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Animal sanctuary's fate hinges on charity status

The Baltimore Sun

Although the state's highest court heard arguments on the ability of a Woodstock animal sanctuary to care for several dozen monkeys, a ruling in the eight-year tussle between the sanctuary's founder and its suburban neighbors might not end the conflict.

The neighbors say that although Howard County's recently changed animal-control laws permit exotic animals at the sanctuary, the county's zoning laws do not.

The Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary no longer qualifies as a charity under the county's zoning laws, and without that label, the monkeys have to go, attorney Thomas M. Meachum argued Thursday before the Court of Appeals. He was representing neighbor Richard Wyckoff.

Attorneys for Frisky's want the court to apply existing animal-control laws and note that lower courts have deemed the refuge a charity.

"You have the collision of two Howard County laws," said M. Albert Figinski, an appellate attorney representing Colleen Layton-Robbins, Frisky's founder and manager. "It cries out for the new executive and council to work this out legislatively, rather than prolong and elongate" the case.

Layton-Robbins, who has operated Frisky's since the 1970s, cares for about 200 animals, including about two dozen monkeys, on a 4-acre property on Route 99 near Marriottsville Road. The sanctuary, which doubles as Layton-Robbins' home, shares a driveway with Wyckoff's home.

"When workers interact with some of the monkeys, they have to wear face shields, goggles, boots and gloves," Meachum said. "I'm not aware of anyone being hurt, but it's a ticking time bomb."

Wyckoff has collected more than 100 signatures from neighbors who want to banish the monkeys. The conflict dates to 1999, when a couple whose aggressive monkey was placed under Frisky's care by animal control alleged improprieties and contacted neighbors.

The complaint prompted a county investigation, and officials determined that the sanctuary lacked the proper permits.

The sanctuary has operated at its current location since the early 1990s and has its paperwork in order for everything but the monkeys.

Howard County deems monkeys exotic, which means they are subject to different rules than the sanctuary's other animals, which include birds, reptiles and roosters.

In 2004, the County Council rejected, on a 3-2 vote, a zoning change that would have guaranteed safe harbor for Frisky's monkeys. The council's membership has completely changed since then.

Figinski told the Court of Appeals that if it didn't resolve the issue in Frisky's favor, the matter would probably end up back before the appeals court or in federal court.

"I'm never giving up," Layton-Robbins said after the court heard arguments. "It's a needed facility, and the community can't see, hear or smell us."

Sun reporter Tyrone Richardson contributed to this article.

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