Staff Columnist

Looking for compassion at City Hall

Ducks swim and walk near their pond at Amber Oldfield's northeast Cedar Rapids home on Monday, July 22, 2019. Seven ducks will be released at another location once their flight feathers develop. Oldfield has lived in this home for 10 years and is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The ducks have a small pond in which to swim and eat algae. The coop at left houses raccoons in rehabilitation. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Ducks swim and walk near their pond at Amber Oldfield's northeast Cedar Rapids home on Monday, July 22, 2019. Seven ducks will be released at another location once their flight feathers develop. Oldfield has lived in this home for 10 years and is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The ducks have a small pond in which to swim and eat algae. The coop at left houses raccoons in rehabilitation. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Maybe you saw my column last week about Amber Oldfield, the state-licensed animal rehabilitator who has been told by the city of Cedar Rapids she must cease her work with animals at her home or move. Oldfield has run afoul of zoning rules.

Well, Mayor Brad Hart saw it. And he was not pleased.

I ran into the mayor at an unrelated editorial board meeting last week and he made it clear he didn’t appreciate my comparison between how the city pulls out all the stops for big developers but is being far less accommodating to Oldfield’s predicament. He said Oldfield should have known the zoning rules when she moved to the northeast side after being flooded out of her previous address in 2008.

If the city makes an exception for Oldfield, where does it stop, the mayor wondered. And her animals pose a safety risk, the mayor argues.

So I guess it’s better to stop or displace Oldfield, who cares for about 300 animals each year, for no pay, than to slide down a slippery slope toward zoning chaos. Ridiculous, to put it mildly.

It’s worth mentioning, again, that no one has complained about Oldfield’s operation.

Oldfield pleaded to Hart and the City Council Tuesday afternoon for help finding a solution that either allows her to stay or eases her transition to another property.

“I have a lot of experience with animals, but I lack the knowledge of how to get this done,” Oldfield told the council. “I am asking for help, for the knowledge you all have.”

Oldfield told me she has been having problems with some kids in her neighborhood, which led to her make multiple calls to police. That drew city scrutiny of her zoning situation.

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That scrutiny has yielded other complications. Because Oldfield’s mortgage is under the name of a former boyfriend — she makes the payments — the city now has designated her home as a rental property. After an inspection, the city told Oldfield she must paint the house and raise the ceiling in her son’s room by two inches to meet code, among other fixes.

Her complicated finances just got more complicated.

“With this I can’t even think about moving, let alone start moving in that direction. It is just too much for one person to do,” Oldfield told the council.

It makes you wonder what else the city has up its sleeve.

Three residents rose to Oldfield’s defense.

“She’s a rare breed, with a kind and caring heart, taking care of creatures that would very well suffer a slow, painful death without her help,” said Julie Hamilton, who noted that some domestic pets in the city cause more problems and complaints. “Forcing her to move or to get rid of the very animals that need her most seems cruel to me.”

But among council members, only Ashley Vanorny expressed a willingness to help.

“I wanted to let you know that I’m compassionate to your cause and will help champion the work that you do, welcoming the help of any council members,” Vanorny said. “I have great respect for the work you do and will find a way forward with a resolution. Thank you for looking after these animals.”

Compassion, what a novel concept. It sure beats cruelty, complications and the slippery slope.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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