Skunkie Acres Zoo To ‘Rehome’ Animals After Neighborhood Complaints

By on November 26th, 2013

Update: WUFT News spoke with Bernard Haake on Dec. 10 after members of the Haake family contacted the reporter and news director. Mr. Haake insistently shared that the zoo was not closing down. When WUFT attempted to clarify the Nov. 7 Craigslist post stating that “Skunkie Acres is rehoming all of its zoo animals,” Haake ended the conversation. As the original story indicated, Skunkie Acres operates as an exotic zoo, animal shelter and horseback riding facility. WUFT News stands by our original report, but in light of the confusion between the zoo and the facility’s other operations, we have retitled this post from its original headline “Skunkie Acres Zoo To Close Down After Neighborhood Complaints.”

Original story published Nov. 26:After more than three years of what they claim to be neighbors’ harassment and complaints, the owners of Skunkie Acres Zoo in White Springs are closing their zoo and looking for new homes for about 170 animals.

On Nov. 7, co-owners Bernard Haake, 81, and his wife Barbara, 60, posted an ad on Craigslist and another on Exotic Animals for Sale saying they would be “re-homing” all zoo animals because of constant harassment from neighbors. The couple also said they do not have the money or property to relocate.

Skunkie Acres operates as an exotic zoo, animal shelter and horseback riding facility on five acres of land and is home to about 170 animals, from a zebra named Stripes to peacocks, a cougar, and, of course, skunks.

The Haakes were able to open the property after collecting a petition from neighbors giving their consent in 2007. Those neighbors left sometime after late 2009, they said, and the new ones have been less than welcoming to the animals.

“If there’s a stray dog out on the road, they call the pound and say it’s ours,” Bernard Haake said. “We had 19 citations for barking dogs. We have no dogs out here other than our personal pets. Every dog and every cat that’s out in the neighborhood, according to them, belongs to us.”

Neighbors have called at 2 a.m. with reports of loose horses in their yards and blame Skunkie Acres. When the Haakes went to rescue the horses, they found they didn’t belong to their zoo.

“But we get the credit for it,” Bernard Haake said.

WUFT News attempted to contact a number of neighbors surrounding the Haake’s property, but none would comment on the record for this story. Still, some have been vocal about their perspective of the zoo at public meetings or with other media outlets.

Linda Cason, who lives next door to Skunkie Acres, said that she wants to get along with her neighbors but just can’t stand the smell.

“But, I have to differ with them about the smell because every day I have to live with a horrific smell,” she said at a 2012 county commission meeting regarding complaints about the facility, according to the Lake City Journal. “I want the smell to go away. I want the flies to go away.”

Cason declined Monday to talk to a WUFT reporter, saying the Haakes are her friends and she remains fond of them.

Another neighbor, Stewart Fissell, is concerned about the roaming wild animals and the possibility of water contamination from all the animal waste.

“The main thing I am concerned about is water contamination — so many animals on such a small acreage,” he said at the same 2012 commission meeting, according to the Lake City Journal. “There is a problem and it does need to be addressed.”

Bernard Haake said he has suffered two heart attacks because of stress from dealing with neighbors and actions against his family. His doctors have told him to try to limit the stresses in his life before it’s too late.

Faced with Haake’s worsening medical condition, the family has decided to get rid of their animals in an attempt to quell concerns from neighbors. But it’s not just neighbors who are concerned. Even Columbia County Commissioner Ron Williams expressed his concerns.

“I live within hollering distance of the landfill and it smells better than Skunkie acres,” Williams said, according to the Lake City Journal. 

Other legal problems

The Haakes don’t just have problems with their facility, they have also faced issues and investigations regarding the treatment of their five grandchildren which they have adopted, now ages 10 to 28.

Two of them, Tabitha and Samantha Haake, described living 10 years with their biological parents in “a very dysfunctional and abusive family” in a letter to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. The two girls said their grandparents–owners of the Skunkie Acres facility–are now their mom and dad.

“The kids all decided, I guess, that they’d rather have their father than take care of the animals,” Haake said. “Especially the little one. She wants to leave right now.”

Tabitha Haake – “the little one,” 16 – was involved in an incident during the week of Nov. 10. She said a man pulled up alongside her in his car while she was riding one of Skunkie Acres’ wilder horses. The man yelled at her and tried to outrun her when she took off down the road.

“She could’ve fell off the horse,” Bernard Haake said. “The horse could’ve reared up. The horse could’ve ran in front of the car. A lot of things could’ve happened.”

Disagreements over the zoo’s animals are not the only legal challenges the Haakes have faced.

Haake said someone may have even accused him of molesting his children, including Tabitha, Samantha, 19, and Hans Haake, 10.

Tabitha Haake said she’d rather not talk about the incident. The questions she and her siblings were asked by officials from the Department of Children and Families were embarrassing and “didn’t make sense,” she said.

