On Friday, July 13, Judge Yoffy ruled in Susan Mills' case. You may recall that she is the very kind lady who has been doing a wonderful job for many years of caring for a small group of feral cats in her neighborhood. Susan’s care of those cats has been a textbook example of how feral cats should be treated – she has made sure that they all were spayed and neutered and had all of their inoculations and has consistently fed them and gotten them veterinary care when they needed it. Despite her years of dedicated and responsible care, Henrico County suddenly issued her a notice of violation under the zoning ordinance saying that caring for feral cats was not a permitted use in the particular zoning that applies to her house. That notice of violation was appealed to the Board of Zoning Appeals which ruled against Susan for reasons that were not clear. The decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals was then appealed to the Circuit Court and assigned to Judge Yoffy.
Judge Yoffy’s decision on that appeal modified the notice of violation issued to Susan on the grounds that it was impermissibly vague. His decision was both against her in part and for her in part. He ruled against her by determining that caring for feral cats was not “customarily incidental” to the use of her home and that the County could regulate the care of feral cats under the County’s zoning ordinance. However, he also determined that the notice of violation the County had issued against her failed for vagueness because it was not sufficiently specific as to allow a resident of the County to understand what kinds of care for cats are permitted and what are not.
It is important to us to note the very gracious things that Judge Yoffy said in court during his ruling about both the excellent work and professionalism of Susan’s attorneys, Will Shewmake and Jack Robb, and about Susan. He complimented Messrs. Robb and Shewmake on their fine presentation of the legal issues and on the excellence of their legal skills, in fact, saying that he would like for them to be teaching classes to other lawyers. He also said that Susan was to be praised for her courage and determination in standing up for what she believed to be right and her dedication to doing something kind for animals that she cares about deeply. The Judge said that he too cares deeply about animals and that he was impressed with her dedication to their well being.
The Richmond SPCA has backed and supported Susan throughout this long legal ordeal and we do not intend to stop now. This case is crucially important both for the feral cats that need our protection and care and for the rights of property owners to do reasonable things with freedom on their own property. While we care about this case because of its crucial importance to people who are responsibly caring for feral cats all over Henrico, we also believe that there are important issues presented by this case with regard to the property rights of homeowners. Thankfully, Messrs. Shewmake and Robb of the LeClairRyan law firm are willing to undertake an appeal of this case to the Virginia Supreme Court and Susan has indicated that she wants to pursue that appeal. We will be behind her all the way and will do all we can to support her and protect her right to engage in activities on her own property that provide humane care to innocent animals. Susan Mills, Will Shewmake and Jack Robb are all animal welfare heroes in our book and we are proud to be on their team.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires a first and last name to be used as your screen name.