I am writing on behalf of my friend Stephanie Larson, whose cat Fluffy Puffy is being held at the county animal shelter. I feel strongly that his seizure by animal control officers was unnecessary and inappropriate, and that being held at the shelter instead of being home with Stephanie is deleterious to his physical and emotional health.
In June, Fluffy came home with a broken leg. Stephanie took him to several vets but was not able to raise the money to have his leg set, though she did spend around $2,000 on his veterinary visits. Several times she canceled appointments because he hid, and she couldn’t catch him to put him in the cat carrier. In July, one of the clinics that she had rescheduled appointments with, the Open Door, called Buncombe County Animal Service Division and reported that she was neglecting his medical care because of these missed appointments.
On Friday, Aug. 23, officers from Animal Service arrived at her house and demanded that she surrender Fluffy to them. She told them that she had an appointment the following Wednesday to have his leg treated with a veterinarian in Lake Junaluska.
Sgt. Robinson demanded to know the name and phone number of the clinic. He returned shortly and told her that he had called the clinic and canceled her appointment and that she had to surrender Fluffy, which she did. (The following Tuesday she got a call from the clinic in Lake Junaluska reminding her of Fluffy’s appointment the next day. Apparently Sgt. Robinson had, in fact, not called them and canceled the appointment.)
Stephanie was told that Fluffy would be taken to a clinic to have his leg amputated, and that in order to get Fluffy back she had to go before a judge. Her court date [was scheduled for] March 23 [though court cases across the state have been rescheduled due to COVID-19 concerns].
In the meantime, Fluffy would stay in the county shelter without emotional support or care from Stephanie, and racking up monthly charges that she will have great difficulty paying. She is not allowed even to visit Fluffy and has not seen him for almost seven months now. The stress and grief that this has caused her has affected her emotional and physical health.
The charge that Stephanie was neglecting Fluffy is completely unjustified in my view, although that may be what Animal Service needs to believe and therefore what they do believe. When Fluffy was taken into custody, he was healthy enough that it took Stephanie and me an hour to catch him and put him into a cat carrier. But even if Fluffy’s life was in danger, which I do not believe, there can be no reason to continue to hold him after his treatment other than to extort money from Stephanie. She has to pay a “bond” of $200 every month to maintain her claim on Fluffy so the county will not kill him. By the time of her court appearance, she will have paid $1,400.
Stephanie and Fluffy should have had the right of habeas corpus to go before a judge in a timely manner to argue that his imprisonment was unjustified and ask that Fluffy be returned to her. Unfortunately, in this society, animals are not considered to have personhood, and so they do not, in law, have this right (even though they can have the emotional capacity of humans, and are loved by us fully as much as if they were persons, which they are).
It is ironic that Fluffy was taken into state custody, supposedly for his own protection, as if he were a person, and yet he does not have the right accorded to persons to challenge his imprisonment. Instead, he was impounded like a car and is being held for an extended period, to the detriment of his and Stephanie’s emotional health, and with monthly charges mounting up, which is an unjustifiable transfer of wealth to the county from one of its poorest residents.
This is reminiscent of Ferguson, Mo., where, after the killing of Michael Brown, it came to light that the city was earning a large share of its budget by criminalizing its low-income residents and imposing upon them heavy fines. Is this the model that Buncombe County wants to follow? (If it is, then perhaps such a course will trigger an “Animal Rights Matter” movement, as Ferguson helped to trigger the “Black Lives Matter” movement.)
Because Stephanie is a low-income person who cannot afford a lawyer, Animal Service can, with impunity, extort many hundreds of dollars from her by holding Fluffy hostage, and he has no more rights than an impounded car, even though Stephanie loves him as a child. Treating animals as property in the law when their humans love them as children puts Animal Control in the position of being able to run a very profitable extortion racket, the equivalent of kidnapping for ransom. A just society, rather than extorting money from its low-income residents, would help them with exorbitant veterinary expenses.
Personally, I have difficulty seeing this as anything other than legalized kidnapping for ransom. Stephanie is a very responsible cat owner, devoted to Fluffy, and being away from her in a strange place with little human nurturing is very emotionally stressful for both of them, and lessens the chances for him to have a successful recovery. He needs to be home where she can care for him. I see this as animal cruelty, and behavior such as this makes Buncombe County’s Animal Service look like a predatory, revenue operation. My personal opinion is that this is an extortion racket, and that the county’s Animal Service Division should be prosecuted for animal abuse and neglect.
If you have had experience with Animal Control in the city or county that you would like to share, you could me at 828-242-6073 or Stephanie at 828-768-7856.
— Rusty Sivils
Editor’s note: Fluffy’s owner is identified as Lavonne Larson in court documents, which include an affidavit from Sgt. Robert Robinson that he contacted the Lake Junaluska clinic, and the vet there then decided not to take on the case.
Xpress contacted the Buncombe County’ Sheriff’s Department and the Asheville Humane Society, which runs the shelter, for a response to a summary of the letter writer’s points. We received the following response from Jody Evans, executive director of the Asheville Humane Society, and Aaron Sarver, public information officer at BCSD: “Buncombe County has a large number of household pets and many rescue/animal welfare organizations that support and aid the well-being of animals. The vast majority of pet owners are compassionate and take exceptional care of their animals. However, when proper care is not provided, the Sheriff’s Office is statutorily bound by the state of North Carolina to intervene.
“The North Carolina animal cruelty statute reads in part: ‘If any person shall intentionally overdrive, overload, wound, injure, torment, kill, or deprive of necessary sustenance, or cause or procure to be overdriven, overloaded, wounded, injured, tormented, killed, or deprived of necessary sustenance, any animal, every such offender shall for every such offense be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.’ The entire statute can be read at [http://avl.mx/70o].
“The owner of Fluffy Puffy, Lavonne Larson, has been charged with animal cruelty. We will not comment on the specifics of this case while it is being adjudicated. However, we do want to inform your readers regarding some of the misstatements regarding the care of Fluffy Puffy.
“Fluffy Puffy is receiving the best care possible as part of Asheville Humane Society’s commitment to the compassionate treatment of every animal in our community. After receiving proper medical treatment, the cat was placed with a certified foster family. While housed with this family, he is being fed and lovingly cared for.
“Asheville Humane Society’s core ideology is expressed in a widely adopted set of animal welfare principles titled ‘The Five Freedoms.’ We believe every animal should have: freedom from hunger or thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behavior and freedom from fear and distress.
“Asheville Humane Society is Buncombe County’s critical safety net since 1984 and is always here to save and protect every animal possible.
“The Sheriff’s Office and our deputies take enforcement of animal cruelty statutes seriously and are responsive to complaints of animal cruelty in our community. When the care and well-being of both pets and livestock, as defined by state law, is not being met and corrective measures by a caretaker are not taken, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office will charge an individual with animal cruelty. Lavonne Larson will have their day in court … where the facts and evidence of our investigation will be presented.”