The children maintained there had been no abuse, and investigators found no evidence to say otherwise.

According to a DCF report investigating the family, “The grandfather was very aggressive towards the CPI during the first visit. The CPI feels the only reason he was not attacked in the home was because the Sheriff Deputy was with him.”

‘A lot of complaints — a vast majority… unfounded’

In recent years, the Department of Children and Families has not been the only agency involved in looking into the Haake family.

Barbara Haake said officials from the county health department up to the United States Department of Agriculture have been called out to the property to investigate various allegations.

One agency that has been particularly involved is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Ken Holmes, an FWC investigator familiar with Skunkie Acres and the Haake family’s troubles, said he’s been out to the property a few times to investigate, but doesn’t believe the majority of claims against the facility are true.

“Skunkie Acres, because of the neighborhood they’re in, has generated a lot of complaints,” Holmes said. “A vast majority of them are unfounded. But I can’t say they’re perfect – there’s a lot of facilities out there that aren’t perfect – but generally they do abide by the law.”

He said people’s perceptions of the situation at Skunkie Acres play a role, too. People may call in complaints because they don’t like seeing the animals in cages, or they might call in because they mistake a malnourished horse that has recently been rescued for a pet the family has maltreated.

To the children, many of the animals are like pets and even family.

Tabitha Haake said she used to want to be a veterinarian for the animals one day, and even without Skunkie Acres, she still hopes to pursue her dream. Giving up the animals, though, is going to be difficult.

“We bottle-fed most of the animals we have,” she said. “A lot of them were like our babies. And then having to give them up is just — the neighbors are jerks.”

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  • Sabine Ringe

    At last this awful place is closing its gates! The zoo animals were being kept under the worst conditions in tiny enclosures with no shelter from the elements and no water or dirty water sources. The smell outside as well as inside their “welcome center” was absolutely nauseating. One has to consider that this animals are confined under these conditions all their lives. One source of income for the rescue zoo comes from breeding Skunks, possums, foxes and raccoons that then are sold . I have knowledge of wildlife purchased from them that actually carried diseases and were in poor condition. They were taken to another Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and nursed back to health.This place calls itself a “Rescue” .Reputable rescues do not breed! Also, neglected and starved dogs have been removed from Skunkie Acres by the authorities in the past. News articles about this incident can be found online.
    Horses sold by Skunkie Acres also were in very poor condition.
    The facility is on less than 5 ac yet housed at times close to 300 animals and their human keepers. More than 30 horses are also sharing this land. They stand in a small poorly fenced sand pit with, during my visit only ONE round bale of hay! I saw a Paint mare and her foal rummaging through a garbage pile…everything I saw was making my hair stand on edge and I could not believe that this was going on with nothing being done. Thank you for finally stepping in and putting an end to this nightmare.

    • Michael

      I, having been an inspector with the county, and very familiar with the said persons, and family involved can say It was found again that neighbors are not proving a valid case.. Many people have stated falsehoods, stories, accusations and slander to be frank, to have the refuse close their doors for reasons of their own .. Mostly they believe they are doing the right thing as most activists do. but will fabricate to suit their own agenda.

  • sabine ringe
  • Barbara Haake Skunkie Acres

    Skunkie Acres is not closing its doors. Our Riding stables, animal rescue and wildlife rehab remains open. Our zoo animals are kept in habitats which exceed FWC and USDA guidelines. There are shelters in every pen with fresh water supplied 2 or more times daily. We do not sell Wildlife, we sell domestically raised animals that have been in captivity for generations that we purchased from wildlife breeders. The wildlife that you refer to was possums which were in good health, and the rehabber was going to release these domestic possums until warned by FWC that it is against the law to release domestic wildlife into the wild. These animals had been checked by a vet recently. We have 4 vets that are on call here. The neglected and starving dogs – get your information straight. The dog pound issued citations for barking dogs, gave us a court date, changed the court date without notifying us, told the judge they did notify us so they picked up our RESCUE DOGS. Dogs which came in sick and emaciated and were being nursed back to health. We got hold of our lawyer, who called the judge and we had the dogs back. The so called dog pound was going to kill the dogs as soon as they came into the door but they could not because they got a call from the Judges Office. Check your information because this can be found in the court records. Our horses all have coggins, are checked by a vet and USDA and are not sick. AGAIN ANIMAL RESCUE, the skinny horses are rescues and we have the documents for these horses. They are on 4 acres and get hay and grain daily with fruits and vegs daily. We had a so called rescue from High Springs which started alot of rumors about us and our lawyer is getting the information together for a slander suit. This is a case of false information which happens on the internet by people who do not check out their information.

