'Kanye West' of Animal Training Battles Niagara Theme Park Lawsuit
Dubbed the "Kanye West of walrus training," Philip Demers says he's more than ready to defend himself against the $1.5 million lawsuit a Niagara Falls theme park has brought against him for allegedly plotting to steal a walrus.
"I look forward to defending myself against the claims brought about by Marineland and hope the focus can once again be concentrated on the animals I continue to care for," Demers, 34, said today in an email to ABC News.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday at St. Catharines courthouse in Ontario, Canada, alleges that the professional marine mammal trainer conspired to steal Smooshi the walrus from Marineland Canada, his former employer, according to the St. Catharines Standard.
It also reportedly includes charges of trespassing and intimidation, alleging that Demers unlawfully entered Marineland property and intimidated its employees.
Demers, known for his strong bond with Smooshi, resigned his position at Marineland in August. He has since become an outspoken opponent of the marine-animal theme park.
Marineland, which declined to comment today, purportedly alleges in the suit that when Demers' idea for a reality-TV television show, "The Walrus Whisperer," was rejected in August 2011, he became "upset and displeased."
The television production company that helped Demers pitch the show cast him as the "Kanye West" of animal training because of his candor and outspokenness, Demers said.
Demers denies any connection between the show and his departure from the theme park. "The notion of my leaving on account of some rejected TV show is absurd and simply serves as a distraction from the real issues which were brought forth by 15 ex-employee/whistleblowers," he told ABC News. "This is, and remains, about the animals."
Demers says the animals live under poor conditions that have worsened since the staff departures.
Since leaving his position, Demers has begun a campaign to bring to light the alleged animal mistreatment and neglect at Marineland. In his blogs on Huffington Post Canada, Demers highlights what he calls inadequate surroundings and care for the marine animals at the theme park.
He and the other "former employees from various departments, including land animal care and Building Maintenance (who oversees the water quality)," have spawned petitions and called for investigations into Marineland.
In response to the allegation, Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) launched an inspection of the park in November 2012. The commission found nothing to support the allegations, according to the report, which is on Marineland's website.
The agency's report concluded that "none of the animals in the water appeared to be experiencing any discomfort as a result of being in the pools" and the "staff level appeared to [be] sufficient to conduct the needed training, do the scheduled feedings and maintain cleanliness" in the areas visited. The inspection also failed to find evidence that the orca "Kiska" was experiencing chronic bleeding in the tail area.
Demers says he's skeptical of CAZA's objectivity because of what he describes as its close working relationship with Marineland.
As for the lawsuit, the so-called walrus whisperer has no lawyer yet and is relying on fundraising to support his defense. "I'm unemployed still, but always in search of opportunities. Unfortunately, being thrust on the front pages of newspapers in some of the strangest capacities doesn't exactly bode well with prospective employers. We will emerge from all this as stronger beings, so I'm taking everything in stride. "
Demers says that the animals' welfare will always be most important for him.
"Smooshi [the walrus] and I share an anomaly of a relationship which continues to inspire me, and I do dream of a day when we can be reunited," her told ABC News. "Her well being was historically dependent on my being a part of her life, and it saddens me that she can't see me anymore. I miss her and all the animals a great deal."