In October 1986, the Poolesville Commissioners ordered me to remove my family's pet sheep from our private residence. "You are hereby requested to remove the lamb you are housing by Monday, Oct. 20," said a letter dated Oct. 15. An anonymous caller had complained about the smell.
The town considered our household pet, Buttercup, to be a farm animal, so we were not permitted to house her on less than two acres of land, according to the commissioners' reading of the zoning ordinance. Of course, we considered this harmless, purebred Corriedale ewe to be a pet, just as our neighbors' dogs and cats are pets. Though we didn't agree with the town, we complied with its request and located temporary lodgings for Buttercup.
A major thrust of my communications -- largely unanswered or arrogantly ignored -- during the next nine months was to obtain precise definitions of the terms "pet" and "farm animal." I visited the town hall to inquire as to the definition of the term "pet." I was told there was none in the town code.
As I pointed out in a letter to the commissioners on Oct. 21, our gentle lamb is a pet. She was not meant to be slaughtered for meat or pelt. She was not meant to be bred. We did not obtain her for the purpose of business. She was not a danger to the community -- have you ever heard of anyone being attacked by a lamb? She is full-grown now and no bigger than my neighbor's English sheepdog.
I further pointed out that Buttercup's pen within our fenced-in back yard was cleaned twice weekly and provided with fresh straw. At night she was kept in a utility building so she wouldn't disturb the neighbors. In fact, the neighborhood children loved her, and no one complained to us about her. I asked the commissioners to investigate the anonymous complaint. They did not.
The town's lawyer responded to my letter by saying that I could appeal the commissioners' decision or, if I could not purchase or lease the necessary two acres, petition the Board of Appeals for a zoning variance. But he did not address the pet-vs.-farm-animal question. I asked the commissioners in a letter dated Nov. 4 why we should be subjected to a strict application of the town code when our pet is no more a farm animal than our neighbors' dogs and cats. Neighborhood dogs, running unleashed in violation of the leash laws, cause many more problems to our community than our inoffensive lamb ever could.
I did not hear from the commissioners. In June, after waiting for six months, I wrote them again to reiterate my point that Buttercup was purchased as a pet.
Finally, during the "open session" at the meeting of the Poolesville commissioners July 20, I once more asked for a definition of what the town would accept as a pet to be kept at a private residence. I was told that only three kinds of animals would qualify: dogs, cats and piranhas.
Although this is a ridiculous and unreasonably restrictive definition, I was quite glad to have achieved this major victory in my effort to determine what a pet is (according to the Poolesville commissioners, that is).
Now, at least, I know what I might obtain as a substitute for Buttercup, which the town has forced me to remove to a home in Clarksburg. It is interesting to observe that I could replace this innocent and harmless sheep with a trained attack dog or a vicious Pit Bull. Since the town did not specify that a pet cat had to be a domestic feline, I suppose that even a "big cat," such as a tiger, would be acceptable to the town.
In view of the town's ruling, I wonder what the citizens of Poolesville who have other pets will do. Some citizens may have pet rabbits, snakes, lizards, turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, goldfish, tropical fish, koi, canaries, parrots, parakeets, other birds, etc. Will the town's code enforcer appear at their homes and give them citations for keeping unauthorized pets? -- Alan E. Fisk