Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dispute Over Cat In Library Shows There's Always Much More Under the Surface.

The Swansea, Mass. public library has a resident cat.

A guy named Patrick Higgins of Swansea, Mass. isn't allergic to cats and doesn't go to the town's public library.
Turns out Penny, the library cat
in Swansea, Mass., was just a
pawn in a long running local dispute

So no problem, right?  Well, yes.  Despite Higgins' lack of association with the library, he filed a complaint under the Americans With Disabilities Act to have Penny, the library cat removed.  He said people might be allergic to cats and not able to use the library.

But as you might imagine, there was an uproar against Higgins, who now might be the most disliked person in Swansea.  The Fall River (Mass.) Herald News editorialized against Higgins, saying in part:

"But Patrick, if you intended to hit a nerve, you've done so. Perhaps you can take some satisfaction from simply raising the issue. Maybe you could play nice and consider negotiating reasonably with the town.

Think about it. Penny's 14 years old. How much longer do you think she has left? Do you really want to uproot her at this stage in her life? Really? If you feel strongly about it, perhaps you could strike a compromise with the town that once Penny passes, it will be the end of Swansea's library cats. For now, though, leave it be, Patrick. Leave the kitty be."

On Friday, Higgins relented, basically taking the newspaper's suggestion and asking that the library post notices saying the cat is present and not get a cat after Penny goes. The library trustees will discuss this soon, local media say.  

After all this, it turns out the ADA might not require the removal of the cat anyway. ABC said Dana Iverson, speaking for the U.S. Justice Department, which handles ADA cases, said in most cases, only reasonable accommodations are needed if someone complains, such as warning signs or keeping the cat in certain rooms.

As usual in these cases, it appears the whole kerfuffle wasn't really about the cat. According to various articles in the Press Herald, Higgins is a thorn in the side to Swansea. He was on the town recreation commission, and people wanted him off, so during a town meeting in November, voters axed the panel.

He sued Swansea in December. Turns out Swansea was to hold its Town Meeting on Oct 29, but that's the day Hurricane Sandy hit. The meeting was postponed, and Higgins says there should have been a quorum of 75 people there to cancel it. (But then, there was that storm...)

And it turns out Higgins allegedly violated conditions of release and was jailed for a bit last fall in Pennsylvania, according to the Press Herald.   The paper reported his original conviction was for working full time at a fast food restaurant while collecting unemployment benefits.

That didn't endear Higgins to Swansea residents, apparently.

All this just goes to show this truism:  When there's a dispute over one simple issue, there's usually quite a huge back story to it.

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