  • Diane Green

    I do not have an agenda. I am not even a neighbor. I live hundreds of miles away so I can’t smell a thing. There is more to this than the eyes can see or the nose can smell. I know because I am one of his child abuse victims. I am now an adult and my heart breaks for the children that are under his care. Wake up people! Investigate a little harder authorities!

  • Gerald

    All of the talk about animals, when the children under Haake’s care are the real victims. Non-schooled, non-educated, and for the most part illiterate. These are facts with no agenda, and no slander that children and family services have investigated but chose to ignore. If you want the facts about Bernard Haake ( the head skunk at Skunkie acres). You should talk to the adult children who suffered abuse by him and no longer under his control. Children and family services will tell you that there is no point because of the statute of limitations. So we just pray for the children still living with him in fear and denial. I can speak out with Facts, as I am a son also abused by him as he taught me to be an arson of his homes for insurance claims also now outside of the statute of limitations I have been out of his control for many years watching helpless from the outside

  • barbara haake

    I”m his daughter too and I was also molested by him and i never got sent to school i am 29 and i am in a kindergartner to first grade education thanks to Bernard in Barbara. i had to have my 14 year nephew help me with spelling.please help me get those kids out of that abuse.thanks.

  • mary

    in reference to skunkie acres: i am yet another victim of sexual abuse by bernard haake of skunkie acres. my abuse started when i was 6 and continued until i was 16 when he was divorced by my mother. i was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone and as an adult just wanted to put it behind me and get on with my life. a few weeks ago it was bought to my attention that there is abuse going on at skunkie acres and i believe it because of what happened to me. it would be so easy to ignore this and close my eyes to what is happening because it brings back a terrible childhood that i would like to forget but i can’t in good conscience ignore this. ” all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing” (cesare pavese 1908-1950) i believe that if i had come forward years ago then children wouldn’t have endured what i had when i was a child. that is why i am coming forward now. maybe by telling my story i can stop him once and for all from continuing this abuse and also finally having some closure myself. the man is a conman in my opinion and could convince someone the sky is black when in fact it is blue. he has to be stopped.

  • Answered by Skunkie Acres

    Answer to Mary
    Why are you making these acquisitions about me. Your mother did not divorce me, I filed for divorce from your mother.
    Why were they not brought up 45+ years ago
    By the way, after some very expensive and intensive investigation work by professionals of some of my adult children (?) some interesting facts came up. On my son’s so called biological children, after some DNA testing it turns out that he is not the father of his first two children and still pending on the remaining five. These are the two daughters that we adopted 8 years ago and raised since infancy , that you want returned to their biological (?) parents He and his family are at this time being investigated by the Department of Children and Families for child abuse. Maybe its okay to beat your children and throw them against the walls and pick them up by their throats.
    Also some interesting facts came up about my so called adult children has come up. If you were attacked by men when you were growing up it was not me.
    Why did you call me out of the blue prior to this internet posting and threaten me by stating that if I do not turn my 3 adopted children over to their biological parents you would say these things about me and make sure the whole world heard you.
    I will not be blackmailed. My children do not want to go back to these very very abusive so called biological parents. They are not being and have never been abused by me.
    You say that you could not say anything about this before because you were embarrassed. I have trouble believing this because of your past.
    The following is just a few skeletons that should never have been taken out of the closet.
    Why would a 16 year old girl walk with a friend in an area known for prostitution with their bra’s in their purses. You were brought home by the police who then called me because I did not live with your mother.
    The Police Officer called and told me “Bernie, I got to tell you this, I picked up Mary and her friend and took them to your wife’s residence in a squad car. They were picked up in a very low rent area of town caring their brassieres in their purses. You know the area of town, you have lived here all your life. Are you aware of the horrible things that can happen to girls in this area.
    I reminded him that I do not live with her mother. He asked – Please talk to her mother about this as her mother did not seem too concerned.
    I did talk to her about the situation and she told me to mind my own business, which I have been doing for well over 45 years.
    I believe that Police Officer, who I was good friends with at that time , has now gone on to be the Mayor.
    One of my other memories is when you needed assistance and help to remove some of your items from your apartment. You were having problems with your ex-husband or ex-boyfriend (not sure which) You said you were having trouble getting some items out of the apartment and you were afraid of him finding you there. So instead of calling your mother you called me. I am not sure if this was the same friend or if it was another friend that supposedly tied you to a tree naked in the woods and left you there. This was about 45+ years ago, some things just stay in my memory.
    Everyone has skeletons but lets not put skeletons where there are none and maybe some skeletons should never be disturbed.
    Please don’t make me defend myself any further. This is just the tip of the iceberg and I have a diary of interesting facts about my first family and marriage, which I would much rather forget.
    I am 82 years old and in very poor health. I do not wish to have anything to do the members of my first family who are making these acquisitions. They will be wiped from my memory.
    But I do want to be left alone and so does my present wife and 4 children.
    Please do not try to contact me or my family again as we desire to be left alone.


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