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Published: Tuesday, 4/5/2005

Zoo proponents charge online foul play

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Opposing Web sites launched amid the controversy at the Toledo Zoo are locked in a war of words and accusations.

The creators of the pro-zoo Web site www.supportthezoo.org are charging that supporters of Dr. Tim Reichard, the zoo's recently fired veterinarian, have created two similarly named sites - www.supportthezoo.net and www.supportthezoo.com - which are redirecting web surfers to www.doctortim.org.

The online portal, www.doc-tortim.org, was created last month to call for the reinstatement of Dr. Reichard, the 22-year veterinarian who believes he was terminated for speaking candidly to federal inspectors last year about animal deaths and animal-care concerns at the zoo.

Webmasters for www.doc-tortim.org, who call themselves "The Friends of Dr. Tim," posted a message informing visitors that they "do not own or have any connection to supportthezoo.com or supportthezoo.net."

But the current and former zoo employees, who created www.supportthezoo.org and identify themselves as "Friends of the Zoo" say it is a blatant attempt to distort public opinion by hijacking visitors from the pro-zoo web site. The site, www.supportthezoo.org, was designed to "reinforce and restore confidence" in the zoo in light of concerns that have come to light about the 104-year-old institution.

"While this is your right to do so, it appears that you fear and are trying to censor any opposing viewpoints others might have," the unidentified zoo employees wrote in a letter posted on www.supportthezoo.org and sent to the media. "Are you so afraid of people's viewpoints which may run contrary to your own, that you must resort to tricks to recruit people into your way of thinking."

Both sites allow Toledoans an opportunity to share their feelings about the controversy at the zoo. They also provide links to news stories and contact lists. Last night, www.doctortim.org had 3,580 visitors and www.supportthezoo.org had 1,095.

As the Webmasters continue to duel for visitors, the zoo's board of directors sent a letter to members to assure patrons that a complete review of operations is under way. In a year in which the zoo is expected to ask voters to support a renewed capital levy, the board of directors is asking patrons to visit the zoo.

"Over the past several weeks, you have undoubtedly heard or read about the dismissal of zoo veterinarian Dr. Timothy Reichard and his request for reinstatement," wrote Steve Staelin, president of the board. "That controversy has spurred a number of questions about Zoo operations and administrative practices. I want to assure you that the zoo's board of directors takes these issues very seriously."

Contact Steve Eder at:

seder@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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