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Lawyer offers aid to raccoon owner

August 12, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown lawyer has offered, at no charge, to help a Washington County woman get a court order to keep her pet raccoon from being euthanized.

Hagerstown defense attorney Jerome Joyce said he was moved when he read about the plight of Carrie "C.J." Giffin and her raccoon, Onix.

Joyce said that as a lawyer who defends people from government prosecution, he wants to help.

But there's a deeper reason, too. "As a child, I always wanted a pet raccoon," he said. "I thought they were fascinating."

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Giffin is trying to reclaim Onix, who was confiscated by the Humane Society of Washington County on Aug. 5.

In Maryland, it's illegal to keep wildlife as pets.

The county's Animal Control Ordinance says someone must have a state or federal permit to claim a wild animal within 10 days. Otherwise, the animal will be euthanized or "released in a suitable habitat where permitted."

Giffin - who lives with her husband, Carlos, south of Keedysville - said she knew taking in Onix as a baby 13 years ago was illegal, but she loves him as if he's her child.

In an attempt to get Onix back, Giffin sent e-mails to President and Mrs. Bush on Tuesday and said she'll become a licensed wildlife educator, if necessary.

Paul Miller, the humane society's executive director, said Onix is too domesticated to be released and he hopes to find another solution.

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources is helping the humane society find a home for Onix. DNR spokeswoman Heather Lynch wrote in an e-mail that a Virginia animal park might be interested, but nothing is certain.

The Department of Natural Resources gives permits to people to rehabilitate animals that can be released, but the raccoon would not qualify, Lynch said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issues wildlife permits for exhibitors, researchers, dealers and transporters, spokesman Jim Rogers said.

Exhibitors include people who, for example, take wildlife to schools for lessons or charge admission to see animals, he said.

Giffin said she would comply, if it means getting Onix back. "I could always take him to schools," she said.

Joyce said this makes more sense than taking Giffin's pet away and killing it. Giffin and Onix have been together "longer than most marriages last," he said.

On Wednesday, Joyce said he wanted to ask the court for a temporary restraining order to delay the euthanization, but he was about to leave town.

He told Giffin that, instead, attorney Wiley Rutledge could get an order today.

When contacted by The Herald-Mail, Rutledge said, "I cannot verify that." He said he wasn't in on the offer and hadn't agreed to get involved in the matter.

Joyce said he'll help Giffin apply for a USDA exhibitor permit when he returns to town next week.

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