The day Diana Moyer fell in love with kangaroos, she was trying to unload some rats.
It was July 2008 and the Wisconsin resident and her husband were at an exotic animal auction in Missouri, attempting to sell some surplus rodents from their 70-acre farm. There, Moyer spotted a forlorn little joey in a cage, half-price at $900 for his deformed tail and brain damage.
"I saw him lying with his broken tail and sad little face," Moyer, 54, told the Daily Beast. "He just needed somebody to love him. He was such a dreamboat. I loved him so much."
Back then, Moyer had no idea she’d take home a marsupial—or that he would become one of a mob of kangaroos, which she considers therapy animals for her cancer and depression.
In February, one of Moyer’s ’roos made international news after she brought it to a McDonald’s in Beaver Dam and a customer called the cops.
Jimmy, a 1-year-old kangaroo, was contentedly strapped into an infant car seat as Moyer and a friend were engaged in a Golden Arches coffee klatch. “Nobody even knows he’s in there,” Moyer said, adding that kangaroos “love the feeling and the comfort of car seats.”
The marsupial enthusiast claims, contrary to media reports, that she wasn’t kicked out of the fast-food joint. No one asked her to leave, she says, but a police officer approached her on the way out. That's when she brandished a doctor’s note indicating Jimmy was a companion animal devoted to lifting her spirits during cancer treatments.
But to the city of Beaver Dam, a doctor’s note does not translate into a certified service animal.
Now the town is proposing an ordinance to keep Moyer’s “therapy pet” out of local establishments. The proposal amends local law to define service animals only as dogs or miniature horses, as per Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. The city council will vote on June 15 after two hearings, officials told The Daily Beast.
“They’re picking on me,” Moyer said. “I’ve never claimed Jimmy was a service animal anyway. He’s a therapeutic animal. Whatever they want to do … I don’t care. It has nothing to do with Jimmy.”
She had harsher words for WISN-TV in Milwaukee: “They're definitely targeting me ... because I'm disabled.”
But Beaver Dam city attorney Maryann Schacht disagrees, saying the proposed law is for citizens’ safety as well as Moyer’s own protection.
“[Moyer] came into McDonald’s with her little kangaroo wearing a diaper and coat,” Schacht told The Daily Beast. “She said it was a therapy animal instead of a service animal. There is no such thing in the state of Wisconsin as a therapy animal.”
“If you look at the [ADA] statute, you can look at all the reasons why people use dogs or ponies, but they don’t define kangaroos as part of that assembly,” she added.
Moyer vows to continue treating Jimmy to daytime jaunts, even if it means forgoing the fine dining of Beaver Dam with her therapy animal, just “to keep the peace,” she said.
Her kangaroo kingdom is in Columbus, about 13 miles south of the soon-to-be marsupial-free zone. Her farm, Ricky’s White Tails, is owned by her ex-husband, but she and her current spouse, Larry, help run it and live in a 36-foot camper onsite.
Just outside their mobile home is the fenced acre where her five kangaroos live: 6-year-old Charles; her nearly 7-foot-tall “breeder buck,” Ruby, 5; Anna, 3; Perry 2; and the year-old Jimmy. Moyer is awaiting a shipment of five more ’roos in the near future.
“They’re one of the most loving, faithful animals you’d ever want to be with,” Moyer said. “They start out so small and they’re depending on you. They need so much attention and care, it keeps our mind off having cancer.”
Moyer said she gets her red kangaroos from a Wisconsin-based exotic animal broker, and that females run up to $3,500 and males, $2,000. (“He brokers any animal you’re looking for. One year he asked me if I wanted a white rhinoceros for $100,000. Last time he called me he had a bunch of hyenas. He’s an awesome guy.”)
Moyer and her husband also tend to a single llama, as well as goats, sheep, white-tailed deer, peacocks, emu, horses, miniature horses, and a variety of other creatures on their homestead.
Everywhere Moyer goes, little Jimmy goes too. She’s taken him to a mall in Madison so many times the security guards and food court workers know her as the Kangaroo Lady. He also goes to church and accompanied her to see the movie Taken 3.
Diana and Larry Moyer took another baby ’roo on road trips to Florida in 2008, when the critter-loving couple first made headlines.
Their RV broke down three times and Larry had a stroke on the way to the Sunshine State, and when the Tampa Tribune caught up with them, a fuse-box fire destroyed the motor home.
Jack, the kangaroo from the Missouri auction, was on a leash and feasting on grass at a local park. Also along for the ride was Edward, a disabled goat whose front legs had been injured in a car wreck and who ambled around with a cart.
To Moyer, both pets were service animals for depression and anxiety.
“They were buddies. They would go everywhere with us,” Moyer told The Daily Beast, adding that Jack and Edward were registered with Service Animal Registry of America, which apparently is a certification-for-a-fee program (the ADA does not require certification for service animals).
The kangaroos aren’t her only guardian animals. Edward the goat saved her life one day when she had a staph infection in her leg. It was bleeding, and the goat broke down her door and alerted her mother, who was nearby, Moyer said.
Other Americans are looking to kangaroos for comfort, too. A depressed Oklahoma woman fought city officials to keep her partially-paralyzed ’roo in her home. In 2011, the Broken Arrow City Council created an exotic-animal ordinance exemption that permitted Christie Carr to live with Irwin, her therapy pet.
“Unless you’ve had one and know one, you probably do think, ‘What in the heck would you want a kangaroo for?’” Moyer said. “Once you get to know one at a certain age, when it’s got to be bottle-fed around the clock, you get attached.”
Jimmy sits on Moyer’s lap like a small dog as she watches TV or sits on her computer. He dines on a kangaroo kibble called Happy Hopper, and greets Moyer at the door when she comes home.
“You just have to experience them before you can really appreciate them,” Moyer said. “That’s all I can say about it.”