Carole & Howard Baskin aim to stop Cook by persuading feds to do their job
KAUFMAN, Texas––Having already put tiger cub exhibitors “Joe Exotic” Schreibvogel Maldonado Passage, Tim Stark, and Jeff Lowe out of business, Carole and Howard Baskin of Big Cat Rescue are metaphorically gunning now for Marcus Cline Hines Cook, doing business as Zoo Dynamics and ZooCats, formerly operating at times as the Specialized Species Humane Society Inc., Zoological Studies Group, ZooCats Zoological Systems, Zoo America Inc., ZooPros, and Technology Specialities & Research Group Inc.
Notches in their belts
The Baskins target chronically problematic exhibitors––Cook included––by documenting, publicizing, and pressuring the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service [USDA-APHIS] to respond to the exhibitors’ typically long histories of Animal Welfare Act violations.
“Joe Exotic” Schreibvogel Maldonado Passage made the Baskins’ job a bit easier, if also more dangerous, by getting himself convicted of trying to hire a hitman to kill Carole Baskin.
Stark and Lowe made high profile targets of themselves by “co-starring” along with “Joe Exotic” in the 2020 Netflix documentary series Tiger King.
Animals not impounded
Cook, however, should already have been out of the exotic wildlife exhibition business since 2012, at latest, if a July 27, 2009 USDA-APHIS judicial order that permanently revoked ZooCats animal exhibition permit––and fined Cook $100,000––had been enforced to the letter.
Cook and his tigers appear to be still on the road chiefly because law enforcement agencies have not felt motivated to impound his animals.
Secondarily, though, Cook has used quite a number of dodges to keep his tigers on display before paying customers, while he remains just beyond the spotlight.
All Things Wild
Reported NBC-Dallas/Fort Worth on June 7, 2021, “A Texas woman operated an illegal tiger display in Southeast Texas in March,” according to a USDA-APHIS inspection report.
“Lisa Lopez, who operates under the name All Things Wild, based in Kaufman, offered photo opportunities with two white tigers at the Trinity Valley Exposition Fairgrounds in Liberty, located halfway between Houston and Beaumont. Neither Lopez nor All Things Wild had a license to exhibit, the USDA said,” the NBC-Dallas/Fort Worth exposé continued.
Both Lopez and All Things Wild were cited by the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service for Animal Welfare Act violations.
“Lopez applied for a license to exhibit in 2017 but was denied. Liberty city officials said Lopez tried passing off another exhibitor’s license as her own to the event organizer,” NBC-Dallas/Fort Worth reported.
“It wasn’t the first such citation for All Things Wild and Lopez, along with her business partner Marcus Cook,” NBC-Dallas/Fort Worth noted., adding that Cook “had his own license to exhibit tigers permanently revoked in 2012 after being charged with nearly 100 Animal Welfare Act violations.”
The license revocation was actually originally issued in 2008, reiterated in 2009; the 2012 date refers to the final failure of Cook’s multiple appeals.
“The violations,” NBC-Dallas/Fort Worth recounted “included using electric prods to ‘control’ a tiger during a photo session, denying animals adequate nutrition and veterinary care, and using handling methods that resulted in a tiger cub biting a member of the public.”
Critter Lane Petting Zoo
Baskin on July 10, 2021 relayed to USDA-APHIS an anonymous tip from a person claiming to be a neighbor of the Critter Lane Petting Zoo in Valles Mines, Missouri.
Complained the anonymous tipster, “Marcus’ white tigers Vinita and Kadar are here until July 11, 2021. I’ve emailed the USDA many times a day and called them. Yet no one has come to shut them down! Kadar and Vinita are 7-year-old sibling white tigers. They are in the same cage! They will breed!”
The 2021 incidents were scarcely the first time Cook allegedly exhibited tigers under someone else’s USDA permit.
Baskin in September 2019 relayed to USDA-APHIS an anonymous tip that Cook was exhibiting tigers at the Georgia State Fair under the license of another exhibitor named Michael Todd, while Todd was in Illinois promoting camel rides.
