SPCA Confiscates Licensed Avian Breeder's Valuable Birds and Their Family Pets In Florida Case
SPCA CONFISCATES (STEALS) BIRDS !
Report by Sue Beaulieu, Legislative Editor
Lynn Andrews is a breeder of exotic birds who breeds birds and other pets in her home. Lynn is licensed and regulated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She left for the weekend of September 9, 2006 to attend a two day bird fair. Prior to leaving, Lynn made arrangements with a friend, Cheryl Sawyer, to care for the birds and check on newly hatched chicks in the nests.
Lynn's teenage son, who stayed with his older brother for the weekend was also to come to feed and water the other animals.
On September 10, 2006, on a "tip" from a hostile neighbor who has filed many unsubstantiated complaints against Lynn in the past, Pinellas County Sheriff's Deputy Amy White went to Lynn's home to investigate a barking dog complaint. Deputy White, finding nobody to answer her knocks at the front door, went through the gates and entered the home through a back door which she claimed was ajar. Upon entering the home Deputy Amy White saw Lynn's birds and called Animal Control. The Deputy was apparently not aware that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over exotic birds and licenses exotic bird breeders and therefore made no attempts to notify the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to investigate whether Lynn's birds were properly cared for. Although an officer from Animal Control Officer came, they took no action.
Undeterred, the Deputy, who apparently has no knowledge of breeding of birds, then called the Pinellas County SPCA to come to seize all of Lynn's animals, including the birds, two dogs, a rabbit, and a turtle, on the claim that they were neglected and in distress. Most interesting was the failure to even investigate any of the conditions including an allegation that the dogs were chained by Lynn and did not have adequate water available, when the dogs were chained up at the insistence of Deputy Amy White. The seizure of all of Lynn's animals was unnecessary as was later determined by the Judge Dorothy Vaccaro after a full trial.
The SPCA called out the media to publicize the raid on Lynn's home and to photograph and video the removal of her animals. Coverage included outlandish statements of neglect and a neighbor's allegation that she did not know of the birds when actually, she had been in the house with her children to see the birds. Lynn's friend, Cheryl Sawyer, arrived on Sunday morning to check on the animals. As luck would have it, she arrived during the raid on Lynn's home, and was handcuffed and arrested for animal cruelty.
The SPCA's confiscation of all of Lynn's animals was without reasonable cause or justification. The SPCA claimed the birds and other animals were in distress and needed to be rescued from Lynn, without really investigating the matter and after discounting breeding expert Frederick Smith, regional director of the AFA.
The SPCA filed a petition in court for custody and control of the birds and animals. Lynn and Cheryl opposed the SPCA's petition. Lynn hired attorney R. Michael Robinson of St. Petersburg, Florida, to represent her in both the forfeiture civil action filed by the SPCA and the criminal charges for which she was arrested. The cost of defense far exceeds the monetary "value" of her birds.
During the 4 days of hearings (spanning a period of almost three months) on the SPCA's petition it became clear that Cheryl Sawyer had nothing to do with the case, other than being the person asked to come feed, water and check on Lynn's birds. Judge Dorothy Vaccaro dismissed the civil case against Cheryl Sawyer after the SPCA has introduced their evidence.
R. Michael Robinson, attorney for Lynn, obtained two expert witnesses, Frederick Smith, an establish bird breeder and Regional Director for the AFA, and Dr. Margaret Wissman, a Board Certified Avian Veterinarian, who testified that based upon the testimony, over 50 photographs and veterinarian records there was clear and convincing evidence that Lynn's birds were properly cared for and had not been neglected or abused as alleged. Testimony was presented to show that some of the birds were injured during the raid and transport to the SPCA facility, and that other birds later became ill while in the custody of the SPCA due to their care. During the raid, cages and nest boxes were overturned, fertile eggs were destroyed, and baby birds suffocated in their overturned nest boxes. Testimony was presented that SPCA personnel had virtually no knowledge of the proper care and maintenance of exotic birds, that they fed the birds unsuitable food, that they were unfamiliar with bird diseases, and that they used improper cleaning methods for the birds including the use of bleach to disinfect their bird holding area and that the fumes from the bleach damaged the birds' sensitive respiratory systems.
JUDGE ORDERS PINELLAS COUNTY SPCA TO RETURN CONFISCATED BIRDS AND ANIMALS
On December 13, 2006, Judge Dorothy Vaccaro ruled on the Petition to Grant Ownership of Confiscated Animals on each and every animal, (101 birds, 2 dogs, 2 turtles, and 1 rabbit) in Lynn's favor and dismissed the SPCA's petition. She further denied the SPCA's request that Lynn never be allowed to own animals again, and ordered the birds and other animals returned to Lynn. Judge Dorothy Vaccaro ruled that Lynn was not neglectful, and that Lynn was entitled to have her birds and dogs. Unfortunately when Lynn got her birds back, most leg bands had been removed or lost, as had her breeding records.
The Pinellas County SPCA, despite losing on every count in their petition, was, and still is, attempting to charge Lynn for the care of her animals which they held hostage while they tried to prosecute her. As of this date, these "charges" exceed $6,000.00 according to Jeffery Jensen, one of the attorneys for the SPCA. This is a tactic commonly used by prosecutors against animal owners in an effort to force the animal owner into compliance with the demands of the prosecution. The Pinellas County SPCA seems to think that even though they were found to have wrongly seized the animals, and have lost their petition to take permanent legal custody of the animals, they are entitled to have Lynn pay their inflated charges for the care of the animals. This in spite of failure to prove the animals were neglected as was ruled by the Court.
Additionally, the criminal charges against Lynn Andrews and Cheryl Sawyer were dropped as the Office of the State Attorney filed a "No Information" in their cases on December 11, 2006.
Lynn Andrews and her many avicultural supporters, refused to be intimidated by bullying tactics. With the help and backing of her many supporters, Lynn fought back, winning a court order that she is entitled to her animals back.
Aviculture has won an important battle in the war to preserve the right to keep and breed birds.
December 17, 2006, Florida Federation of Aviculture, Inc. (http://www.ffa-birds.org/index.html)
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