A few years back I came across an article about the Dollarhites in Missouri and their little bunny business. According to the article, the Dollarhites only started raising bunnies to teach their son responsibility. It was, at most, a small, casual business.
In 2011, the Dollarhites were outraged to receive a notice of violation from the USDA, with a fine of $90,643. There was a lot of huffing and puffing about government overreach in the article, but I had enough experience with the USDA APHIS to know there had to be more to the story than was being told. I decided to file a FOIA request for all documents related to the case.
The USDA informed me that the investigation was still ongoing and they couldn’t provide me most of the documentation. They did, however, provide me a few documents, one of which I had already discovered for myself: that the Wayback machine had archives of the Dollarhite bunny selling operation as far back as 2006, not 2008, as the Dollarhites claimed.
Eventually the Dollarhites got Missouri politicians, including Claire McCaskill, to intervene on their behalf—something I wish politicians would not do, because this just leads to inconsistent applications of the law (a law created by Congress, I want to note). Especially when a little research on McCaskill’s part would have demonstrated other interesting documents associated with the case:
- Rather than a casual operation, the Dollarhites were selling bunnies to a petting zoo in Branson, as well as a pet store. In one year, they sold over 4000.
- An early investigative report notes Dollarhite was aware of AWA licensing, and gave the investigator the impression he was going to continue breeding and selling pet rabbits without a license (doc)
- An investigator noted Dollarhite’s seeming hostility to regulation, as well as her safety concerns (doc)
- An internal USDA memo expressing concern about enforcement in the case, considering the circumstances, in this case, most likely the publicity and Congressional interference (doc)
- Another frank, interesting look at the USDA’s view of discussions with Dollarhite’s attorney, who seemed to be less than aware of how the government operates (doc)
- A disturbing note sent by Dollarhite to the USDA (doc)
- A very disturbing note sent to the USDA with an implicit threat (doc)
Among all of the more colorful documents are investigative reports, documented proof, as well as several settlement offers extended to Dollarhite that would have let him off without a fine as long as he agreed to stop selling bunnies as pets without a license—something Dollarhite didn’t note as frequently as he noted that $90,000 fine.
When the Dollarhites settled with the USDA, the USDA was free to fulfill my FOIA request, and I’m listing the documents here for others to access.
As I said earlier: there’s always more to these stories than what you see on the surface. Thankfully, the FOIA allows us to discover the missing pieces.
I wrote three articles on the Dollarhites:
John Dollarhite and his $90,000 fine
Dollarhites: A saga that should end
Access a listing of the Dollarhite FOIA documents, individually, or as one document.