Animal lovers give support to Frisky's

Wildlife sanctuary returns to board in search of approval

April 11, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

At any given time, Colleen Layton has about 100 homeless and wounded animals under her care at Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary in Woodstock, in addition to the two dozen monkeys that are her permanent guests.

Judging by the many calls and letters flooding Howard County offices, Layton may have nearly as many humans turning out in her support tomorrow night. That's when the county Board of Appeals will hold its latest hearing on Frisky's, whose effort to gain county zoning approval is in doubt.

At the hearing, Layton and her lawyers will ask the board to reconsider its January ruling dismissing Frisky's application for zoning approval as a "charitable or philanthropic institution."

The board found that Frisky's could not apply under that category because it served animals, not people: "The terms `charitable and philanthropic' are appropriate to use for institutions intended to promote the welfare of human beings."

The ruling came as a blow to Frisky's, which has cared for raccoons, goats, geese, ducks, opossums, fox and llamas, among other animals, in a 4-acre compound off Old Frederick Road for 30 years. In response to complaints about the haven last year, county officials told Layton that she would have to get zoning approval, and suggested she apply as a charitable operation, the only category that could conceivably cover the sanctuary.

The January ruling closed that path to Frisky's, leaving it at risk of being closed.

In the sanctuary's appeal, lawyers who have volunteered to help Layton argue that charitable causes are widely understood to include animal and wildlife shelters. Frisky's serves the public good by caring for injured animals that county government would otherwise be burdened with, they argued.

"The sanctuary exemplifies the idea of striving to accomplish humane goals that encompass safety, the advancement of human morals and concern with animal welfare," lawyers said in their appeal.

David Carney, a lawyer representing neighbors opposed to the application, agreed that Frisky's should be considered a charitable enterprise and that it should be permitted to care for wounded local wildlife. The reason the board should reject Frisky's application, he said, is because its monkeys are illegal: the county code outlaws keeping "exotic" animals.

"There's no question about it. The [monkeys] are not indigenous," said Carney. "My clients are concerned and frightened about those monkeys."

It was Layton's monkeys that first drew the county's attention to the sanctuary. In 1999, an Anne Arundel couple was forced to give up their monkey, Jamie, to Layton after it went on a rampage in a Glen Burnie bar.

One of the three lawyers representing Frisky's, Terry A. Berger, said this week that Layton and her supporters hope to work with county officials to rewrite the code to allow for monkeys at facilities such as Frisky's. The monkeys are kept behind chain-link fences and under 24-hour video surveillance, he noted.

In any case, Berger said, the question of the monkeys' legality isn't relevant to whether the sanctuary gets general approval as a charitable operation.

While the appeal boils down to legal distinctions, it has provoked an emotional uproar from animal lovers prompted by a recent letter from Layton that warned: "If the county confiscates our monkeys, they will be killed because the county has no agency able to care for them. We need emergency help from you."

County officials have received about 130 e-mails and 50 phone messages from Frisky's supporters and are expecting dozens tomorrow, even though the board will not be taking public testimony.

"They're all animal lovers, people who've brought animals in here," Layton said this week. "I'm overwhelmed by all the people who care. Like I always say, all I do here is the three F's: `fecal management, first aid and feeding.'"

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