Why Does Hollywood Continue to Hire Sid Yost?

AP/Damian Dovarganes
Chimpanzees Cody (left) and Sable kiss Sidney Yost at his former training facility in California's San Bernardino County. He now operates out of Louisiana.

The animal trainer is battling the U.S. Department of Agriculture's allegations that range from not providing rabbits with food free from contamination and unsafely housing them in the same enclosure with a Capuchin monkey.

Lousiana-based animal trainer Sidney Yost is having another great year professionally. For the big screen, he has been hired to coordinate or provide animals on prominent 2013 releases ranging from Lee Daniels’ The Butler and 12 Years a Slave to 2 Guns and Olympus Has Fallen. For television, he has worked on Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, A&E’s miniseries Bonnie and Clyde (debuting Dec. 8) and Ravenswood for ABC Family. On the horizon, according to Yost’s website, is work on the Kevin Costner indie drama Black and White and the MGM comedy Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

Yet Yost, who operates out of his 58-acre Nola Movie Ranch near Covington, La., north of Lake Pontchartrain — filled with a full menagerie, including Justin Beaver and alpacas Mork and Mindy — also is battling the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which on March 12, 2012, filed a lengthy complaint against him that alleges a litany of violations dating to 2008. The accusations range across species and situations, from not providing rabbits with food free from contamination and unsafely housing them in the same enclosure with a Capuchin monkey to failing to supply sufficient living space to a lynx and hybrid wolves.

Yost also is accused of providing substandard veterinary care, shoddy shelter and poorly cleaned facilities, of being unable to account for the acquisition of some animals, including ferrets and a fox — the concern being that they could be black-market purchases — and of employing “on multiple occasions” a stick to hit a monkey named Rowdy, a lion named Romeo and multiple tigers.

The USDA is seeking to suspend or revoke his Animal Welfare Act license, which would effectively put him out of business. (It’s a lucrative one: By October, just two of his top dogs had earned $150,000, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.) Yost, 59, a 35-year veteran of working with animals, filed a response to the complaint Sept. 30. While acknowledging some past violations, Yost dismissed most of the charges as the result of the work of an overzealous inspector, that “several” of the transgressions were “relatively minor infractions” that have already been satisfactorily corrected and that the USDA has “overstated, exaggerated, misrepresented and conflated stale and outdated facts in a misguided effort to ‘score points’ ” against him.

As for the allegation of abusing animals with a stick, Yost said he employs “the type of lightweight walking cane with a curved handle found in pharmacies worldwide” and that it’s merely “used to ‘tap’ the animal, sometimes with more force than on other occasions, generally on the nose area, or a paw, but never to hurt or harm.”

Why are so many high-profile productions continuing to work with a trainer facing such allegations? According to another animal trainer who has worked on the same projects as Yost, many productions either do not know to check a trainer’s USDA record or simply never bother to do so, this despite the fact that the USDA complaint is a top hit in a simple Google search of Yost’s name.

Most productions that have worked with him recently did not respond to THR’s request for comment. But three that did all said the same thing: They had no idea about the USDA complaint against Yost.

“On every production it’s always some new producer, some young guy,” says the other Louisiana trainer about why a production company might not properly vet its contractors. “It might be Big Time Studios, but it’s Joe Blow Llc. [on the ground]. And besides, it’s the most forgiving business in the world. Look at Charlie Sheen. People can come back in a year.”

This story first appeared in the Dec. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.