Friday, April 22, 2011

Fox Attacked Your Cats? That'll Cost You a Hundred Dollars.

Some months ago I promised to write about our local experience with the EFTA – Easier For Them Association – and got lazy and stupid let myself get sidetracked. So here it is. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is written as a series of journal entries; my EFTA tale is in the form of a series of (lightly-edited) emails that got posted to our neighborhood listserv. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, as well as myself, since you never know when the EFTA might decide harassing a blogger is a more productive use of its time than serving the public.

Email from Margaret Lake, 9/8/2010 11:34 AM:
One of our cats was attacked by a fox at about 7:45 am this past Sunday morning.  He is fine, but is under quarantine for 45 (long) days.  This took place in our front yard maybe 10 feet from our kitchen door.   The fox did not look sick or strange, so we hope it is not rabid.  Animal control does not seem too interested in catching the fox – they gave us a trap but made my husband sign a contract that stated we would not use it at night and would monitor it once an hour.  Foxes are nocturnal, so I don’t think we’re going to catch one.

Right now we are trying to determine if my husband and son were possibly exposed to rabies through the saliva that was on our cat when they picked him up to go to the vet.

It is so interesting to me that the same city government that has consistently allowed development of any tracts of land (Cameron Station, Potomac Yards, Eisenhower Avenue, etc.) thus destroying natural habitats is unwilling to relocate the displaced wild animals. 

So be careful of your cats and small dogs early in the morning.

Margaret Lake --

I posted, the same day:
I detect the stealthy work of the EFTA - the Easier For Them Association.

According to John Derbyshire  (tongue only slightly in cheek):
The aim of this secret brotherhood is to infiltrate all organizations whose chartered purpose is to serve the public in some way. Once they have taken up key positions in such an organization, the EFTA moles then set about subverting all its processes and procedures — enlisting the aid of corrupt or unsuspecting legislators when necessary — so that the work of the organization, instead of being oriented towards true public service, is re-directed towards the ease and comfort of the organization's employees...

It's hard for EFTA to make much headway against the logic of the market. In the public sector, on the other hand, EFTA really comes into its own. You just have to pick up a newspaper to see them at work.

...or call Alexandria's Animal Control Office about a dangerous fox in your neighborhood.

Margaret Lake again, a couple of days later:
Our cat is recovering from his brush with the fox Sunday morning, but unfortunately today I came home to a ticket from Animal Control for $100 because I do not have licenses for my cats.  I did not know I needed them.  I adopted these cats from the city shelter (for $300+) and nobody there told me I needed licenses.  Everyone who lives in our house (5 people) had to go to the shelter for an interview, then we had a home visit, but they never mentioned licenses.  They told me how many litter boxes I should have (one in each bathroom) and that I probably shouldn’t have a Christmas tree, but nothing about a license.

So please go get a $2 license so you don’t get the $50 fine.

Margaret Lake

Me again:
Consider, for example, the current* condition of the State of Maryland under State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.... Curran has declared his intention that Maryland should become the first state in the Union to outlaw handgun ownership in all but the most restricted circumstances. One of his key strategies has been to have state police build a database of all convictions in the state, for any offense at all going back to the 1960s, and then to deny handgun licenses to anyone convicted of anything punishable by more than two years in jail, regardless of the actual sentence handed down by the court. An upright, conscientious, and law-abiding citizen of Maryland can now be denied a handgun license because he spent a night in jail following a barroom scuffle 30 years ago. This is, of course, an idiotic policy, but look at it from the cops' point of view. Which would you rather spend your working day doing: chasing dangerous criminals down alleys, or sitting in a pleasant air-conditioned office trawling through a database for 30-year-old misdemeanors? Easier for Them, you see.

*(Candide’s note - circa 2002).
Which would you rather spend your working day doing: trapping and subduing a possibly rabid fox, or sitting in a pleasant air-conditioned office writing out $100 worth of tickets to Margaret Lake because she hadn't paid the city two dollars for each of her two kitties? Easier for Them, you see.

Margaret, when Cunegonde and I tried adopting a cat from the city shelter a few years ago, we were told we would have to sign an agreement to not let the cat outdoors. The shelter employee told me, rather haughtily, "You don't see the kinds of injuries cats have when people bring them in to us." I thought, "What idiot brings an injured cat to an animal shelter instead of an animal hospital emergency room?" An unkind city employee might decide that you are a clear and present danger to your cats because you let them outside. You may in fact have more fines coming.

We thought this requirement was ludicrous and refused to sign the agreement. We then went to a feline rescue place and adopted Samoa, AKA (to me) Lucretia McEvil, and (to Cunegonde) as "My BAY-bee!"

On 9/10/2010, our neighborhood’s local police liaison, Captain Edward Furney, chimed in, addressing me directly:
Mr. Candide,

I personally, as do my fellow officers work very hard to enforce the laws enacted by the Council and the Legislature. The Council and the Legislature are chosen by the Citizenry, and by default the laws are made by you, we, us. As you know, we (the Police) do not make the law, nor do we have the right, nor should we, to choose the laws we enforce. This holds true for Animal Control Officers as well. They have been and continue to be the primary protectors of helpless animals and they have my utmost respect.

P.S.: Cats do in fact have to be licensed in the City.

Ed Furney
Alexandria Police

I am nothing if not combative, but I do appreciate the job the police do, and replied:
Captain Furney -

Anyone who regularly reads our neighborhood listserv knows that I have had a longstanding mini-crusade to have my neighbors deal with their own problems whenever possible, and not to call the police for every little incident they find irksome, whether it's dog owners not cleaning up after their pets, or high school students parking all day on the street in front of their houses. That's because I understand - and appreciate - exactly what you mean when you say you and the rest of the police force work very hard to enforce the laws. Maybe we pay taxes, but that doesn't justify calling the city every time we fall and get a boo-boo on our collective knee. I don't want people asking the police to waste their time running down high school parking scofflaws when a windshield note may well take care of the problem (and I'll bet if a second note is required, a strong hint that the homeowner has the local towing service on speed dial would work wonders).

That having been said, this fox incident strikes me as having been a piece of bad public relations on the city's part. Ms. Lake contacted animal control about what she believed might be a genuine public health problem, and was essentially told the city wouldn't do anything about it, that she should do it herself, imposed onerous restrictions on how she might deal with the problem, and then issued her $100 in citations for what amounted to the equivalent of jaywalking. Evidently the animal control people who didn't have the resources to find that fox weren't too busy to check with her vet to see if her cats were licensed.

You read that people mistrust their government, but you think, "Well, maybe on the national or state level, but we should be able to at least trust our city government - we're all neighbors." When someone asks to have a genuine, potentially serious problem looked into, and instead gets the back of the city's hand and ends up getting fined for her troubles, you start to wonder what kind of problems you SHOULD contact the city about.

I don't know how you go about finding and trapping a fox, and maybe animal control doesn't either - they're wild animals, after all, and go pretty much wherever they want; this guy could be in Springfield by now. But when someone asks the city if they can take care of it, she shouldn't end up thinking she'd have been better off if she'd just kept her mouth shut.

BTW, I wasn't aware that animal control was part of the police department.
-- Candide

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