The Odds Were All Against Him and His Enemies Were Well-Financed and Unscrupulous but Rocky Nonetheless Prevails in a Stafford Courtroom
|Ginny Fine and Judge Damian G. Murray Square Off in Court|
"I'm shocked. I don't even know what to say. I was not expecting that."
-- Ginny Fine
Rocky, the bobcat-hybrid from Stafford Township in New Jersey, has escaped by the skin of his teeth a cruel fate that would have been almost as bad as death itself. That surprising turn of events occurred on May 16th when Municipal Court Judge Damian G. Murray ruled that the three-year-old, thirty-eight pound cat had to be returned to his owner after a much ballyhooed DNA test was unable to definitively pinpoint his genetic makeup. "The bottom line is Rocky goes home," Murray ruled according to the May 16th edition of the Asbury Park Press of Neptune. (See "Bobcat DNA Test Inconclusive, So Rocky Can Go Home.")
The ruling came as a coup d'ciel to Rocky's beleaguered owner who had arrived at the hearing with her gallows' face on and expecting the absolute worst. "I'm shocked," Ginny Fine of Beach Haven West later exclaimed to the Asbury Park Press. "I don't even know what to say. I was not expecting that."
If the DNA test had conclusively demonstrated that Rocky was a purebred bobcat instead of a hybrid, she surely would have lost permanent custody of him. Even more abhorrent, Rocky would have been condemned to spend the remainder of his days on this earth unjustly incarcerated at some hellhole zoo.
The latest and most dramatic installment in this cause célèbre began to unfold on March 25th when Rocky escaped from Fine's residence. With the able-bodied assistance of one of her domestic felines, Elsie, she subsequently was able to locate and corral him on April 6th but by that time the damage already had been done.
Since meddlesome neighbors earlier had ratted out both her and Rocky to the Stafford Police she was left with no alternative other than to notify them that she had regained custody of her cat. To her surprise, however, Animal Control officers showed up at her residence a day later and confiscated Rocky as a prelude to imprisoning him at the Popcorn Park Zoo in nearby Lacey Township.
The legal rationale for the seizure was supplied by an October 18th stipulation that Fine had been strong-armed into signing after Rocky had escaped for the first time earlier that month. The gist of the matter boiled down to her signing away her rights to Rocky if he should escape again in exchange for having him immediately returned to her.
This time around the legal scrum took on ominous overtones when the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) elected to intercede on behalf of Rocky's sworn enemies. It did so by going directly to Murray with its suspicions that Rocky was a purebred bobcat and not a hybrid as Fine has claimed from the outset.
Always willing to blindly do the bidding of his fellow political elites, Murray on April 11th granted the DFW's demand that Rocky's DNA be tested. In doing so, he cast aside all appearances of being an impartial trier of facts.
"If you've got one-hundred per cent bobcat, that should not be in your backyard," he laid into Fine with a vengeance. "I sure wouldn't want my grandkids walking up and petting your cat." (See Cat Defender post of April 26, 2014 entitled "The Opportunistic Old Hacks Who Run the Show in New Jersey Are All Set to Unjustly Condemn Rocky to a Lifetime Behind Bars for, Basically, Daring to So Much as Breathe.")
Pursuant to that order, Rocky was anesthetized on April 16th and a blood sample was taken and delivered to the Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab at East Stroudsburg University in the Keystone State for analysis. Although the results originally were expected to have been available in about a week, the fact that the analysis took four weeks is a pretty strong indication that the wildlife biologists pulled out all the stops in their attempt to hang both Rocky and Fine.
Meanwhile, as Murray, his buddies at the DFW, and the clinicians at East Stroudsburg dillydallied and played their petty little scientific and legal games, Rocky was left to languish in jail at Popcorn Park. "And now he is locked up in solitary confinement in two ten by twelve (feet) cement rooms with no fresh air, friends, exercise, love or enrichment, which I gave him almost every day because I took owning an animal like Rocky seriously," is how Fine described the deplorable conditions of his confinement in an April 30th letter to the editors of The Sandpaper of Surf City. (See "Rocky Road.")