Baskin in September 2020 relayed a similar tip that Cook was exhibiting tigers at the Alabama State Fair.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA[ eventually amplified Baskin’s complaints, asking the U.S. Department of Justice to issue an injunction against Cook and prosecute him for continued exhibition without a license.
Eventually, posted PETA, “The USDA terminated tiger show operator Michael Todd’s exhibitor’s license after finding a history of Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations by him and his employee Marcus Cook.”
“Failed to feed animals properly”
“In addition to the astonishing lack of precaution taken by respondents to protect the public and the animals from harm,” stated the original USDA license revocation order issued to Cook, “respondents also failed to feed their animals properly or provide them with veterinary and other requisite kinds of care.”
Cook at that time was allowed to continue exhibiting tigers and other wildlife until all of his appeals failed. In addition, even after Cook’s last appeal failed, he was allowed to keep his animals as pets.
“Well-known to law enforcement”
Cook, 55, has been well known to law enforcement for at least 25 years.
In fact, Cook used to be law enforcement, before getting into the exotic animal exhibition business.
Thirty-year Dallas police officer Melissa “Misty” Coody has been listed as an officer or director of several of Cook’s umbrellas for animal exhibition.
According to the July 27, 2009 USDA-APHIS judicial order that permanently revoked ZooCats animal exhibition permit, “Marcus Cook trained Melissa Coody to work with big cats, and, since that training, Melissa Coody has had a history of working with big cats.”
Cook’s own law enforcement career came to an abrupt end in 1997, when he resigned from the Lake Dallas police force, under investigation for “mistreating suspects and misusing his police dog,” Associated Press reported.
“Mistreating suspects & misusing police dog”
Dallas Morning News reporter Gayle Reaves detailed four instances of alleged misuse of the police dog, named Sampson, two of which resulted in injuries to fellow Lake Dallas police officers.
Cook was reportedly founder and at the time, president, of the Texas Police K9 Association for Certification & Standards.
Added the Dallas Morning News, “The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards & Education is investigating whether Marcus Cook submitted falsified documents to obtain his license [to practice law enforcement] four years ago.
High school dropout
“Cook applied to the law enforcement commission in 1993 to become a reserve law enforcement officer,” the Dallas Morning News explained. “On the sworn application, he stated that he was a high school graduate and submitted a 1984 diploma from North Mesquite High School as evidence. Cook also has testified at least twice in separate civil suits that he is a North Mesquite graduate.”
However, the Dallas Morning News continued, “North Mesquite High School officials said Cook did not graduate from that school, but withdrew in December 1983 after repeating the ninth grade and completing one semester of 10th grade.
“Mesquite school officials said that Mr. Cook transferred to Brownwood High School in north Central Texas. High school yearbooks show a Marc Cook attended Brownwood for one year.
“Texas Education Agency officials said their records also do not reflect that Cook earned a general equivalency diploma [GED] in Texas.
“Law enforcement officers in Texas are required to have a high school diploma or a GED,” the Dallas Morning News pointed out.
“Concerns about his credibility”
“Denton County prosecutors have dismissed several cases in which former Lake Dallas police Sgt. Marcus Cook was the only state witness,” the Dallas Morning News reported in August 1998, “because of concerns about his credibility.
Specifically, “Cook quit his Lake Dallas job last fall during an investigation by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education into possible falsification of his educational records.”
Cook, the son of a longtime Dallas police officer, “rose from trainee to supervisor in less than two years,” wrote Gayle Reaves of the Dallas Morning News in a separate expose.
Added Reaves, “Lake Dallas has 10 full-time police officers. In the last three years, four Lake Dallas officers have been fired. All say they were punished for questioning Sgt. Cook’s performance. At least three others have quit. Sgt. Cook has sued five former colleagues and a former city council member for defamation, apparently in connection with their statements about incidents including Cook allegedly threatening to shoot a partially handcuffed burglary suspect, allowing his police dog to bite a handcuffed suspect, and leaving Gilberto Rico, 18, [and two female juveniles] to walk home on a dark road after impounding his car on May 5, 1996. Rico was killed an hour later by a hit-and-run driver.”
