Three citizens were recently notified they are not welcome at the Sampson County Animal Shelter without at least a week’s notice and preapproval by the shelter director, following allegations of verbal abuse of county employees, charges one resident said were “trumped up” and completely false.
A letter from Sampson County attorney Annette Chancy Starling, dated April 26, was sent to Lindsay Peterson in response to alleged actions at the Sampson County Animal Shelter a week earlier “and other occasions over the past year.” Two other letters were also sent out to local animal welfare advocates, each threatening permanent bans should problems persist.
On April 19, Starling stated in the letter, shelter staff reported that Peterson visited the shelter when it was not open to the public, yelled and cursed at shelter employees and volunteers and would not leave the shelter after being asked to do so several times.
“After this encounter, a shelter volunteer was so upset that he had to leave and was not able to return that day,” Starling stated. “Sampson County is hereby putting you on notice that this type of behavior has continued too long and will no longer be tolerated at the shelter. Sampson County has a responsibility to its staff, volunteers and citizens to insure a safe and harassment-free environment at the shelter.”
Two female residents received similar notifications, one for getting into a heated exchange with staff over the treatment of animals and another for allegedly pushing her way into the shelter when it was closed. Their letters mirrored the one sent to Peterson, who was the only one who agreed to go on record about the incident.
In each of the three letters from the county, Starling stated they were prohibited from visiting the shelter without prior approval from shelter director Alan Canady, notification to whom had to be given a week in advance.
Starling laid out several actions that would bring a ban, to include going in any areas of the shelter not open to the public; harassing shelter staff, volunteers and/or citizens visiting the shelter; and shouting, talking loudly or harshly to shelter staff, volunteers or citizens visiting the shelter.
“If you engage in any of the prohibited behavior … in the future or if you visit the shelter without prior approval from the shelter director, you may be banned from the shelter for up to one year on the first offense and permanently for any offense committed thereafter.”
In an email to county manager Ed Causey earlier this month, provided to the SI, Peterson said the allegations against him were false and told the county manager to “stop wasting county money on worthless letters that only serve to threaten our civil rights.”
“I certainly hope you understand that you do not have the legal authority to ban anyone from the shelter. If you do not understand, then the county does have a major problem,” Peterson stated. “You cannot substantiate any of your allegations because they are false. Evidence that I have does not coincide with your accounts.”
A letter to the editor by Lindsay’s wife Janice Peterson alluded to the attorney’s missives, stating that the dogs and cats in the Sampson County Animal Shelter have no voice.
“Only a very, very few citizens of the county have tried to be their advocates,” she stated. “And, now some of those few have been ‘banned’ from the shelter without an investigation of the facts or even as much as a discussion with the individuals involved! What has happened to civil liberties and due process? Is there something to hide at the shelter?
She said local volunteers and rescue groups only have the welfare of the animals as their priority, wishing to assist the shelter in affording them safety, care and an opportunity to live.
To that end, in a recent City Council meeting, Lindsay and Janice Peterson requested a modified ordinance to address the number of cats one can have in the city. They said allowing a larger number of cats would greatly assist the adoption efforts being made, as the kittens need to be quarantined for a time before they are transported to rescue organizations.
During that open meeting, Lindsay Peterson called into question the shelter’s practices, part of the need for a more lenient cat ordinance.
“We desperately need to get cats out of the shelter as soon as possible and on their way to rescues that we now have that will take them,” Peterson said then. “The shelter is being more and more negligent in its care for cats. We rescued a cat whose litter was dying. The rescue that got the cat had her checked by their vet and the mother was pregnant and not lactating. The shelter had put the kittens with this cat. They had neglected to see that the kittens were not feeding and some of the kittens starved to death.”
In Starling’s letter to Peterson, she also addressed his regular public records requests. She said public records law only requires the county to produce records already in existence. If no such record exists, the county is not required to compile one in response to a request.
“Furthermore, Sampson County is not required to respond to your email or answer your questions when public records are not requested,” she stated in Peterson’s letter. “While the county generally provides requested information to its citizens, your request for information are placing an undue burden on Sampson County’s staff and preventing them from performing their job duties.”
Starling reiterated a letter to Peterson in February about the tone of the emails and requests. She said the emails to county staff and administration “once again have a harassing tone, and if they continue in this manner, Sampson County may be forced to seek a court order to enjoin such emails.”
Peterson said it would likely take a court order to keep him from trying to care for local cats and dogs, and make sure they were safe and found permanent homes. He said he was willing to fight for what he said was his Constitutional right. He told county officials as much.
“If you think the situation as described in the letters is justified and you have credible witnesses, please go before a judge and request a court order,” he told Causey. “But if you do seek an order, we will show pictures to the the judge of the conditions at the shelter and we now have documented evidence of gross negligence at the shelter that has caused the death of animals. We have tried to work with you and advise you of problems to help correct them, but you just pushed us away.”
For its part, the county said Peterson’s passion for animals was understood, but his attitude was not conducive to a positive working environment for employees.
“Sampson County understands and appreciated your strong desire to help the shelter animals,” Starling stated. “However, the county can no longer let your recent behavior continue.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.