Animal rescue worker battling city over fines

Posted on 09 Apr 2010 at 12:53am
By David Webb | Contributing Writer davidwaynewebb@embarqmail.com

Tine Hamilton says she had agreement with former city officials that allowed her to keep 8 dogs; Gun Barrel City manager says he has no record of the agreement

Tina Hamilton with a puppy someone left on her doorstep.

GUN BARREL CITY — These days, Happy Tails animal rescue founder Tina Hamilton isn’t as joyful as usual. Much of her time is spent either crying or fuming.

 "I’m worried about what’s going to happen to all of the animals," said Hamilton, who’s openly gay, about the animals she has been tending but may now be forced to get rid of. "I only got about two hours sleep last night. All I care about is the animals."

And so do a lot of other people. Hamilton’s drama with Gun Barrel City has caught the attention of animal rescue advocates across the state, one of which apparently contacted the FBI.

It’s been more than a month since Gun Barrel City officials cracked down on Hamilton’s animal rescue operation. The animal control officer on March 2 issued her five citations totaling $1,320 for sheltering more animals than the four allowed by city ordinance.

At Hamilton’s plea hearing on April 7 in municipal court she entered a plea of not guilty and asked for a jury trial. The pre-trial hearing is set for April 27, at 5:30 p.m. where she will present her evidence, which consists of photographs she took and her written version of what occurred.

Her defense will be that the dogcatcher miscounted, and she only had eight dogs on her property — not nine, she said.

What’s more, Hamilton said, she had a verbal agreement with previous city officials allowing her to keep up to eight animals on her property (four for herself and four ready for adoption) as long as her immediate neighbors did not complain.

But those city officials are now gone, and there apparently was nothing in writing confirming the agreement.

Hamilton said a lawyer is volunteering time to advise her on what steps to take in the legal proceedings.

Gun Barrel City Manager Gerry Boren said in a telephone interview complaints from members of Hamilton’s neighborhood association — not her immediate neighbors — led to the visit by the animal control officer.

"We’re just trying to enforce the city’s ordinance," said Boren, who noted the law was passed in 2007. "I’ve talked with previous city officials and looked through 30 pages of minutes [of official city meetings]. I can’t find anything about an agreement."

Boren said he adopted a pet for his daughter from Hamilton a couple of years ago, and he recollects that she was in compliance with the city ordinance at that time.

"She’s good people," Boren said. "I like Tina."

Hamilton has complained about the animal control officer making repeated visits to her home during the past few weeks, and Boren confirms the surveillance is taking place. She promises to now be in compliance with the ordinance.

"We’re just trying to make sure she comes into compliance before we go to municipal court," Boren said.

Boren said he talked with the animal control officer about Hamilton’s complaint that the police department employee harassed her during his initial visit that led to the five citations.

"He tells a different story," Boren said. "I’ve got two people saying different things."

Hamilton said she has also observed Boren sitting in his car watching her home, and that police officials who supervise the dogcatcher refused to make a police report when she recently complained about her Happy Tail signs and a dog-catching tool being stolen from her truck.

"I had to call the sheriff’s department to get a report made," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said an FBI agent recently contacted her and asked for a statement about what she had experienced with Gun Barrel City officials. One of her supporters apparently called the FBI and several television stations and newspapers, she said.

Hamilton, whose Facebook friends include a large number of animal rescue operations, also complained that the dogcatcher parked in front of her mailbox on the day he wrote the citations and refused to move so her mail could be delivered.

The dogcatcher did not return a message left at his home seeking comment.

Boren said he has received at least 90 calls from Hamilton’s supporters, so he realizes the value of her work. Happy Tails, which also provides a meals-on-wheels program for pets belonging to senior citizens, has adopted out about 450 animals during its five-history, according to Hamilton’s records.

"I told my wife, ‘If all of Tina’s supporters would contribute $100 each, we could buy her an acre of land somewhere to do her work,’" Boren said. "I’m willing to open a bank account and put the first check into it."

When asked about her reaction to Boren’s suggested solution, Hamilton said she liked the idea — if it is a sincere one. Hamilton said she is concerned that the offer is only an attempt by the city official to look better in the eyes of the public.

"I don’t know who to trust," Hamilton said.

An area resident that heard about Hamilton’s plight offered her the use of some acreage in the country. But it was 25 miles away from her home, making it impractical, the animal rescue advocate said. Two trips per day to feed and care for the animals would require hundreds of miles of travel, she noted.

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice who now lives on Cedar Creek Lake. Read his Web site at TheRareReporter.com.

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