She also was kept totally in the dark as to the results of the test. That was in spite of numerous telephone inquiries that she lodged with the DFW.
|A Victorious Ginny Fine Addresses the Media|
On May 15th, however, an unidentified spokesman for the DFW's parent body, the Department of Environmental Protection, telephoned a reporter with The Sandpaper in order to inform him that the DNA test results would be announced in court the following day. That clearly was just one more underhanded maneuver in the DFW's diabolical game plan to inflict as much hurt, suffering, and uncertainty upon Fine as possible. (See The Sandpaper, May 16, 2014, "Rocky the Bobcat Is Free, Free at Last.")
It furthermore showcases the country club chumminess that exists between judges, bureaucrats, and the capitalist media to the exclusion and, often, detriment of both defendants and cats alike. By behaving in such a cavalier fashion, Rocky's adversaries took on the characteristics of a bloodthirsty lynch mob running amuck with the approval and sanction of a kangaroo court.
Although the eggheads at East Stroudsburg University did their level best to string up both Rocky and Fine from the nearest tree, all that they were able to determine at the end of the day was that Rocky's mother was ninety-eight per cent bobcat. Even though he had been the very bloke who had ordered the test, the results left Murray so stupefied that he was forced to contact his cohorts at the DFW for an explanation.
What he was told really should not have come as any surprise to either him or anyone else for that matter in that only mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is capable of establishing a direct link between parents and offspring and even it is limited solely to the maternal line. Nuclear DNA (nDNA) on the other hand, which is derived from both parents, does not establish a direct link between them and their offspring.
In order to surmount this difficulty, the DFW also contacted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in an effort to determine the identity of Rocky's father and, presumably, to order that he too be subjected to a DNA test. Since bobcat ownership is entirely legal in Montana, Bitterroot Bobcat and Lynx of Stevensville, from whom Fine had acquired Rocky, is not required to maintain and divulge its breeding records.
For the time being, the inquiry into Rocky's paternity is an abeyance but Murray stated on May 16th that Fine still could lose custody of him at some later date if his father should be identified and subsequently determined to be a bobcat. It is difficult to gauge how serious a threat that is without first knowing what additional tricks the DFW has up its dirty sleeve.
Deborah and Gerald Roe, the proprietors of Bitterroot, sans doute know who Rocky's father is but they are unlikely to blab to either the DFW or anyone else for that matter. Besides, it is far from clear just how significant it would be even if Rocky's father were determined to be a full-blooded bobcat.
First of all, the scientific and legal definitions of a purebred and a hybrid likely are at odds with their corresponding legal definitions. For example, since Rocky's mother was ninety-eight per cent Lynx rufus, that very well might be close enough for geneticists to classify her as a purebred.
As best as it could be determined, however, New Jersey does not specify how much foreign DNA a cat must have in its genes in order to be considered a hybrid. In that case, Rocky might conceivably qualify under the law as a hybrid based solely upon his mother's DNA makeup. If so, identifying and testing his father would be superfluous from a legal point of view.
More to the point, the mtDNA test performed on Rocky was destined from the outset to be inconclusive even if it had shown his mother to have been a purebred bobcat. All animals, except those that are conceived parthogenetically, are comprised of both female and male DNA and accordingly an analysis of both would be required in order to determine with absolute certainty the true genetic makeup of a cat. Even breeding two supposedly purebred bobcats would not necessarily result in purebred kittens if their DNA previously had been compromised.
Although Fine did regain custody of Rocky, Murray availed himself of the golden opportunity presented to him to stick it to her good in the pocketbook. Specifically, he fined the already cash-strapped defendant a whooping $1,000 for allowing Rocky to get out plus another $216 for the tranquilizer darts that the bunglers with the Stafford Police, Animal Control, and Popcorn Park fired at him in their futile attempt to capture him.
|Rocky Bides His Time in His Cell at Popcorn Park|
Murray in turn earmarked that latter sack of shekels to the Stafford Veterinary Hospital in Manahawkin which had supplied the darts. The grubby practitioners doubtlessly have been salivating all over themselves ever since at their unexpected windfall.
All of that was onerous enough in its own right but Old Murray Bird is never seemingly quite capable of letting well enough alone. Instead, he is constantly opening his big, fat trap and in the process making a complete fool of himself.
This time around he was crying a river for the Stafford Police who, according to him, were "all over this town, hunting through the woods" for Rocky. First of all, that seems highly improbable because if they had mounted an even halfway serious search they surely would have located him long before Fine and Elsie.
