Citizens of Central Maine: Prepare for the horror.
Snakes in the washing machine. Bats in the baby's room. Rabid raccoons, spraying skunks, something unnamed chewing its way out of your bedroom wall. If your city animal control guy is off duty and the wardens won't pick up the phone, you're out of luck.
Richard Burton has been relieved of duty.
You remember Richard. This is the guy who went crawling through the stench and slime to rescue all those cats and kittens from an abandoned house in Bowdoin. The guy who does jobs nobody else is willing or able to do.
The guy whose authority to act as an animal control agent was revoked by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife over what proved to be a misunderstanding.
The facts are these: In July, Burton contacted Taser International to ask about obtaining a device used to subdue out-of-control critters. As a matter of protocol, a representative contacted the Inland Fisheries guys to make sure Burton had a license for the work he described. Pretty basic stuff.
Until the wardens jumped to an inexplicable conclusion.
"It has come to our attention from Taser International and from Jim Davis, of Witmer Public Safety Group that you recently attempted to obtain a taser — that can only be purchased by law enforcement officers — under the premise that you worked within a 'subdivision of the Maine Warden Service.' ... It is our contention that it was your intent to present yourself as an employee of the MWS to deceive Mr. Davis and to facilitate your acquisition of a Taser."
And with that, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife revoked Burton's authority to handle animal complaints. Forever. Based on nothing more than a weak interpretation of a conversation they were not a part of.
"They never questioned me," Burton says. "They never called me to see if it was true and they gave me no opportunity to defend myself. They just sent me a letter in the mail revoking my license for life."
Burton has a wife and two kids. He is the owner and operator of Maine Animal Damage Control and is on call pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is his income. This is how he provides food and shelter for his family. Burton earns his money by doing jobs professional animal control officers pass on.
I've referred many people to Burton. They have frightening issues with wildlife and nowhere to turn. They called the wardens and got laughed at. They tried the police department, but it wasn't a police matter. Meanwhile, a mad dog, psycho cat or 3-foot snake is running amok. Like the song says, who ya gonna call?
Burton, that's who. At least, that was the case until the Inland Fisheries people sent their letter.
Burton asked for a hearing in which he could argue his case. He was told no such hearings are scheduled until six or more people require one.
He spoke with Major Gregg Sanborn of the Maine Warden Service and got nowhere.
"Sanborn called me a wanna-be," Burton said, "and told me that they deal with guys like me all the time."
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking maybe Burton isn't telling the whole truth. Maybe he did try to pass himself off as a warden and the Inland Fisheries people are doing the right thing.
I give you a letter from Jim Davis, law enforcement specialist at Witmer Public Safety Group in Coatesville, Pa.:
"To Whom It May Concern. A few weeks ago I was contacted by Richard Burton who was looking to determine his eligibility for the purchase of a Taser unit. Richard informed me that he worked for Maine Animal Damage Control which fell under the warden service. Richard did not make any claim to be a law enforcement officer, have powers of arrest or be a warden. Richard was clear that he was not in law enforcement, he was just looking to purchase a Taser to use against animals through the course of his work. Taser makes an animal-specific device, a red version of the X3, which neither our customer service representative at Taser nor myself were clear on who could purchase these. As this was not an LE product, we were attempting to determine if Richard would be eligible to purchase this unit, instead."
Hooray! End of story! You are now free to contact Richard Burton with your animal control needs. Hallelujah, you may get that insane 'possum out of your woodshed, after all!
Only it didn't happen that way. Burton, who was mauled by a raccoon last week, is still not authorized to work on animal complaints. While you keep wondering who the hell is going to get that insane ferret out of your bathtub, Burton is trying to figure out how he'll support his family.
"I think the people of the state should know that if you have a license from the state, it can be taken away without due cause, an investigation or a chance to defend yourself," says Burton, who, in my experience, complains very seldom. "A rapist has more rights than I do. I was accused, tried and convicted with no opportunity to defend myself."
With the dog days of summer ready to pounce like a jungle cat, you hope things get worked out sooner rather than later. If it happens at the normal speed of a state bureaucracy, there may be a lot of menacing critters haunting a lot of backyards as the days wind down to autumn.
For his part, Sanborn, of the Warden Service, says a resolution is in the works.
Maybe. Sort of. It's hard to tell.
"Mr. Burton stopped by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife headquarters a few days ago and I provided him information in regards to the Maine Administrative Procedures Act and how best to proceed with the issue in question, without giving him specific legal advice, which for obvious reasons, I am prohibited from doing," Sanborn responded in an email. "Currently, staff is working to secure an appeals hearing date that would accommodate a wide variety of administrative decisions the Department has made, including license revocations and permit denials."
Good luck, Richard Burton, and the same to the rest of you. Those clawing sounds behind the wall are becoming more frantic, more angry by the minute. It's late and there's really nothing the cops can do. I'll ask you one more time, my overrun friend.
Who are you going to call?
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org about that python on your patio, but he won't get near it.