The two dozen monkeys at Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary got a big boost from the Maryland Court of Appeals in a ruling on the extended zoning dispute over the Woodstock facility.
The court ruled this week that a change in Howard County's laws affecting exotic animals - which came three months after the Board of Appeals ruled that the monkeys had to go - should have been applied retroactively. Instead, the county Circuit Court, and later the Court of Special Appeals, upheld the original May 2004 board ruling.
The state's highest court ordered the case sent back to the Board of Appeals for a new ruling.
That new board hearing, using the latest county animal control laws, "would allow us to function, as long as we have the permits and licenses" according to shelter attorney Fred Lauer.
"That's the best Mother's Day gift in the world," said Frisky's owner Colleen Layton-Robbins, who lives on the 4-acre property and said she feels like a mother to the aminals she has cared for three decades.
Neighbors who oppose having the monkeys at the shelter said more legislation could result, however, and the case could stretch on.
"It would have been nice if it went the other way because that might have been the end of it. Now, there may be more wrangling," said Richard Wyckoff, a neighbor of the facility and the leading Frisky's critic.
The zoning dispute began in 1999, when a complaint by one monkey owner drew county inspectors, who found the private shelter lacked the necessary permits.
Layton-Robbins later obtained the proper shelter permits, but wasn't able to get permission to keep the monkeys.
Peggy Stover-Catha, a board member and volunteer at Frisky's, said that the shelter helped 574 birds, 685 mammals and 27 reptiles last year.
The eight-year dispute is between Layton-Robbins, who shelters injured or homeless animals, including the monkeys, and a group of neighbors who fear the shelter is poorly regulated and that the primates are a risk for disease.
Wyckoff said the court's 43-page decision Wednesday could offer his side new opportunities, too, since future changes in county laws could also now apply.
"The point that we made that seemed to carry some weight was that the regulations for a [dog] kennel should be the starting point for regulations for a place that would function like an exotic kennel," he said.
"It shouldn't be easier to have two dozen monkeys than to have two dozen dogs or cats," Wyckoff added.
Stover-Catha said she would be happy to end the issue by buying Wyckoff's home so he could move.
"If they would like to accept an offer for their property, I would be willing to buy them out if they're so fearful," she said.
The court cited a 1964 case, Yorkdale Corporation v. Powell, in making its ruling that laws approved after a zoning decision should be considered retroactively.
"This is a landmark reaffirmation of a venerable principle. If a statute is amended, it applies," said M. Albert Figinski, the attorney for Frisky's appeal.