Muskrat killing case against animal control officer dismissed
Nevada Appeal News Service
Fernley – Charges of animal cruelty filed against the city’s former animal control officer were dismissed Thursday in a case surrounding a frozen muskrat.
Former Fernley animal control officer Lee Scheerer was terminated May 10 following an incident April 17 when a muskrat was impounded after attacking a dog on Jenny’s Lane. Scheerer was instructed to pick up the animal and take it to Lyon County Animal Services in Silver Springs. Instead he allegedly placed it in a freezer while it was still alive, killing it.
In dismissing the charges, Municipal Court Judge Daniel Bauer agreed with Scheerer’s attorney, saying the jurisdiction over a muskrat lies with the department of fish and wildlife.
Bauer also said if he were to sentence Scheerer for cruelty to an animal, then all the mouse traps at the local grocery store would have to be removed, and neighbors would turn each other in for trapping pests.
“Where would we draw the line?” he said.
Bauer said he didn’t believe Scheerer had any malicious intent and that he had already lost his job over the action.
“Your mistake has cost you your job. You’ve already been punished,” Bauer said.
Assistant City Attorney Justin Clouser said an investigation determined the muskrat was “basically a healthy animal.” He said there were no puncture wounds and the muskrat had no saliva in its fur which would have been present if it was attacked by a dog. The cause of death was listed as hypothermia.
Veterinarian Lisa Hayden from the Yerington Veterinary Hospital performed the necropsy. In the report she states, “My findings support the Lyon County Animal Services conjecture that this animal would have suffered less making the trip to Silver Springs from Fernley for humane euthanasia rather than being tortured by freezing.”
The incident was brought forward in April in a letter from Bonnie Duke, Scheerer’s supervisor and the city’s administrative services director and treasurer. She said that the day after the incident with the dog and muskrat, Scheerer told her he had euthanized the animal by placing it in a freezer.
Scheerer was placed on paid administrative leave and was terminated. He appealed the termination, but the firing was upheld at a special meeting of the City Council on June 20.
Scheerer’s attorney Ken Ward argued that trapping fur-bearing animals, including muskrats, minks and otters, was under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Fish & Wildlife Service.
“The department of wildlife has exclusive control over these types of animals,” Ward said. “The city doesn’t have subject matter jurisdiction. That’s why fish and wildlife have game wardens.”
City attorney Clouser disagreed with Ward’s argument and said Scheerer was charged with cruelty to an animal, not improperly trapping an animal. He said the muskrat was cornered by the homeowner and was not hunted or trapped.
Ward also argued that since the muskrat injured the homeowner’s dog, a person has a right to destroy an animal that is dangerous to people and property.
Clouser cited Nevada Revised Statute 574.120 which lists penalties for failure to provide proper air, food, shelter or water to an impounded animal.
“Once he impounded it, he is obligated to care for this animal,” Clouser said. “By placing it in a freezer, the animal froze and was deprived those things.”
• Contact reporter Christy Lattin at email@example.com.