BY JOHN MORENO GONZALES
February 14, 2007, 8:41 PM EST
A federal jury awarded an East End animal rights' activist a $251,000 judgment Wednesday in a case that also compelled Southampton town to re-examine its euthanasia policy for stray cats and dogs.
Patricia Lynch said the town unfairly ended her work as a volunteer at its animal shelter after she used a radio show and newspaper column to speak out against putting the animals to sleep. The end of her work at the shelter, her attorney argued in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, made it impossible for her to continue rescuing the animals and place them in local homes.
"For seven years I have been trying to save the lives of adoptable animals who were euthanized," an excited Lynch said Wednesday after the verdict. "Today was a vindication of that work."
Southampton's attorney, Jeltje DeJong of Smithtown, had argued before U.S. Judge Arthur D. Spatt that because Lynch was a volunteer, the town had no legal obligation to retain her at the shelter. DeJong and town officials could not be reached for comment after the verdict.
But Spatt found that just like other municipal volunteers, such as volunteer firemen, Lynch did have First Amendment rights to free speech and due process. Two days after filing her case against the town in September 2005, Lynch said, she was forced to give up her work at the shelter.
Before her suit against the town, the shelter had no formal policy on the disposal of dogs. Since 2000, it had put about 200 dogs to sleep, town officials said.
Lynch said that since the filing of her suit the town has sharply reduced that rate by retraining kennel workers to more carefully evaluate if a dog can be saved.
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