The defamation cases were reportedly later dropped.
Helicopters, dogcatcher, & dispatcher
Earlier, Reaves said, “State and Dallas county records and lawsuit files connect Sgt. Cook as the registrant or director of numerous helicopter and air charter companies, which were subjects of judgements won by a former landlord and another aviation firm.”
Despite paperwork linking Cook to the helicopter and air charter cases, Reaves wrote, “Cook, 31, told the Dallas Morning News that all of his employment background has been in animal control, law enforcement or security work. He worked as a dogcatcher in The Colony,” a Dallas suburb, “before coming to Lake Dallas as a police dispatcher in 1993.”
Added Reaves, “The question of helicopter companies is also a part of the most serious allegation raised against Sgt. Cook: that he told several colleagues he had once shot a man in Dallas, while living there and working for a helicopter company.
“One helicopter company registered by Marcus C. Cook lists the owner’s address as 1714 Browder St. in Dallas. Sgt. Cook said he never lived there.”
Did Cook shoot a man, or just allegedly run his mouth?
However, Reaves continued, “Hickory Creek police Sgt. Robin Robertson said Sgt. Cook told her the story of the alleged Dallas shooting. She is married to Phillip Robertson, one of the officers who alleges he was fired by Lake Dallas police in retaliation for criticizing Sgt. Cook. She said she briefly dated Marcus Cook before her marriage.
“She identified 1714 Browder St. as the building Mr. Cook pointed out as his former residence and the place where the shooting happened.”
Robin Robertson told Reaves that Cook found “a man trying to jimmy the door. The guy started to run. He [Cook] said he shot him in the back and killed him.”
“One unsolved shooting”
According to Reaves, “Dallas police records show one unsolved shooting of a man in the general vicinity of the Browder Street address, in 1991, which several witnesses said was a drive-by shooting. Dallas police said they had no reason to believe Sgt. Cook was involved in that crime.
Another former Lake Dallas police officer, Mark Simpson, “testified that Sgt. Cook told him a version of the same story,” Reaves reported.
However, Reaves finished, “Lake Dallas Mayor Jerry McCutcheon said the alleged shooting was checked out and it didn’t happen. Sgt. Cook said he never shot anyone and never told anyone that he did.”
Bought three tigers from Nashville Zoo
After Cook’s police career, he worked for the Dallas World Aquarium. His exotic cat exhibition career apparently began after he bought three tigers in November 2000 from the Nashville Zoo.
Nashville Zoo director of marketing and public relations Jim Bartoo never answered a March 2002 inquiry from ANIMALS 24-7 as to why the zoo sold Cook the tigers, in violation of the American Zoo Association code of ethics, but the Nashville Zoo did not actually win AZA accreditation until a year later.
Bartoo apparently forwarded the ANIMALS 24-7 inquiry to Cook, who called a few days later to demand “an address for service,” prefacing the call with a police-style warning that the conversation was being recorded.
Six Flags Over Texas
Cook took his act to Six Flags Over Texas in mid-2002, but his act was cancelled on July 19, 2002, two weeks after the USDA cited the act for five alleged Animal Welfare Act violations, and one week after WFAA-TV News 8 of Dallas aired a video by former Six Flags animal handler Jean Robb that appeared to show a tiger cub biting a handler.
“On his resume, Cook claims his operation has evolved into a large-scale zoological service and research facility, operating worldwide,” reported Brett Shipp of WFAA.
“However,” Shipp said, “the only operation News 8 could find is at Cook’s home in Kaufman, Texas. Observed there were two exotic cat pens, a zebra pen, and evidence of more being built. It’s nothing like what is described on Cook’s web site. Cook’s resume also boasts a zoology degree from the University of Wexford. Cook even provided News 8 with a transcript. But news outlets have reported that Wexford is nothing more than a diploma mill in Switzerland which fabricates a degree for a fee.”
Texas charges in 2003
In 2003, United Press International reported, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott won an emergency court order in Kaufman County freezing the assets of ZooCats Inc. and transferring Cook’s animals to the care of the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary, in Boyd, Texas, northwest of Fort Worth.
