CLAYTON — Nurturing a young squirrel has drawn legal trouble, including charges, for local animal rescuer Jeffrey T. Garnsey. But the caretaker has vowed to bring the critter home.
Police officers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation took the squirrel, Tyrian, from Mr. Garnsey’s property near Depauville on June 30. Several days later, he was charged him with illegal possession of wildlife.
A licensed wildlife rehabilitator on Wellesley Island has been caring for Tyrian since his removal, and the squirrel will be released “upon successful rehabilitation,” the DEC wrote in a background statement.
Mr. Garnsey said he was unaware of the legal ramifications of caring for the squirrel, which he has nurtured and looked after for a couple of months. Despite the issue, Mr. Garnsey said he aims to bring Tyrian back under his care.
“Tyrian is in a cage, and I’d rather replace him with a cage than have him put in one,” he said. “The goal is to allow him to be a part of the family on the farm for the 18 to 22 years he’s expected to live.”
The Clayton native operates the animal rescue Garnsey’s Feral Acres, where he cares for rescued animals including pigs, cows, goats, dogs, donkeys and cats. Mr. Garnsey said he spends 75 percent of his retirement income toward animal care.
A woman brought the then baby Tyrian to Mr. Garnsey after the squirrel had lost his mom and sibling, he said. The animal lover nurtured him for 16 weeks. He fed Tyrian, built an obstacle course in the building next to his barn where Tyrian resided, and let the squirrel sleep in the loft in his house. Once he began eating solid foods, Mr. Garnsey said he tried to return Tyrian to the wild, but the squirrel remained. The critter had imprinted Mr. Garnsey, and the caretaker said they developed a strong bond.
Tyrian has also garnered popularity on social media for weeks prior to DEC police taking him, Mr. Garnsey said.
After undergoing extensive psychological screening, Mr. Garnsey, a Navy veteran with 26 years of service, said he secured federal protections for Tyrian to become an emotional support animal, which he contends is allowable by the Department of Defense and Fair Housing Act. The DEC stated emotional support animal laws require ownership of said animals, but residents cannot legally own wildlife.
Mr. Garnsey, who also serves as president of Save the River’s board of directors, said he has been in ongoing contact with DEC officials about the issue, and has even sought assistance from the office of U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville. He said the congresswoman informed him she will look into the issue and “help in any way legally possible.”
“If she is not able to help me, then the next step is I’m starting a petition,” Mr. Garnsey said.
The local animal rescuer has also been working to obtain the necessary permits to rehabilitate wildlife, a longtime goal he had for his rescue farm. Should he be convicted of illegal possession of wildlife, he said he will lose the ability to obtain those permits.
“Mr. Garnsey has submitted an application for the upcoming special licenses exams that will include the exam for Wildlife Rehabilitator,” the DEC wrote on background. “Even with successful completion of the exam, this license would not allow him to continue to possess this squirrel or any wildlife for longer than necessary.”