As it turns out, John and Judy Dollarhite, Nixa, may not be expected to satisfy a $90,000 settlement agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture for breeding and selling rabbits without a license.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill intervened on the couple’s behalf last week.
“I tried to intervene,” McCaskill said in a telephone interview May 27. “We got busy and the USDA agreed to back off the ridiculous $90,000 fine. They have not committed to what that dollar amount would be.”
As reported in the Headliner May 25 and other news sources, the Dollarhites had until May 23 to settle with the USDA after being notified of the penalty related to selling 619 rabbits and guinea pigs from 2006 to 2010.
According to information from the USDA, breeding the rabbits for sale is a federal regulated activity under the Animal Welfare Act approved by Congress in 1966.
A protest at Ozark’s USDA office brought out about 30 people supporting the Dollarhites. But the situation had to come to McCaskill’s attention before that.
The Dollarhites notified the senator’s office by email May 20 of the situation. Before staff apprised McCaskill of the predicament, she had already read it in a newspaper report.
“I honestly read it in the paper, not knowing they had contacted my office already,” she said.
McCaskill was candid when responding to the amount of the penalty.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “This is the kind of thing that makes your head blow off—that the federal government was so out of touch.”
USDA spokesman David Sacks confirmed May 27 that the department has notified by mail the Dollarhites with an alternative settlement proposal, but was not at liberty to share the details until the Dollarhites confirm receipt of the notification.
As of press time, John Dollarhite said he hasn’t received any word from the USDA.
“We don’t know a thing,” Dollarhite said May 29. “ We were told that USDA was going to do something by the end of the week. We have nothing at this time.”
But Dollarhite said he is hopeful that with McCaskill’s intervention, the situation will resolve.
“I am impressed that McCaskill has taken this by the reins,” he said. “I am waiting for (Rep.) Billy Long and (Sen.) Roy Blunt to do kind of the same thing.”
Dollarhite said he appreciated McCaskill contacting his family personally.
“She contacted my wife directly,” he said. “(McCaskill) said the first time she read (the story) in the newspaper her head about exploded.”
And McCaskill said she hopes the USDA uses some common sense.
“This has to do with a fine not fitting the crime and the government losing its common sense,” she said.
Dollarhite said he’s found support for his cause against the seemingly outrageous USDA penalty near and far.
“I have a lot of support not just here locally, but across the nation,” he said.