A Hare-Raising Tale: Couple Fined $4M

John & Judy Dollarhite

By Dave Gahary

For almost two years, federal officials have been harassing a family in Nixa, Missouri. for selling too many pet rabbits in one year. Their story is a prime example of federal government overreach and meddling that has turned into a nightmare for John and Judy Dollarhite.

On September 14, AMERICAN FREE PRESS conducted an exclusive 90-minute interview with the Dollarhites, who explained every twist and turn of this cautionary tale.

“We wanted to teach our teenage son some responsibility, where food came from, those types of life’s lessons,” explained Mrs. Dollarhite. She said she originally contacted the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to see if the family needed licensing to sell rabbit meat. They didn’t.

“We found out pretty quickly that you couldn’t make money selling rabbit meat,” said Mrs. Dollarhite. So, they turned their attention to selling the rabbits as pets after discovering strong demand for these animals. This is where their problems began.

“Our error in judgment,” said Mrs. Dollarhite, “was assuming that if you didn’t need a license to sell meat for human consumption, why would you need a license to sell pet rabbits that sat on your lap?”

In November 2009 they got a knock on their door from a USDA official with no badge or ID. Then, a rude and aggressive Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspector visited them in January 2010.

Not hearing back from these inspectors after eight weeks, Dollarhite said he called the USDA’s Washington, D.C. office and was told, “We’re going to make an example of you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.” Dollarhite asked what that meant, and was eventually told, “You’ll have to wait for my report.” The official then hung up on him.

Bartering away their rabbitry on advice from their attorney, the couple heard nothing until they got a certified letter from USDA in April 2011. The Dollarhites told AFP, “The USDA’s letter stated that, based on their investigation, we had sold 619 rabbits, and the fine for that was $3.9M. But in good faith, they would give us a settlement of $90,643 that we could pay with our credit card. They added that we had until the end of May to do so.”

“In our best year,” explained Judy, “We sold $4,600 in gross sales.” The outrageousness of their situation is apparent. With less than $5K in annual sales derived from a pet project for their teenage son, the federal government is now requesting nearly $100K in penalties.

AFP asked where the fine stood right now. “We’re not paying it,” said Mrs. Dollarhite. “I don’t know where they stand, but we’re not paying it.” Her husband added: “I’m not paying a dollar. They had their chance. I don’t believe that we are within their jurisdiction, because the state of Missouri does not require a license.”

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Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s “Underground Interview” series.

Be sure to check out all of AFP’s free podcasts. You’ll find them on the Home Page, in the Archives & in the Podcast section.

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