Two Salina residents and an animal rescue group are suing the town of Salina in order to have its controversial cat law nullified.
The suit was filed in Supreme Court of Onondaga County on March 23. The plaintiffs in the suit are Becky Zinsmeyer and John Mislinsky, both residents of the town, and the Animal Alliance of Greater Syracuse Inc. (AAGS), which has an office in Salina. Zinsmeyer owns two cats, one of which, a longhaired male named Simon, was trapped by the town in December of last year. Mislinsky owns a shorthaired male named Highlight; according to the suit, he was also caring for a feral female and her three-month-old kitten, which Highlight had fathered. The suit alleges the town trapped the all three cats; the mother and kitten were by the SPCA before Mislinsky could get them out.
In both cases, the suit argues that the town made no effort to determine the owners of the trapped cats before delivering the to the SPCA. The complaint asserts that the cats were trapped without due process of law. Both Zinsmeyer and Mislinsky paid $170 to the SPCA to retrieve their cats. Mislinsky is requesting damages in the amount of $170, while Zinsmeyer is requesting damages in the amount of $500. Those damages will cover the amount she paid to the SPCA, as well as vet bills she had to pay for injuries her cat sustained to his chest while in the trap, according to AAGS President Linda Young.
Moreover, the suit argues that the cat law as a whole is unconstitutional; it violates both the state and federal constitutions. According to the complaint:
Section 70-19 fails to provide due process by failing to give direction to the animal control officer as to what constitutes “reasonable diligence” in attempting to notify the owners of a trapped cat. Thus she cannot “establish an impartial standard by which to notify owners.” Since unclaimed cats are euthanized and there is no uniform way to inform owners, the law constitutes “taking” without notification.
Section 70-20 improperly classifies all cats as feral, thereby failing to provide owners of domesticated cats with due process by depriving them of the chance to prove their cats are domesticated and not feral.
Section 70-13 reassigns ownership without notice or hearing by defining an owner as someone who “keeps, harbors or feeds a cat in excess of 72 hours continuously or 96 hours within any seven-day period.”
Section 70-14 fails to define the words and phrases “annoyance,” “commit a nuisance,” and “being at large,” making it unconstitutionally vague.
The law has no “strategic, uniform and consistent” trapping plan, which “invites arbitrary and capricious decisions.”
Section 70-22 “attempts to sidestep the cat control law’s unconstitutionality by incorporating a disclaimer” that all actions are within the discretion of the animal control officer, “but it cannot cover up the fact that the law has no standards to follow for equal protection and therefor equal protection.” It thus violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The traps can’t discriminate between cats that have a complaint against them and those that don’t, so the law violates the Search and Seizure Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
According to the suit, the law is invalid altogether because it refers to the authority of the Agriculture and Markets Act, which doesn’t apply to cats.
“That provision of the law [referenced in Sections 70-19 (d) and (f)] only refer to dogs,” the suit argues.” “The defendant’s cat control law is illegal.”
The plaintiffs are asking that the law be declared illegal and void.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club’s Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.