MOUNT DESERT — The exotic animals that Ann Rivers takes care of at her home on Kimball Road in Northeast Harbor are not leopards or baboons or anything like that.
They are parrots, turtles and the occasional non-poisonous snake. Rivers’ one-person, nonprofit operation, Acadia Island Exotics, has a permit from the state to keep such “exotic” animals and to try to find homes for them. She does the same for orphaned, abandoned or neglected rabbits, kittens and other small domestic animals.
(People often confuse her with her aunt, also named Ann Rivers, who operates Acadia Wildlife Foundation in Bar Harbor, where she rehabilitates injured wild animals such as otters, porcupines and owls.)
The younger Ann Rivers, who focuses on domestic animals, has been doing that work for several years. But she only recently learned that operations such as hers are allowed in the Village Residential 2 zoning district, where she lives, only with Planning Board approval, which she had not applied for or received.
She has now applied for a conditional use permit, which the Planning Board is scheduled to consider at its Aug. 26 meeting.
Meanwhile, she claims that one of her neighbors has been “harassing” her in an apparent attempt to stop her animal-care activities.
“This person has been making complaints to the state humane agents, the state biologists, to the game wardens, to the local animal control, to all these different entities,” she said.
Rivers said those complaints have led to multiple inspections by state agencies.
“I have passed every single one,” she said, “But they take my time away from the animals.
“I care for a limited number of animals at a time, all former pets, and all within the confines of my home. I never have outside cats or tons of cages outside full of animals.”
The Islander has learned that the neighbor Rivers referred to is Chris Orthwein, who has a seasonal residence near Rivers’ home on Kimball Road.
He told the Islander that, after reading about Rivers’ operation on social media, “I was concerned and notified the town and asked them to look into it. That is all I have done.
“I am aware that there are complaints from other neighbors, but it is unfounded that I have been making multiple complaints.”
Orthwein, who described himself as an animal lover, said he was concerned about someone keeping a large number of animals in a residential neighborhood.
“All I did was ask the code enforcement officer to look into things that might be going on according to (Rivers’) own social media posts, and that was it.”
He said specifically that he did not contact any state agencies.
“That was the town that did that,” he said.
Code Enforcement Officer Kim Keene confirmed that after receiving Orthwein’s letter, she called the state Animal Welfare Program and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W). She said she did not contact those agencies to complain about River’s operation, but to find out what state permits she might be required to have.
“There were concerns from Mr. Orthwein that there might be some rodents or snakes and things, so I called Inland Fisheries and Wildlife because they are the ones who would regulate those types of exotic animals,” Keene said.
As a result of her inquiries, inspectors from both state agencies visited Rivers to determine if she was following state laws and regulations. Keene said IF&W confirmed that Rivers was not keeping animals that require a permit from that agency. The Animal Welfare Program told her the permit Rivers received from that agency in January covers the types of animals she takes in.
Keene said Rivers’ only violation is her failure, to this point, to receive a conditional use permit from the town.
Rivers told the Islander that, in light of what she sees as unwarranted complaints about her operation, she has retained attorney Seth Libby to represent her interests.
“I need someone who is going to say, ‘No, she has never kept venomous reptiles. That’s insane.’ I need someone to go to bat for me who says, ‘Lions and tigers and bears, oh my, are you kidding?’”
One of Rivers’ friends, Sarah Joy, has started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay her lawyer’s fee.