Frisky’s, a non-profit that was created in 1970 and has operated from its current location on Old Frederick Road since 1993, takes in small indigenous wildlife that become injured or orphaned, domestic animals that can no longer be cared for by their owners and small primates. It is the primates that are the main point of contention for neighbors.
“I’ve been doing this 41 years — 22 of those included primates,” Frisky’s owner and founder Colleen Layton-Robbins said. “I never had a problem, no injuries or reports.”
Layton-Robbins, who runs Frisky’s out of her house, said the monkeys she cares for are well-secured and the chance of them escaping is highly unlikely.
“Our primates are not just in the building, they’re in an enclosure inside the building, and they’re in outside enclosures that are connected to them when they’re out for play,” she said. “Everything’s set in cement, the poles are the most heavy-duty, it’s the heaviest of chain links. I have a chain-link structure on the top, then there’s roofing on top of the heavy-duty chain links.”
However, her neighbors have their doubts. They testified for the first time at last week’s Howard County Board of Appeals hearing.
Attorney Thomas M. Meachum, who is representing a married couple and primary opponents of Frisky’s, said the protestors focused on the unpredictable and dangerous behavior of the exotic animals at Frisky’s.
According to staff notes of the hearing, neighbor Marlene Luciano Evans used Frisky’s newsletters as evidence that the monkeys should be removed. She focused a January 2011 interview with Layton-Robbins, in which she stated that “some of [the monkeys] really can and do become physical with me. They pull my hair and bite if given a chance.”
According to Meachum, Evans also argued that no matter what protective measures are taken, there is always room for people to make mistakes.
“Her point was that human error happens,” Meachum said. “If someone leaves the gate open or the door open, say a monkey gets out — that could pose a threat to her or her children.”
Meachum said that the neighbors did not expect the sanctuary to house wild and indigenous animals when it opened. Evans repeated these sentiments during her testimony.
“She’s very concerned about the diseases they can cause, she’s concerned if they get loose. She has children, other people on the street have children — what would that mean?”Meachum said.
Evans was the first and only neighbor who had a chance to speak. Six other neighbors were sworn in to confirm that they agree with all of her testimony.
Four of Frisky’s volunteers all testified in support of allowing Frisky’s to care for wild and exotic animals at the sanctuary. They spoke highly of the sanctuary’s environment, security and educational outreach program.
“If we’re so bad, why are schools approaching us saying we want our children to come and learn what you’re doing?” Layton-Robbins said. “We try to do everything right — we’re not the problem, we’re the solution.”
She said that Frisky’s comfortable environment is different than those of larger sanctuaries “where it’s survival of the fittest.” According to Layton-Robbins, the animals receive more individual attention and care at her sanctuary.
According to the Frisky’s website, the institution is funded by donations that go directly toward the care and welfare of the animals. The sanctuary is run on a volunteer basis.
“We try to be a blessing on every path that crosses our way and go out of our way to be good on purpose,” said Layton-Robbins, who is licensed as a certified master rehabilitator through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Heritage Service.
She said she routinely has inspections to make sure she is doing everything according to the law. So in 1999, when county officials cited her for operating a charitable and philanthropic institution without the required zoning exception, she was “mortified.”
“I made a mistake, I screwed up; I admit that,” Layton-Robbins said. “There was something that I needed to do that I was not aware of and had no clue that I needed to do it.”
In 2004, the Howard County Board of Appeals ruled that Frisky's could remain in operation but had to get rid of its monkeys because they violate a county ban on exotic animals. According to Layton-Robbins, the county law soon changed to exempt any animal sanctuary that meets all federal and state licensing requirements from the ban; Frisky’s meets all of the requirements.
Both the Howard County Circuit Court and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld that the monkeys needed to leave because the law could not be applied retroactively.
In 2007, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that each zoning case is unique, and laws should be applied retroactively to court proceedings in progress. It remanded the case back to the Board of Appeals.
Last week’s hearing was the fifth in the legal battle. The next, at which other neighbors will testify, is set for March 24.
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