This is the text of the letter that Mayor Meyra Oberndorf sent out to all of those who wrote to express their outrage of the heavy-handed tactics used by Virginia Beach Animal Control.
Dear John Q. Public:
Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the recent seizure of
ninety-six cats from a home in Virginia Beach. First, I want to let you
know staff has assured me that all of the cats are being professionally
cared for at our Animal Control facility. These cats have been under
the care of a local veterinarian and all seem to be doing fine. Staff welcomes visitors during business hours to personally see the condition of the cats and put their concerns to rest.
We are happy to report two of the cats have been returned to their actual owners after Mrs. Johnson identified them as not belonging to her. She was able to tell staff who the cats belonged to, and the cats went home with their owners. Mrs. Johnson stated these were the only two cats that belonged to other people. Since she has stated the remainder of the cats belong to her, it is not anticipated any additional animals will be turned over to anyone at this time. Unfortunately, one cat was euthanized at the request of Mrs. Johnson prior to the case being heard in General District Court. She had been considering this course of action for this cat prior to the seizure.
Concerns have been voiced that Mrs. Johnson was singled out for some reason, or that the officer assigned to this case did not investigate the complaint properly. I would like to provide information I believe will clarify the situation. Two animal control officers were assigned to this case, and both officers interviewed the person placing the complaint prior to seeking a search warrant. After the interviews, both officers believed that the best way to handle this case would be to approach Mrs. Johnson with a search warrant available. An animal control supervisor was also involved in approving the affidavit for the
search warrant. When the animal control officer went to the Magistrate's Office, the court magistrate agreed there was probable cause for a search warrant based upon the information provided and issued a search warrant.
The day the search warrant was executed, two animal control officers and a police officer were on the scene. While an animal control officer in the Commonwealth of Virginia may obtain a search warrant, the warrant must be executed by a police officer or sheriff. When the officers went into the home, they found that the cats were being kept in the same poor conditions that had been described to them. Since these conditions were the original basis for the probable cause for the warrant, the search warrant was executed and the cats were removed from the home. If no violations had been found, the cats would not have been
removed. In addition, an animal control supervisor arrived at the
dwelling soon after the cats began to be removed and agreed that the actions taken were appropriate for the conditions found inside the home. It is important to note that the supervisor on the scene was not the same supervisor who approved the affidavit. Therefore, two separate animal control supervisors agreed
that this action was appropriate.
Questions have been raised concerning a dog on the property at the time of the seizure and why this dog was not seized. The dog was kept outside of the dwelling, in a dog run with adequate shelter, and there was no basis to seize the dog.
Concerns have also been raised that the cats were left outside in
crates and it took many hours to remove them. Staff reports that at no time were any cats kept outside in the cold and snow. Heated animal control trucks continually arrived at the Johnson home to remove the cats, and the cats were sent directly to the Animal Control facility after being loaded into the trucks. The removal did take several hours due to the time it took to catch, identify and transport ninety-six cats.
This case has been heard in the General District Court of Virginia
Beach, and the judge hearing the case agreed that the defendant should not be allowed to own ninety-six cats. Clearly, and by the Johnsons' own dmissions, ninety-six cats were more animals than they could properly care for.
The City of Virginia Beach in no way questions the good intentions of the Johnsons and does not wish to stop any legitimate companion animal rescue group. However, there are certain laws that companion animal rescue organizations must follow. Regardless of any license issued by the City, if these organizations do not properly care for their animals, Animal Control must step in and look out for the animals' welfare. One
of the major purposes of the Animal Control Bureau is to make sure that the animal cruelty laws are vigorously enforced to make sure that animals do not needlessly suffer.
In order to make sure accepted procedures were followed during this investigation that resulted in the removal of the cats, the Chief of Police has asked the Police Department's Professional Standards Office to investigate the actions of Animal Control staff. The inquiry will be thorough and policies may or may not be changed based upon the outcome of the inquiry.
The Animal Control Bureau is dedicated to animal welfare and to
finding homes for animals instead of simply euthanizing them. 843 fewer animals were euthanized in 2003 than in 2002. In addition, the adoption numbers have increased, and the Bureau returned over 2,100 animals to their owners. In October of 2003, the Animal Control Bureau initiated a mandatory spay and neuter program for all cats and dogs adopted from the Bureau. Ultimately, this policy should help reduce the number of
unwanted dogs and cats in Virginia Beach. These efforts are an
indication of the commitment of the Superintendent of Animal Control and his staff to continuing to look for ways to improve the work of their Bureau.
Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns. While you may not agree with the actions taken, it is hoped this information is helpful in understanding the reasons behind them. Please be assured the employees of the Virginia Beach Animal Control Bureau are dedicated to the animals and will continue to look out for their welfare.
Meyera E. Oberndorf
We believe that once the facts are presented in court, Mayor Oberndorf will have a lot of explaining to do.
How can anyone claim to be interested in the best interest of the animals when they have been held for over a month in cages, denied human contact or proper space to exercise?
If Virginia Beach City Officials are smart, they had better take very good care of Linda Johnson's cats, but from what we've described, Virginia Beach City Officials might be patronizing, but they're not acting very smart.
Among the things that Her Honor was mistaken about, the case in General District Court has yet to be heard, it was simply a "show cause" hearing in which the "Judge" determined that the cats would not be returned to Linda Johnson until the case was tried. We invite you to look over the text of the Mayor's letter and compare them to the news stories and decide for yourself if the Mayor even knows the truth, let alone if she's even telling it.
We would also press the question, after raiding the Johnson's home and trashing it, if Animal Control Officers were so "professional", why didn't they try and make an effort to try and help the Johnson's clean up the mess Animal Control made?
The least Animal Control Officers could have done was turn the couch and the Johnson's bed back over, but that wouldn't teach the Johnsons's a lesson, would it?