Advocates for Connecticut elephants sue zoo owners again
GOSHEN — Just six months after a judge in Torrington ruled against a request to remove three elephants from the Commerford Zoo in Goshen, the Nonhuman Rights Project has filed a nearly identical lawsuit, this time in Tolland County.
The nonprofit group, based in Florida, considers the elephants to be their clients.
“The elephants can’t file a lawsuit,” said attorney Steven M. Wise, the group’s founder. We are “suing on their behalf,”
The decision to file the suit in Rockville Superior Court, Wise said, was made because the group believes the judges in that district are more versed in the legal action that he seeks.
That legal action is nearly unprecedented in U.S. courts — the filing of a habeas corpus petition to ask a judge to recognize that the elephants have “the legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty,” as do humans.
Three generations of the Commerford family have operated the zoo. Tim and Darlene Commerford run the business now. They inherited it from Tim’s father, who began the venture with a petting zoo. Darlene met Bill in high school, and she started working there when she was 15.
”We’re so tired of fighting this,” she said. ”The elephants are outside playing in the yard right now. They do minimum work when they go to fairs.”
Families used to visit the petting zoo, Darlene Comerford said, but it’s no longer open to the public. Instead, the elephants are occasionally shown at fairs, and the smaller animals, including ponies and goats, visit children’s groups and appear at private parties.
The Nonhuman Rights Project proposes to move the elephants to a sanctuary in California, but Darlene Commerford said their 40 acres “is a sanctuary.” The three elephants, Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, have lived in Goshen since they were four years old. Beulah is now 50 and retired.
“Minnie is my favorite,” Darlene Comerford said, saying that Minnie came from a family in Pennsylvania who raised her from a baby. ”She’s so affectionate toward women.”
Wise said his organization is a civil rights organization, not an animal rights group. He said if the judge in Tolland County were to refuse to hear the case, they would go to the appellate court.
“That’s what we want to do,” Wise said.
“The way things are going, people won’t even be able to pet a goat or a sheep,” Darlene Comerford said.
She and Bill have two children who work for the family business, but it’s not a long-term plan.
“The next generation of kids, they won’t even get a chance,” Darlene Comerford said, “because of animal activists.”