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CASH Courier > 1995 Spring-Summer Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from the Spring-Summer 1995 Issue 

REHABILITATOR’S NIGHTMARE

It’s important to understand that rehabilitators are folks who on their own time and at their own expense and training care for injured and orphaned wildlife. Many rehabilitators are of a more humane bent than the typical “nuisance control officers” who work with government to rid areas of “pests.” One glaring difference is that rehabilitators are not permitted to charge for their services, i.e., caring for the individual animals. Nuisance control officers, on the other hand, can charge and may use brutal forms of removal and killing. Arguably, there is some crossover: some rehabilitators become nuisance control officers to get called into situations that rehabilitators are kept from. Their intention is to be able to humanely help the animal, rather than merely “remove” it as a “nuisance”; and not all nuisance control officers are inhumane. But by and large, they are two distinctly different groups in spirit with an inherently different approach to wildlife. To effectively screen out the humane from becoming “nuisance control officers,” an 8-hour (in NYS) trapping course is required. Many trappers also take this course, and there has been some speculation regarding what happens to the “pests” they charge to remove. One rehabilitator who took the course said, “95% of the nuisance control officers are in it for the money. They can trap any old way and they can kill what they trap.” Rehabilitators who speak out against the inhumane practices of game agencies can become targets of the agencies. Some examples follow:

FISH GAME AND WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR’S NIGHTMARE

By Celia Lindblom

After 2 or 3 years working with licensed wildlife rehabilitators, Bill Sleight submitted his permit application to the NJ DEP Div. Of Fish, Game and Wildlife in May 1994. On June 24, 1994, he received from that agency the 1994 Mammal Rehabilitator’s Packet. This packet contained the State directory for all licensed rehabilitators, the rules and regulations of the Division and a mammal rehabilitator’s questionnaire. This questionnaire is only given to licensed rehabilitators for the purpose of collecting information from a proposed cooperator’s manual. Once completed, the Division intends to distribute the manual to all rehabilitators so as to standardize wildlife care. It is not part of the permit process; they even returned a seven-dollar check that Bill mistakenly thought was a required fee, informing him “There is no fee for a rehabilitator’s license.” Bill completed the questionnaire and returned it a day or two before July 4th. Judging by the previous response he received from Fish and Game, Bill believed he was accepted.

On August 19, 1994, two uniformed officers of the Division of Fish and Game came to Bill’s home concerning his possession of wildlife. Bill explained that he had sent in all the paperwork three months prior and that had the agents correctly spelled his name (they had spelled it “Slate”), they would have located him in their databases. The agents then left. After that weekend, Bill contacted the agency to ask if everything was cleared up. It wasn’t. The Division claimed they had no record of the returned questionnaire. (Remember though, it had nothing to do with the permit process!) Bill had a photocopy and offered to fax a copy to their office. They refused, and told Bill they had a problem with his being an SPCA law enforcement officer (he has been one for 17 years). They claimed that was a “conflict of interest” with the state’s anti-cruelty laws and the laws followed by the Div. of Fish, Game and Wildlife. Bill, being a rehabilitator who saves animals and not a hunter who kills them, objected to any claim of conflict.

Later that day, the Division telephoned Bill and asked if they could return to his home to deliver his permit and at the same time pick up the questionnaire. He was asked not to release any animals until they delivered his permit. He agreed. What happened next is shocking.

Five days later, at 9 o’clock on the morning of Aug. 26, two uniformed Fish and Game officers and a Long Branch police officer arrived at Bill’s home armed with a search warrant for his home and property. When Bill protested, reminding the officers that the had said they would deliver his permit and pick up the questionnaire, their reply was “We lied.” When he presented them with a photocopy of the questionnaire, he was told “too late.”

Once given the “all secure” message over the radio, seven more DEP personnel in three trucks descended on Bill along with members of the Health Dept., Animal Control, and the news media.

Bill was informed of his rights and told that he was not under arrest, but only “detained.” While DEP personnel began pole snaring the raccoons around the neck, Bill protested that the animals were being hurt. The proper way to snare a raccoon is around the chest. Their necks are too fragile for their heavy bodies. According to Bill, animal control officers were doing it properly and were alarmed at the Division personnel’s performance.

Bill’s account of what happened next is chilling. “I was then forced to the ground like some sort of POW and escorted to the opposite side of my property under the guard of two uniformed Fish and Game officers. There I witnessed the animals being lifted off the ground by their necks. I was subjected to helplessly watching their torture and torment and listening to their screams of pain and terror for nearly two hours.

“After it was over, the person in charge of the raid, Larry Herrighty, held up the copy of that questionnaire to my face and said, “Now I’ll process this.” Within a few hours, the Division killed his 20 raccoons, a groundhog and a skunk.

“Rather than being cared for by me and most of them set free, those animals spent their last few hours of life physically abused, frightened and crammed 2 and 3 into transportation crates and killed. Those are images I live with daily. Fish and Game turned my life into a horror movie and I don’t have the option to change the channel. I’ll never understand their purpose. Those animals were all healthy and vaccinated. During their raid on my home, I offered to telephone my veterinarian to get the animals’ health records for proof, but I was denied.”

Even the Long Branch Health Dept. and Animal Control have agreed to give testimony that the animals were healthy and their compounds were clean and well kept. “Fish and Game had my paperwork for 3 months before they pulled their grandstand play. They operate as if they have unbridled authority and are answerable to no one. It is an agency out of control.”

I raised most of those animals from orphaned babies. I spent thousands of dollars on their care and would have paid any fine if Fish and Game would have allowed those animals to live. The Division is a rehabilitator’s nightmare and now my enemy for life.”

C.L.

BILL SLEIGHT CAN BE REACHED AT 44 JACKSON STREET, LONG BRANCH, N.J. 07740, 908 222 4583. CELIA LINDBLOM IS A MEMBER OF C.AS.H. AND IS ACTIVE IN THE ANTI-HUNTING MOVEMENT.

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