Much more to the point, their unwarranted and amateurish intervention served only to exacerbate an already delicate situation. "Yes, he did get out my back door, but he only disappeared after being chased by ten Stafford policemen, two Animal Control officers and people from Popcorn Park Zoo for four hours which included being hit with at least one dart," Fine disclosed in her letter to The Sandpaper cited supra.
Secondly, police departments in New Jersey are not only ubiquitous (seemingly every zip code has one) but knee-high in dough as well and therefore scarcely need Murray to rob from the indigent, such as Fine, in order to assist them in paying their bills. Officers likewise are paid handsomely. For example, in Galloway Township they knock down on the average $112,000 per annum.
Thirdly, it is easy work in that they can be observed lounging around restaurants, getting their wool trimmed at barber shops, doing their laundry, reading newspapers, and schmoozing on their mobile phones far more often than they can be found actually enforcing the laws. For instance, they are almost never seen nowadays either walking a beat in urban centers or enforcing the laws of the road on the state's busy and chaotic thoroughfares.
That is because wearing a badge and carrying a gun has become a big business. C'est-à-dire, cops get promoted for arresting and incarcerating individuals as opposed to being proactive.
Contrary to what most Americans fervently believe, there is a huge difference between maintaining law and order and cops' lining their pockets. There additionally is considerably more to creating and maintaining a halfway decent society than simply constructing prisons and providing lawyers and judges with unlimited employment opportunities.
Murray's abiding love for the police is reminiscent of the sentiments expressed by Judge Steven Helvin of Rockingham County General District Court on March 8, 2012 when he reluctantly convicted Harrisonburg police officer Jonathan N. Snoddy for killing an injured cat. "It's difficult for a judge to second guess law enforcement," he admitted on that memorable occasion. (See Cat Defender post of March 22, 2012 entitled "In Another Outrageous Miscarriage of Justice, Rogue Cop Jonathan N. Snoddy Is Let Off with a $50 Fine for Savagely Bludgeoning to Death an Injured Cat.")
Even in allowing Fine to regain custody of Rocky, Murray ordered that he be confined to a recently constructed pen that cost her $1,600. The enclosure also is subject to random, unannounced inspections by both Animal Control and the DFW.
In issuing that latest directive, Murray once again could not resist the overwhelming temptation to give Fine yet still another severe tongue-lashing. "We wouldn't be going through this had you built a secure enclosure," he lectured her from the bench according to the Asbury Park Press article cited supra.
Contrary to earlier press reports, she apparently did comply with the October 18th stipulation by constructing a new enclosure for Rocky. Her error was in neglecting to install double doors and that omission in turn led to his getting free on March 25th.
At least for now, Fine is not bellyaching about being subjected to the oversight of both Animal Control and the DFW. "It is something I don't have a problem doing, if I can have the cat back," she declared to the Asbury Park Press.
|Rocky Is Given a New Lease on Life|
Nevertheless, she and Rocky are far from being out of the woods and it is difficult to get around the nagging feeling that their enemies simply have set another trap for them like they did last year when they foisted upon them the October 18th stipulation. Much more to the point, cats occasionally are going to get out no matter either how secure their enclosures or the level of vigilance demonstrated by their caretakers.
In that regard it would have been a positive stop forward if Murray had at the very least expressed some sympathy for the difficulties that lie ahead for both Rocky and Fine. In particular, he could have instructed both Animal Control and the DFW to work with, not against, her in a constructive manner so as to make a success of this latest arrangement.
His ruling also left unanswered several vitally important questions. Most important of all, what will happen should Rocky somehow manage to escape from Fine's residence for a third time? In particular, is the October 18th stipulation that mandates his immediate seizure by Animal Control still in effect?
Secondly, who is picking up the tab for his room, board, and veterinary care at Popcorn Park? On that subject it goes almost without saying that individuals who so nakedly exploit and abuse defenseless animals for profit and gain are not about to perform any pro bono work under any circumstances.
It also seems clear that Fine has ample justification for legal action against all of hers and Rocky's attackers. First of all, he was illegally stolen from her solely upon the unfounded suspicions of the DFW.
Secondly, he was unjustly incarcerated for six weeks and his confinement could have had a detrimental impact upon him. In particular, his experiences with both his pursuers as well as the zookeepers possibly could make it more difficult for Fine to keep him contented at home.
The still unidentified organization responsible for darting Rocky and then letting him escape easily could be charged with animal cruelty. Everyone of his pursuers is extremely fortunate that he did not collapse in the street and in turn was not run over and killed by a motorist.
