The fate of about two dozen monkeys at Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary in Woodstock is nearing a conclusion after more than a decade of legal battles.
In 1999, following an anonymous complaint, county zoning officials cited Frisky's owner Colleen Layton for operating a charity without the appropriate zoning exception. In 2004, the Howard County Board of Appeals granted her the zoning exception under the condition she got rid of the roughly 30 monkeys she housed at Frisky's.
Though some have since died, 22 monkeys remain at Frisky's, while the sanctuary has spent the past seven years fighting the board's decision.
Frisky's appeals reached the state's highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, which remanded the case back to the board to consider in the context of a 2004 animal control law change that allows animal sanctuaries to care for exotic animals.
The board's most recent proceedings began in August of 2010. After a year of scattered hearings, the board will hear closing arguments in the case and begin deliberations Tuesday, Sept. 6.
More than 100 people attended the Board of Appeals hearings to show support for Frisky's and its monkeys. The many supporters who testified said they worried about what would happen to the monkeys if they were not allowed to remain at Frisky's.
On the other side of the case are Frisky's neighbors, led by Richard Wyckoff and his wife Julianne Tuttle, whose property on Old Frederick Road shares a driveway with the sanctuary. The neighbors testified that they worry about their safety should one of the monkeys escape.
Frisky's owner Colleen Layton said her facility is safe and provided details on her security measures, regulations and licenses. Supporters vouched for the safety.
But Wyckoff and Tuttle argued that Frisky's has a history of breaking rules and weak oversight.
"It's the exotic animals that my clients have a great concern about," said Thomas Meachum, the attorney for Wyckoff and Tuttle.
He said his clients hope the board will rule that Frisky's must stop housing exotic animals and get rid of the ones it already has. Though the 2004 change to the county's animal control law allows the sanctuary to have monkeys, Meachum said the board can still rule that monkeys and other exotic animals would have an adverse impact on neighboring properties in the area.
"There are homes right nearby," he said. "We're not talking about a large piece of property with a large buffer."
Fred Lauer, the attorney for Frisky's, said Frisky's has all the required licenses needed to care for exotic animals and the sanctuary's safety record speaks for itself.
"There's been no escape of animals," he said. "None of the neighbors have ever been harmed by any of the animals. There's no disease that's ever been spread."
If the board does allow Frisky's to keep its monkeys, it could do so with limitations. In the past year of proceedings, the board has mentioned the possibility of preventing the sanctuary from taking in any new monkeys and making approval for keeping the monkeys contingent on Layton remaining in charge.