81 Year Old Woman Jailed Two Days For Allegedly Violating Pet Ordinance

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Mary RootIn an outrageous lack of discretion,  some members in the animal control and court system in Havre de Grace, Maryland put 81 year old great grandmother Mary Root through a harrowing ordeal.

Mary Root says her pets somehow got loose from her yard several times. A neighbor took pictures of the dogs running down the street and reported her to Animal Control.
The agency slapped Root with a $7,000 fine or she could spend nearly a year in jail.

“I’m struggling to pay my house taxes. I couldn’t pay it. It’s a different thing when you leave your dogs out and you don’t care. But I do care,” Root said. But when the cancer survivor failed to show up at court on her doctor’s orders, a judge had Root arrested.

She was booked, fingerprinted and issued a striped jumpsuit. She waited to see a judge in a cell without her cancer medication.

“I sort of clutched my Bible. And was crying and went to sleep,” Root said.

Root’s defense attorneys asked the judge to let the senior citizen go. She had no previous criminal history and she was in failing health. The judge said no. Instead, he ordered her to pay a $2,500 bail. And if she was able to pay it and get out, then no animals would be allowed back on her property.

“[The judge] gave me the works. I feel like I’m a criminal, but yet I don’t feel like I’ve done anything,” Root said.

Her daughter, Vatina Gifford, was in court for the bail review hearing saying: “Watching your mother, barely able to walk, in prison stripes – she doesn’t deserve that,”

Then on the second night, a Good Samaritan paid the bond.

“There are very nice people out there. But then there are some people who are so struck on the strictness of the law. I don’t know whether maybe that needs to be looked at,” Root said.

But now she can’t go back to her home of 44 years. Under the judge’s orders, the dogs aren’t allowed. But Root says she can’t give them up.

“I love them,” she said. “I was planning on coming down on the dogs. But my dogs, they keep my company and I love them.”

Root says she’s had an outpouring of support from people in the community. In fact, there’s a petition asking lawmakers to make cases like this a little more lenient for senior citizens.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same. I can’t pull myself back,” Root said.
Root says she was taking care of her daughter’s four dogs at the time of her arrest. A good Samaritan paid the $250 bond to get Root out of jail. She is now looking for good homes for the dogs

Harford County SealThe callousness of nearly everyone in the system involved is disgraceful. That a neighbor would be so perturbed to take pictures of the dogs running and call animal control is probably the least. But what kind automaton does the county seek in an Animal Control Officer applicant to fulfill the agency’s need to nick an 81 year old disabled woman with criminal citations amounting to reportedly $7,000.00?

Then, what shining example can a judge be by not allowing for a continuance for a defendant, obviously ill in health and having a doctor’s order for her not to attend a trial at that time? Then, going so far to issue a bench warrant and remand her into custody in jail for two days without her cancer pills. This is unacceptable.

Even from a practical point of view most jails are not equipped and do not like to incarcerate inmates such as May. The judge knew this but instead chose retribution toward this frail great-grandmother.

This entire episode is a miscarriage of justice. The criminal justice system in Harford County should be ashamed of itself.

By Darren Smith

CBS Baltimore
WBAL Boston

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

33 thoughts on “81 Year Old Woman Jailed Two Days For Allegedly Violating Pet Ordinance”

  1. I’m not making excuses for anyone here, and I’m not saying that I believe it’s right for an 81-year-old to be placed in jail, but I have to weigh in.

    In Maryland, the State’s Attorney’s Office files the charges for unpaid fines regarding dogs at large. The individual counties each have a State’s Attorney who is an elected official, and then there are Assistant State’s Attorneys that try the cases brought before the courts.

    If Ms. Root did not have an attorney to represent her at trial (I know the story above advises that her defense attorneys attempted to get her out at no bail, but that was after the bench warrant was issued), and she failed to appear for that trial, it is usually the recommendation of the Assistant State’s Attorney trying the case to the court for a bench warrant, although it is still the judge’s discretion whether to take that recommendation. If no representative was there to speak for Ms. Root, then who was there to give this judge any pertinent information regarding Ms. Root’s condition?

    From what this article says, there was a doctor’s note that advised that Ms. Root’s physician did not recommend her to partake in the trial, but as most of us know, if you’ve ever had a doctor’s note, it is usually a general note which does not describe any part of the illness. I don’t know what the note advised, but I’m assuming that it was a very general note (due to HIPAA laws) and was not taken seriously because of the lack of specifics. I fully believe that this was the reason for the bench warrant being issued for Ms. Root, and I don’t believe that the judge had any ill will toward Ms. Root at that time.

    I will say, I have been to traffic court a few times, and have been a victim of crime and have been inside of a few courtrooms and it still amazes me how many people do not appear for their court dates, for whatever the reason may be.

    As far as after the bench warrant was issued and Ms. Root was arrested, do I think that $2500 bail was excessive? I do, but it seems to be less than most other bails issued, since the bond of that is 10%, which ended up being $250, and as long as she appears before the court on her next date, that money is returned to the poster.

