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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Foes Just Purr-Suing Feline Justice

What began as a tiny tab for a delinquent tabby is headed for a courtroom cat fight.

Our curious cataclysm today features Julie Wells - a Spokane businesswoman who often finds herself in the middle of big-money renovations that breathe fresh life into historic buildings, hotels and apartment houses.

This high roller recently refused to cough up a $20 late fee for licensing her beloved house cat, Annie.

Her stubborn stand won Wells a $228 “failure to license” citation and a March 14 date in Municipal Court where she will challenge the ticket.

This kitty caper, she adds, is about principle and not money.

To get to the bottom of this litter box, we must dig back to Dec. 30.

That’s the day Wells swears she received Annie’s license renewal notice from SpokAnimal - the agency that contracts with the city to license, round up, spay and neuter residential pets.

Wanting to be a responsible pet owner, Wells wrote a check for double the $7.50 license fee. She added a note to explain that the extra money was for her new tabby, Susie.

Wells dropped the payment into the mail the same day the bill arrived, thinking everything was dandy.

And it was until animal control officer Kevin Lightbody came creeping around Wells’ office Jan. 8 to collect a 20-buck late fee.

Wells told Lightbody she’d pay the double sawbuck over her dead body. The officer got out his pencil. He cited Wells $114 for each cat - Annie and Susie.

“What other agency sends out people to collect fees from the public?” wonders Wells. “I think SpokAnimal has been set up as some quasi-government agency with police powers. There doesn’t seem to be any checks and balances for the way it treats the people.”

She has a point. I often get calls from taxpayers angry that SpokAnimal’s hairball collection squad knocks on more neighborhood doors than the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

SpokAnimal director Gail Mackie claims her organization has no choice but to go after deadbeats in order to survive.

SpokAnimal is blameless in this case, she says, because Wells’ renewal notice was mailed out last April. The notice does say a $20 late fee will be charged after May, 31, 1996.

The thing could have been lost in the postal system, Mackie concedes. But even if it was it’s not SpokAnimal’s fault. Wells owed the late fee fair and square.

“She’s an intense woman,” Mackie adds a bit snidely of Wells.

Mackie doesn’t have much reason to purr these days.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office may file civil charges against SpokAnimal on suspicion of illegally obtaining prescription drugs. In a budget-conscious measure, the City Council decided last night to renew SpokAnimal’s spay-and-neuter contract for only six months and not the full year Mackie hoped for.

Still, squabbling over a cat license is pretty small onions compared with the great doings Wells and her husband, Ron, are involved with.

Wells and their partners may drop up to $4 million to turn Spokane’s old downtown steam plant into a hip, cobblestone-lined venue of shops, restaurants and a brew pub.

The couple spent a small fortune resurrecting Carnegie Square and a dozen of the city’s grand old hotels, apartment houses and buildings. Their latest project is to build a row of upscale Riverside townhouses that will start at $325,000 a pop.

Wells says she’d never pursue such a nickel-and-dime case if there wasn’t a larger issue at stake. “My cats are very upset,” she says humorously. “They’re thinking of countersuing for pain and suffering.”

They won’t have to shop for a lawyer. Wells has already enlisted her attorney son, M. Gage Stromberg III, to represent her in this catastrophe.

“Pro bono work is wonderful,” adds Mackie with another amused sneer.

“Maybe (Mackie) should rethink the way she’s running things,” counters Wells.


, DataTimes

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