Jamie Borros and her family live in Great Bridge with their animals: Lester the bobcat, Marcello the Capuchin monkey, and Rosey the African crested porcupine.
There’s also Little Miss Cassie the chinchilla and Chaco Taco the tarantula. Plus raccoons, turtles, snakes and lizards — more than 100 animals in all.
Attorney Barry Taylor, who represents Borros, said she serves a need in the community, caring for creatures that can’t be put back into the wild. She gets animals after they’ve been injured, after a zoo shuts down or after they’ve been confiscated from owners keeping them illegally as pets. Borros said many of her animals came from and belong to the state.
“Either we take them in,” she said, “or they’re euthanized.”
Borros lives on 3 acres, and animals are housed both outside and inside.
But the city says her wild and exotic critters aren’t allowed at her home. They don’t meet the definition of “pet” and aren’t permitted in residential areas, according to the city.
Last fall, Chesapeake cited Borros for violating the zoning ordinance, meaning she’d have to give up her animals. And in January, the Board of Zoning Appeals upheld the order. Five neighbors spoke at the meeting, saying they worried about animals escaping and waste seeping into their well water supply.
Now, Borros has appealed the board’s decision to Circuit Court. She and Taylor say she’s exempt under city code because of her federal and state licensing.
“It’s a tragedy that we’re going through this because these animals are going to be on the receiving end of a very bad decision and a very bad outcome if this is allowed to take place,” Taylor said.
Borros’ appeal also takes issue with the zoning board voting on her case in the first place. Taylor suffered cardiac arrhythmia six days before the hearing and was hospitalized, court documents say. He and an assistant city attorney agreed to postpone the case for two months, according to Borros’ appeal. Borros didn’t attend because she thought her case was delayed until March.
But City Attorney Jan Proctor said her office can’t agree to postpone a hearing; only the zoning board has the authority to vote on that. Board members voted twice on whether to delay the case, but the motions failed.
Borros said she’s been an animal lover her whole life. She’s trained protection dogs for police in California, worked with zoos and rehabilitated injured animals, she said.
In 2015, she decided to start an educational program and take in animals that couldn’t go back into the wild. After talking with several animal rehabilitators, Borros realized there wasn’t anywhere for the animals to go once zoos and wildlife centers filled up, she said.
She got the required federal and state permits and went to the city’s zoning office to make sure she was in compliance, according to her appeal. Zoning referred her to Animal Services, which pointed to a city code section, the court document says.
According to the code, it’s illegal to keep wild or exotic animals in the city without an Animal Services permit, but Borros and her attorney say she’s exempt because the code doesn’t apply to “zoological parks, circuses, performing animal exhibitions, veterinary clinics, medical or educational facilities” licensed by the state or federal government.
Zoning Administrator John King said the city code doesn’t get into where those animals are permitted. The zoning ordinance does that, he said, and wild and exotic animals are not allowed in residential areas.
“Nothing in the city code exempts you from the zoning ordinance,” he said.
According to her appeal, Borros was confident she’d pursued all avenues to comply with laws and started her business. It became a nonprofit in April last year.
Borros has held programs at schools, churches, retirement homes, private events and the Virginia Aquarium, the appeal says. She teaches people about her animals and where they came from.
Like Baby the alligator, who was dumped in a Deep Creek ditch in winter, likely put there by someone keeping him illegally as a pet, Borros said. And Chestnut the red fox, who was hit by a car and left for roadkill before he was discovered and rehabilitated.
Borros works with the state to house and care for the animals, and she’s subject to regular surprise inspections by state and federal authorities, according to the appeal.
She and her family pay for the feeding and care of all the animals, a cost of at least $3,000 a month, Borros said.
Taylor said he believes complaints from neighbors spurred the city to take action against his client.
“I don’t think it ever would have gotten to this point if there wasn’t somebody complaining, and they were just tired of dealing with it,” he said.
At the zoning board meeting in January, neighbors said they worried about declining property values, safety and animal waste contaminating the water in an area that relies on shallow wells.
The area is heavily wooded, and trees fall in heavy storms, one neighbor said. She worried about branches falling on cages, letting animals loose. Several neighbors The Pilot spoke with asked that their names not be used.
According to Borros’ appeal, she’s required to follow strict regulations, and she runs her programs so no animal can escape.
Borros said the animals are part of her family.
When she took in Marcello the monkey, he latched onto her like he would his mother, and she carried him around for about 7 months.
If Borros loses in court, she’ll have to move – or get rid of Marcello and all other animals.
“I really don’t know what would happen to them,” she said.
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