Animal sanctuary awaits permit ruling

The Baltimore Sun

Colleen Layton-Robbins has been caring for animals for more than 30 years and has a fondness for the dozens of monkeys at Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary.

"We get them healthy and get them through the adjustments of life. We just help them develop into thriving animals," said Layton-Robbins, director at the Woodstock facility off Route 99 near Marriottsville Road. "We want them to live a good life, and I am driven to that."

But some of the sanctuary's neighbors say they believe the monkeys could carry diseases and that they pose a health risk.

"We want the monkeys gone," said Richard Wyckoff, a neighbor.

"Your average person would not like to have monkeys on this poorly regulated place in their neighborhood," said Wyckoff, who added that he collected about 100 signatures from neighbors who want the monkeys removed.

That decision, after years of legal battling, rests with Maryland's highest court. The Court of Appeals will hear arguments April 5 on whether Howard County should grant Frisky's a permit to keep the monkeys. The panel is expected to make a decision as soon as May.

"We've all put so much into the [monkeys'] health and psychological well-being," Layton-Robbins said. " ... I am hoping and praying that the [court] does the right thing."

Fred Lauer, an attorney for Frisky's, said he will argue that the facility should be granted the necessary permit because the county's animal-control law was amended in 2005 in a way that allows Frisky's to keep the monkeys.

The fate of Frisky's has been debated since 1999, when a couple who turned over their monkey to the facility after it went on a rampage at an Anne Arundel County bar accused Layton-Robbins of improperly running the business.

The county Department of Planning and Zoning began investigating Frisky's in 2000 and found that Layton-Robbins did not have the proper permits and other documentation to operate the facility.

Frisky's now has permits to operate the sanctuary, including a federal license to exhibit the animals. But it repeatedly has been denied a permit to keep monkeys.

The nonprofit organization, which treats and houses deserted pets and injured wildlife, has operated in Howard County since the 1970s and moved to its current location in 1993.

Peggy Stover-Catha, a member of the sanctuary's board of directors, said the facility last year saved 574 migratory birds, 685 mammals and 27 reptiles.

The 4-acre property houses a number of animals, including two dozen monkeys and an array of birds, reptiles, roosters and a prairie dog.

Layton-Robbins denied accusations that her animals carry diseases and are a threat to the community.

"That is not true. ... These are not the animals that are out in the wild," Layton-Robbins said. "These are all pampered primates here. The types of diseases they have are diabetes, Crohn's disease and heart problems."

Since 1999, questions about the facility's compliance with the law have come before the county Planning Board, the Board of Appeals and the Circuit Court.

In 2004, the Board of Appeals ruled that Frisky's could remain open but had to remove its monkeys, because their presence violates the county ban on exotic animals.

In 2005, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the ruling. Frisky's then asked for a review by the Court of Appeals.

Wyckoff said he is shocked that the case has gone on so long.

"The longer Frisky's continues winding through the legal process, the longer they can exist," he said.

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