Animal shelter seeks to stop protest group

January 05, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Defenders of Animal Rights, a private animal shelter in Phoenix whose former workers accused the company last fall of mistreating animals, has gone to court to stop a group of protesters from picketing the shelter.

Mary Jo Kovic, president of the shelter, recently filed suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court seeking an injunction against seven people who have picketed her business.

The complaint alleges that the pickets have harassed and intimidated the shelter's workers and customers and that the weekly Saturday protests have hurt donations. It also says those named in the suit are trying to drive Defenders out of business and that their actions are unjustified because the state's attorney did not press criminal charges against the shelter and the state Department of Agriculture found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"The protesters' secret plan is to destroy the leadership of the animal shelter and replace them with their own people," said Allan H. Rombro, attorney for Defenders. "They are putting out a lot of half-truths. It's been pretty much a pattern of deception."

Tamara Stickler, a former Defenders volunteer who is named in the suit, said her group has not harassed anyone and has merely tried to discourage people from donating money.

"We're not trying to shut the shelter down," Ms. Stickler said. "We don't discourage adoption [of pets from DAR]. We tell them to go ahead and adopt. . . . We are dedicated to getting people to not spend money there."

The complaint says Ms. Stickler and other protesters have distributed fliers and displayed placards falsely stating the shelter has been charged with six counts of "criminal fraud." Though one of the fliers does state that Defenders has been charged with six counts of criminal fraud, Ms. Stickler said her group was referring to a civil suit that charges the shelter of fraud.

Last night, Ms. Stickler said that she thought the lawsuit against Defenders was a criminal complaint. She said her group would change the signs.

Yesterday, Ms. Kovic said that since August, when the weekly protests began and the allegations were reported in the media, donations and adoptions have declined. She said the decline in donations was "serious," but also said, "We're going to come back from this."

No court date has been set for a hearing on the injunction.

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