    The fact of the matter is, there are laws for a reason, and when they are not abided by, there are penalties. If you don’t like the law, then contact your local lawmaker and ask them to repeal it. As far as dogs at large goes, I have 2 young children and a dog and would like other pet owners to keep their dogs on a leash, just in case those dogs attack my family and pet when we are outside in our own yard. This is why the law is enacted. As was said before, do we know how many complaints Animal Control has had on Ms. Root’s dogs? If they have had multiple contacts with her in order to resolve this matter, but she has not complied in the past, wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to just cite her for any more complaints?

    I apologize for the long-winded reply to this article, but I would like for some of the people to realize that there is probably more to the story that we have not been told, and to rush to judgement on this matter is not doing the complaint any justice.

  2. It’s time to make the judge take the MMPI and the Millon Multiaxle Clinical Inventory. While undergoing a polygraph. The behavior is suggestive of elevated psychopathy scores.

  3. And yet, if I attempt to offer a scientific way of understanding how the adversarial system necessarily generates decisions such as this, scientific in the sense of avoiding the fundamental attribution error of social psychology, I seem to be met with silence or social-convention-based denial of the fundamental attribution error.

    When it is actually impossible for anyone to willfully choose to be only law-abiding, who is not a law violator?

  4. Did the judge not realize that she is 81years old with cancer, so there is a chance that she may not live through the trial, especially without her cancer treatment, or is the judge honestly that stupid?
    81 Year Old Woman Jailed Two Days For Allegedly Violating Pet Ordinance

  5. I can’t help posting this excerpt again, from 19th Century Russian literature, whose authors made great names for themselves portraying the disadvantaged, the abused, the exploited:

    People who have an official, professional relation to other men’s sufferings–for instance, judges, police officers, doctors –in course of time, through habit, grow so callous that they cannot, even if they wish it, take any but a formal attitude to their clients; in this respect they are not different from the peasant who slaughters sheep and calves in the back-yard, and does not notice the blood. With this formal, soulless attitude to human personality the judge needs but one thing–time–in order to deprive an innocent man of all rights of property, and to condemn him to penal servitude. Only the time spent on performing certain formalities for which the judge is paid his salary, and then–it is all over. Then you may look in vain for justice and protection in this dirty, wretched little town a hundred and fifty miles from a railway station! And, indeed, is it not absurd even to think of justice when every kind of violence is accepted by society as a rational and consistent necessity, and every act of mercy–for instance, a verdict of acquittal–calls forth a perfect outburst of dissatisfied and revengeful feeling? –Anton Chekhov: WARD NO. 6

    During Chekhov’s life, forces were already at play that would lead up to the Russian Revolution and eventual extermination of tsarist Russia. It was Russian literature that ended serfdom — solely on the power of the pen, unlike our Civil War that cost untold numbers of lives.

  6. Folks here’s one for you.

    One of my former co-workers told me of a city officer years ago who had some real issues shall we say.

    There was a church in town that was atop a hill and the 25 zone road leading from it went down a moderately steep hill.

    When the church let out, the officer would go and hide at the bottom of the hill and nick people coming down the hill that were over the limit. If that was bad when asked why he did this her replied.

    “Because these people never contested the ticket”


  7. Francie,
    I am sorry about your experience. Yours is another example how the justice system can be skewed against those who cannot afford to defend themselves from questionable complaints like the one you endured.

  8. Yes Francie, unfortunately that is so true. People who for whatever reason feel they can exert authority over another human being are are never more than a backyard fence or arm’s length away, at work, at school, at church, social events, there is always that one poisonous person. Sometimes there are worakarounds these type of people, sometimes one must face them head on. I get being a super busy working mom taking care of an elderly parent and teenagers, sometimes the fight is just too much trouble. Been there, done that.

  9. I cannot believe the extent to which this ‘Judge’ went. However a less intense but similar thing happened to me in North Idaho. My dog dug out beneath my backyard fence enraging my neighbor, who was an ex LA police officer, the president of the home owner’s association, and was the self proclaimed ruler of the neighborhood.

    The dog was obedience trained and would walk beside my elderly mother while she used her walker to toddle around the block. She didn’t put the dog on a leash because she feared getting entangled. My neighbor called the cops on my elderly mother for walking the dog off leash.

    An officer ‘pulled her over’ while she was walking one day. He sat in his squad car and wrote her a citation while the dog sat beside her walker. My mother told the officer “if your mother could see you, she’d be ashamed.” But she got the citation regardless. The dog dug out a second time and the ex LA Cop had me charged with a misdemeanor dog at large.

    I was working double shifts at the hospital and taking care of my elderly mother and a teenage son. I didn’t have time to fight it so I just pled guilty by telephone and paid the fine. The charge is still the only thing on my record 20 years later.

    There are people with such emptiness and hatred inside themselves, that they need power and authority over others to fill the void. The ‘Judge’ in this case is one, my neighbor was another.

  10. I do not understand how the judge could order a fine of that magnitude unless there had been multiple instances of the dogs getting loose and causing harm or damage.
    guns are not the answer.

  11. I have lived in this county three times in the past. And I count myself lucky to have not returned in over 35 years. Yet, such outrageous ordinances are far too common elsewhere. Jonathan, defend this woman.

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