Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ohio bobcat dispute now in court

Second Chance Wildlife speaks out against DOW decision

Brown News Service

A local animal rescue and rehabilitation agency with a highly respected reputation throughout the state is challenging a decision by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife to remove a sick bobcat kitten from their care.

Mary Carrelli, founder and president of Second Chance Wildlife in Fayetteville, has returned her wildlife rehabilitation permits to the state, and her husband, Richard Carrelli, was arrested by wildlife officers in an attempt to bring the issue to a court of law.

Its owners said this is not the first time Second Chance Wildlife has had major disagreements with state wildlife officials.

The issue began when SCW admitted a sickly bobcat kitten June 25.

"Upon receipt of the bobcat kitten, I immediately notified my Brown County representative and let him know I had received an endangered species, as I am required to do," said Mary Carrelli in a letter dated July 5 and addressed to ODNR-DOW Chief David Graham.

Mary Carrelli said she was contacted by District 4 representative Dave Swanson later that day and worked out an arrangement to keep the kitten at her facility until it could be healed enough for transfer to a soft release site.

Then the problem arose. Although Mary Carrelli has more than 20 years in wildlife rehabilitation and said she has nearly 10 years of experience working directly with bobcats, her regular rehabilitation permits do not cover endangered species.

A special permit is needed for those types of animals and, according to DOW officials, only three of Ohio's 88 rehabilitation permit holders have been authorized for endangered species.

Less than a week after taking in the kitten, Mary Carrelli said she received a call from Carolyn Caldwell, who oversees rehabilitation permits. Caldwell cited the lack of a proper permit for the animal and told Mary Carrelli that Wildlife officers would be coming to retrieve the animal.

"I pleaded that I be issued a permit," said Mary Carrelli, but Caldwell would not issue one.

The News Democrat was unable to reach Caldwell for comment, but in an article published July 11 in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Caldwell was quoted as saying that rescuing and rehabilitating animals "can be a very emotional issue for people" and that it could be difficult for a rehabilitator to be objective when the animal is already in their possession.

Caldwell reportedly told the Enquirer that the usual procedure for obtaining an endangered species permit is to submit a written request to the Chief of the Division of Wildlife.

In a telephone interview July 12, DOW District 5 Wildlife Management Superintendent David Kohler said the situation is relatively simple. Kohler said often times rehabilitators temporarily take in animals they do not hold permits for, but the animals are turned over to an approved rehabilitator as soon as one becomes available. In this case, Kohler said the bobcat was given to the Carrellis by another rehabilitator, but notification that the DOW planned to move the animal was not met with cooperation. Kohler could not go into too much detail on any aspect of this specific case because a potential court case is pending.

Without giving specifics, Kohler did say that he knows the animal in question is being taken care of appropriately at this time.

"It is not unusual for a rehabilitator to take in an animal and then have to make arrangements to transfer the animal (to an appropriate rehabilitator)," said Kohler.

The next day, July 2, DOW officers arrived at Second Chance Wildlife to pick up the bobcat and met Richard Carrelli, who said he was looking for a way to bring the issue to court. One sure way, he found, was to be arrested.

"The officer in charge, Mr. James R. Tunnel, guaranteed that would happen if I refused to give up the animal," wrote Richard Carrelli in his own letter to DOW Chief Graham.

According to Richard Carrelli, he told the officers, "No, you cannot take the bobcat kitten" and was subsequently taken into custody for interfering with a Wildlife Officer. He appeared in Brown County Municipal Court Wednesday, July 11, and pleaded not guilty to the charge. He will be obtaining a public defender.

As with his wife, Richard Carrelli indicated previous problems with certain DOW representatives that have affected other volunteers across the state as well, and felt his arrest was the only way to initiate an appeals process for the department's decision.

Mary Carrelli said there are no laws allowing for an appeal process for a DOW decision to remove an animal unless the animal is removed because of inadequate care or conditions.

"That is not the case in this situation," said Mary Carrelli. "This is not fair. There should be a way to appeal any decision."

Richard Carrelli noted that Second Chance Wildlife's reputation extends well beyond the county as the organization is well known throughout the state. From serving on the Ohio Wildlife Rehabilitators Board of Directors to wide participation in rescue and rehabilitation efforts in New Orleans, President Mary Carrelli holds claim to a long and storied list of animal care accomplishments.

Richard Carrelli said Second Chance Wildlife has literally saved thousands of animals over the years. They reportedly receive over 15,000 calls and take in 3,500 animals annually.

Mary Carrelli said confiscating the kitten was the last straw for Second Chance Wildlife.

The organization and many of its independently permitted volunteers have decided to stop taking wildlife calls from the public and accepting animals, at least for now. Richard Carrelli said, as far as his organization is aware, it may be the first strike by a volunteer rescue and rehabilitation group in the nation.

They have also asked DOW to retrieve 17 fawns currently under the organization's care. Richard Carrelli said the state has been unable to find homes for the fawns yet.

SCW's telephone message directs callers to the nearest Division of Wildlife office in Xenia. SubSectionID=156&ArticleID=156902&TM=34525.09

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