied the state’s request for unannounced inspections of the zoo for the next five years.

As of now, the Natural Bridge Zoo remains closed for the winter season, and the owners could not be reached for comment. The fate of the remaining animals, which will be released for adoption, provides some hope for their future well-being.

This ruling sheds light on the issue of animal cruelty and the steps taken by authorities to protect vulnerable animals. The investigation and subsequent trial highlighted the importance of upholding animal welfare laws and ensuring appropriate care for captive animals in roadside zoos. By securing the disposal and adoption of these mistreated animals, this case sets a precedent for holding accountable those who neglect their duty to provide proper care and living conditions for animals in their care.