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Thursday, Oct 02, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: What really was behind tabby's demise?

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Beyond the apparent senselessness of the incident itself, the lamentable tale of Peggy the peg-legged tabby compels our attention by reminding us what can happen when the interpretation of government policy is left to low-ranking bureaucrats.

Where have we heard that before?

For the moment, Pasco County is standing by both its protocol (euthanize injured strays) and the trapper who lethally injected Debbie Patsos' roly-poly puddy, a hopelessly spoiled ball of black fluff who came into this world 10 years ago with three paws, and whose endearing deformity may have proved its undoing.

But moments are perishable, and the shelf life of this one probably won't survive beyond this morning. "Stay tuned," says Suzanne Salichs, the assistant county administrator for public services.

"We've been working on policies and procedures for the past few months," says Salichs - successor to the retired Dan Johnson - but finalizing those revisions gained urgency after the events of last weekend. "We should have an announcement (today)."

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An animal-adoring public perches on the edge of its designer scratching post. But know this: We will be harshly skeptical of any revisions, from mere tweaks to complete overhauls, that do not provide better checks and balances on animal services officers.

We know, now, that trappers maintain stashes of lethal drugs in their vans, and that they are authorized to execute stray or feral animals they consider, by training and experience, to be suffering and beyond reasonable help. We also have learned corpses of the euthanized are cremated almost instantly, a practice justified in the interest of public health.

Well. You needn't be a fan of Hercule Poirot to understand the problem inherent in having a license to kill combined with a policy of leaving no evidence. On the other hand, episodes of household pets being dispatched by (possibly overzealous) tax-paid trappers are, thankfully, too rare to justify the county's investment in either an animal morgue, or routine autopsies, or both.

That said, in this case a post-mortem performed by an independent veterinarian would have served two valuable purposes.

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One, it would have assigned a quick and decisive end to the woofing over the trapper's official report (key entry: Peggy had no use of her hind legs) and the account of Patsos' rueful Wilderness Lake Estates neighbor Casey McCarthy (his 9-1-1 call triggered the avalanche of events), who says Peggy led the officer on a merry chase around his car.

Two, knowing whether the trapper or the neighbor was the more reliable witness would have - or at least ought to have - a material impact on how the county reconfigures its animal control guidelines. It's one thing if the trapper went rogue and quite another if, regretting his call to authorities, McCarthy has shaped his account to shift blame.

Then again, as in the case of the IRS's hounding of certain activist groups with conservative-sounding names, if the trapper was simply executing the wishes of those who conduct his performance reviews, that, too, is something altogether different.

After all, ACA Salichs has made it plain Peggy would have gained a ready reprieve if the trapper had detected an implanted microchip. "They're very effective," she says, "up past 90 percent. But he swept (scanned) her twice and found nothing."

Nevermind that Peggy was 20 pounds of shiny, well-groomed fur. You show me a trapper who thinks a fat, fluffy mouser is a stray and I'll show you a trapper who has no instincts for the job, or who is carrying out the wishes of county bosses indifferent to collateral damage as they push a chip-your-pet agenda.

As ACA Salichs says, stay tuned.

tjackson@tampatrib.com

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