Rocky additionally very easily could have contracted either some disease or been injured in some unspecified manner while he was incarcerated at the zoo. Apparently none of that occurred, but psychological scars are not nearly as easy to recognize.
Fine also has reason to complain about the simply abhorrent manner in which she has been dealt with by the authorities. "...how dare people suggest I'm a liar when I have been lied to since the first ten minutes after Rocky got out by everyone from every department involved," she wrote in the letter to The Sandpaper. "I followed the rules, gave proof of paperwork, built his new pen and even called to tell Stafford he was home! What a huge mistake on my part."
To sum up, Rocky and Fine were not the only big winners when this legal brouhaha finally reached its crescendo in that both Stafford Township and the Stafford Veterinary Hospital also made out like bandits. The big losers on the other hand were the cat-haters at the DFW who were thwarted in their evil designs and Popcorn Park and Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, both of whom dearly wanted to add Rocky to their collections.
As soon as Murray had handed down his much anticipated ruling the capitalist media immediately forgot all about Rocky so it is not known how he and Fine are progressing. All that has been revealed is that Animal Control officer Kelly Karch was scheduled to have inspected Rocky's new digs on May 19th and that if all was found to be in order he was supposed to have been released from jail later in the day.
"The first thing I'm going to do (is) to roll around on the floor with him," Fine told The Press of Pleasantville on May 16th. (See "Bobcat Can Return Home to Stafford, Judge Rules.") "I've missed him so much. I've gone to visit him, but I've only been able to see him through a cage."
|Embattled Ginny Fine Finally Has a Reason to Smile|
Elsie and Checkers sans doute also will be happy to see their fellow lodger once again. "They miss him terribly," Fine confided to the Asbury Park Press. "Elsie has been walking around the house, looking in all the rooms for him."
Since the specifics of Rocky's new living arrangement have not been spelled out in detail it is difficult to speculate on either the quality of life that he will enjoy or the dangers involved. For instance, if he is segregated in the pen he is not going to be a contented cat.
On the other hand, if he is given free rein of the house there is always the possibility that he once again could escape and thus wind up in legal limbo. While it is conceivable that Murray issued specific guidelines, the more likely scenario is that he left those details to the discretion of Animal Control and the DFW.
Visitors are another huge concern. "He has never shown aggression to visitors in my home and I have a steady stream of kids of all ages in my home," Fine revealed in her letter to The Sandpaper.
The danger in that regard is not that Rocky might inadvertently either injure or scare one of them, but rather that they might carelessly allow him to escape. Another concern is that one of Fine's detractors might gain entry into her home under false pretenses in order deliberately provoke an incident.
The road ahead for both Rocky and Fine is fraught with many perils and difficulties. The important thing for her to remember, however, is that she has been given a second chance not only to care for Rocky but to prolong and safeguard his fragile life.
His enemies are both numerous and totally unscrupulous. Above all, they will stop at absolutely nothing in order to do in both him and her.
She might want to consider relocating to Montana where she at long last would be able to escape the long arms of New Jersey's grasping and opportunistic public officials. It is regrettable that they have absolutely no regard whatsoever for either Rocky's inalienable right to exist or his welfare but they are not about to mend their evil ways and so long as Fine elects to live in the Garden State both she and Rocky are going to be subject to their whims, prejudices, and ambitions.
Generally speaking, the breeding and domestication of both purebred bobcats and their hybrids is not a desirable development. Nevertheless, they already exist in the thousands and Fine doubtlessly saved Rocky's life when she purchased him. Saving a life always should trump both ideology and ambition but no public official in New Jersey wants to hear that.
Fine also is to be commended for standing steadfast beside Rocky throughout his latest bout with the authorities. Bereft of funds, legal counsel, and the assistance of any of this society's so-called animal rights groups, she had little hope of prevailing.
All that she had going for herself was her undying love of Rocky. While her cause was just, even justice seldom prevails in this wicked old world unless it is backed up by money and guns.
In spite of all of those daunting obstacles, whenever the stars are in the correct alignment even a sophist and an epicurean have been known to conspire to kill a caesar. Likewise, a lucky cat will prevail in court once in a blue moon if the stars deem it appropriate.
Photos: Thomas P. Costello of the Asbury Park Press (Fine and Murray and a happy Fine), Edward Lea of The Press (Fine meets with the media), and Jack Reynolds of The Sandpaper (Rocky).