Abbott charged that ZooCats had falsely claimed to have a perfect safety record, despite the USDA-APHIS citations for Animal Welfare Act violations involving human injury, and had also falsely claimed to be raising funds that were donated to organizations including the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Save the Tiger Fund and Exxon Mobil Corporation.
Continued United Press International, “Cook also has falsely claimed an affiliation with the Dallas World Aquarium, the attorney general said.
Settled out of court
“Abbot said he also suspects that Cook has misappropriated charitable assets for personal use and will ask the court to correct this abuse of public funds.
“The state will request civil penalties under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Nonprofit Corporations Act. Also requested are attorneys’ fees and reimbursement of investigative costs associated with the case.”
The case was reportedly settled out of court.
“As part of Cook’s agreement with the attorney general’s office,” an update mentioned, “ZooCats was dissolved and Cook must not represent that he has a good safety record. He also must not tell people he has a bachelor’s degree in zoology. He was ordered to pay $100,000.”
Beat trafficking rap
Cook did not stay out of further trouble for long. In August 2004 Cook was reportedly named, with eight others, in a 55-count indictment alleging that that the accused persons had bought or sold more than $200,000 worth of endangered or threatened animals between 1999 and 2003.
The transactions allegedly violated provisions of both the federal Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, the U.S. federal law, in effect since 1900, which prohibits interstate transport of illegally obtained wildlife.
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, of Minneapolis, in June 2005 acquitted Cook and co-defendant Craig Perry, of Montana. Former Bearcat Hollow wildlife park owners Kenneth and Nancy Kraft were convicted, as were two other individuals, and were sentenced to prison terms.
Opened in 2000, housing up to 300 animals at a time, Bearcat Hollow came under investigation after a 400-pound Siberian tiger in July 2001 injured visitor Emily Hartman, 7, of Rochester, Minnesota.
“The 2001 attack was just the start of troubles at Bearcat Hollow,” wrote Pioneer Press reporter Shannon Prather. “In December 2001, a 10-month-old bear escaped and damaged a neighbor s porch. In 2003, paperwork showed that a man who was mauled by a tiger he raised in his New York apartment had obtained the cat from the Krafts.”
Bearcat Hollow closed in 2004. The resident animals were relocated in May 2005.
Cook exhibited Bearcat Hollow tigers
Cook, meanwhile, was in February 2005 charged by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission with unsafe handling of captive wildlife, after a woman named Sandra Hopps-Caraballo was bitten on the hand by a white tiger cub that Cook was exhibiting at the Tampa Bay Auto Mall, along with another tiger cub and two adult tigers.
Cook reportedly told authorities and media that the tiger cub belonged to the Krafts, of Bearcat Hollow, but the St. Petersburg Times noted that a handler “said the cubs had been shipped off to a show in Las Vegas.”
“Two children were reported to have been bitten by Cook’s tiger cubs while he was traveling through Texas,” the St. Petersburg Times added, “and one of the cats in his side show was reported to have killed a woman by ripping her arm off,” albeit apparently not while in Cook’s possession.
Mighty Thomas Carnival
Cook by August 2005 was “traveling the country with the Mighty Thomas Carnival, which operates at local and state fairs,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals[PETA] warned various local authorities.
That did not appear to slow Cook down any. PETA issued similar warnings in July 2007, after the deaths of four 2-day-old tiger cubs he was exhibiting at a Minnesota fair, and in June 2008, but Cook continued to travel with the Mighty Thomas Carnival, with only one reported cancellation of a scheduled appearance.
Neither did the June 2006 escape of tiger from a cage at Cook’s Kaufman compound stop Cook. Pounced by the tiger while mowing a lawn, part-time compound employee Donnie Roberts reportedly lost an ear and required 2,000 stitches
Roberts told media that he was attacked while attempting to warn another employee that the tiger was loose.
Cook later alleged to the Duluth Tribune that Roberts was injured in a suicide attempt––which Roberts reportedly denied.