The case of a confiscated raccoon will soon be coming to a Thurston County courtroom.
On Tuesday, the Animal Law Offices of attorney Adam Karp filed a lawsuit against the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Thurston County Superior Court that seeks the return of a pet raccoon named Mae to her adoptive family in Seattle.
Kellie and Chris Greer began caring for Mae in June 2010 when she was just a few weeks old and her eyes had not yet opened. A raccoon believed to be her mother was discovered dead on a nearby roadside from an apparent vehicle collision.
Wanting to help the baby animal, the couple called around to rescue centers in the state, but said they were unable to find anyone willing to take Mae, and at least one facility noted that they would have to euthanize her if she were brought in. They even called the WDFW, which referred the Greers right back to the same rescue centers they had already contacted.
Eventually, according to the lawsuit, a rehabilitation center known as Wolftown on Vashon Island agreed to act as the “subpermittee” for the Greers so long as the couple followed a detailed set of rules for keeping and caring for the raccoon. Those stipulations included building Mae a special outside area and keeping her on a leash whenever the couple took her outside.
The Greers raised Mae under that arrangement until 2013 when the Wolftown facility shut down. At that point, the couple established a relationship with The Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine in Bothell and began taking Mae there for regular veterinary care.
That arrangement continued until Nov. 26 of this year when a WDFW officer paid an unannounced visit to the home of the Greers in order to confiscate Mae.
Prior to that unforeseen encounter, the Greers report that they had experienced nothing but positive interactions with law enforcement and wildlife officials. In the lawsuit, they note that they took Mae deer hunting with them and introduced her to wildlife agents who marveled at her demeanor. The lawsuit alleges that the Seattle Police Department officers and even federally employed park rangers at the Icicle Creek Campgrounds have over the years “expressed only fascination, exclaiming over Mae’s docility and whimsy, (and) never threatening seizure.”
The Greers believe that all changed due to a chance encounter with a WDFW officer at a gas station in Coulee on Nov. 17 of this year. As the Greers were refueling, a WDFW officer with a boat pulled in behind the couple and began asking questions about Mae. Chris Greer answered the officer’s questions as he displayed Mae on her leash, and the lawsuit notes that the officer gave no indication that there were any issues forthcoming.
Just 10 days later, though, the WDFW came looking for Mae.
“Every contact really from 2010 to 2017 in November involved game wardens and local police and even federal forest rangers having no issues at all,” noted Karp in an interview with The Chronicle. “My client invited the officer in to meet Mae because she really had no inclination. She just thought that he was going to come in and check on her condition.”
However, after viewing her facilities, the WDFW officer informed Kellie Greer that he would in fact have to seize the raccoon immediately. When Kellie asked if they could at least wait until her husband Chris returned home so that he could say goodbye, the WDFW officer allegedly replied that he didn’t want the scene to become “a big deal.”
The lawsuit filed by Karp alleges that, “To date, at no time have WDFW officers given the Greers a citation, notice of violation, or any other document noticing them in writing as to the alleged basis for taking Mae.”
Karp says that after learning about the Greers’ situation, the decision to take on the case was a no brainer. He’s previously been involved in a number of other cases in Thurston and Lewis counties, most recently the case of Hank, a dog declared dangerous and scheduled for euthanization by Lewis County but later released by a Thurston County judge.
“When I heard about it I was intrigued of course and as the facts developed through further discussion it just struck me that it was inequitable for both Mae and the Greers,” said Karp, who noted that he tried to negotiate with the WDFW prior to filing the lawsuit. “I will say that they were very polite and I think they understand the Greers’ position but we were unable to come to an accord.”
Karp contends that after caring for the animal for more than seven years, the Greers have established more than enough claim as Mae’s primary caregivers. He compared the situation to that of a lost domestic pet that is taken in by a rescue family and then the original owner shows up some years later to claim their animal. Karp noted that seven years is more than twice the benchmark for transfer of ownership in similar cases involving domestic animals.
“There is no dispute that originally, when this animal was born, it belonged to the people of Washington,” admitted Karp, who argues that all changed when Mae became orphaned and the WDFW declined to offer any assistance. “Really the state waived any type of claim that they might have had over her.”
During their seven years of caring for Mae, the Greers say they never tried to hide her away and instead made an effort to integrate her into their lives and their community.
“The Greers never treated Mae like a circus attraction. Rather, they spoiled her. Neighbors, young and old, have positively interacted with Mae, even taking pictures with her. Seattle Police Department officers have done the same,” reads part of the lawsuit.
For now, Mae has been rehomed to a rehab center in Quilcene where the intention is to turn her into an educational animal. However, the lawsuit filed against the WDFW claims that Mae is no longer wild and has effectively become a ward of the Greers over the past seven years.
The WDFW sent the following statement to KIRO News: “On November 26th, a WDFW enforcement officer seized a raccoon from Mr. and Mrs. Greer as it is illegal for the public to possess live wildlife in Washington without a valid permit … While we understand that the family is upset by the loss, the department has no permit that would allow for the personal possession of wildlife as a pet, so we are therefore pleased that have been able to locate a rehabilitation center that is willing to hold the animal. An attorney for the Greer family has filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive release against the state, seeking the return of the raccoon to the family. Because of the lawsuit, the department is unable to provide any further comment at this time.”
The seizure by the WDFW comes just weeks after the department raided For Heaven’s Sake Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation center in Rochester and euthanized deer and elk that they deemed were too friendly to be released into the wild. Karp has also been retained as legal representation in that case.
“I think it’s really interesting to link these two together because on the one hand you have the state really overreaching and stopping the rehabbers from doing their work and that has an impact on the general public who are then asked to pick up the burden,” said Karp. “I want to be very clear. I would not encourage the public to go out and capture wildlife and then tame them to make them their pets as an ordinary course. This situation is more unique because they did reach out to the state and then when they realized that this beautiful little being would be killed they did everything they could to make sure that she would be saved.”
A Facebook page calling for the return of Mae the raccoon can be found at facebook.com/groups/bringmaehome/about/.