Wild at Heart, facing lawyer demand, selling some animals

GLADES COUNTY — Because of their attorney’s demand for payment before the court hearing they face on July 10, Jeremy and Jamie Hargett are now urgently seeking to sell or transfer ownership of animals that live with them at Wild at Heart Wildlife Center.

They’re facing an eviction lawsuit by the former owner of the Animal Adventures wildlife park, Sue Pearce. That attraction used to occupy the 5 acres in rural Glades County west of Okeechobee until it was shut down and Mrs. Pearce was stripped of her licensing by the State of Florida. When her late husband, Earl “Dock” Pearce, died months ago, she gained control of the company that owns the tract Wild at Heart occupies, called Myrtle Island Ranch. The Hargetts have a 99-year lease on that property dating from 2017, but Mrs. Pearce is contesting its validity, contending that it’s a forged document. A hearing in that lawsuit is set for July 10 in the 20th Judicial Circuit Court at Moore Haven before Judge Jack Lundy.

Mr. Hargett said that his attorney, Collun Cameron, has demanded a lump-sum payment of his fee, which is $3,500, by Thursday, June 20. So, he posted on his and the park’s Facebook pages a notice that “I will be selling some choice animals, both mammals and reptiles, for the highest offers. This is to finish (paying) attorney fees.” He said that many of his friends and professional acquaintances are familiar with their wildlife stock and invited them to text him with offers.

Mr. Hargett said that if they cannot raise enough money to pay the lawyer, he will stop representing them and they will be completely at Judge Lundy’s mercy. And, he pointed out, Judge Lundy is a former schoolmate of Mrs. Pearce’s.

The Hargetts’ supporters have been spreading the news on Facebook and brainstorming about possible fundraisers. He said he is considering having an open house at the park around the end of June if they cannot raise the money by next week.

James Nippert wrote: “Jeremy and Jamie Winter Hargett are some of the best people I have ever had the honor of calling my friends… They rescued this place from a horrible situation and have gone above and beyond for the animals that live here. They are having issues with the original owner who put the facility in the deplorable condition (it was in) when they first got it. This women continues to spread lies about them, making fundraising incredibly difficult, and she often takes then to court which only hurts the center more because they have to go to court, taking time and money away from the care of the animals. Please spread the word that they are good people that actually care for the animals they have. So please if you’re able to donate, please do; if not, keep sharing this so it spreads through Facebook.”

Mr. Hargett said Thursday that they are making preparations to transfer a pair of tigers and one lion to a wildlife park in northern Alabama within the next couple of weeks. The Hargetts had to get health certifications on these animals so they could be transferred over state lines. The trio of animals will be transported to the care of Tigers For Tomorrow at Untamed Mountain, which, like Wild at Heart, is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) Wild Animal Preserve and Environmental Educational Center.

Wild at Heart also gave a tiger they knew as Harvey to Louisiana State University to be one in its long line of mascots named Mike the Tiger two years ago.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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