Local animal activist claims discrimination

Rose Buzzetta, president of Friends of Plumas County Animals, holds Baxter, a rescue dog, in the new animal rescue and adoption center opened by the Friends group in November 2012. 
Laura Beaton

  Longtime animal lover and activist Rose Buzzetta contends that she is being illegally banned from Plumas County Animal Shelter by the sheriff’s department.

  Buzzetta has been an active volunteer and champion of animal rights for several years, first at the county animal shelter and now at the recently opened Friends of Plumas County Animals rescue and adoption site at 2163 E. Main St. in Quincy.

  In spring 2012, Buzzetta received notification from Assistant Sheriff Dean Canalia that her privileges as a volunteer at the shelter had been suspended indefinitely.

  Canalia said Buzzetta was causing a hostile work environment at the county animal shelter on North Mill Creek Road in East Quincy.

  Buzzetta said she asked for examples of what she had done, reasoning that if she didn’t know what she did wrong, she couldn’t correct the alleged behavior. She said she only went to the shelter after hours and on Saturdays, when shelter staffers were not even present.

  Canalia replied that an investigation would be conducted and Buzzetta would be informed of the results.

  According to Buzzetta, during summer 2011, all Friends’ volunteer privileges were suspended for about a month, with the charge that the volunteers had created a hostile work environment — the same charges she was accused of in 2012.

  Buzzetta wrote to Plumas County Human Resources Director Gayla Trumbo to find out what the 2011 charges against the Friends volunteers were. She received a response April 10, 2012, with a list of five charges:

  1) Volunteers interfering with staffers while they were working with public. This included volunteers contradicting staffers in front of the public.

  2) Staff postings being removed from cages.

  3) Postings/notes left for staffers that were interpreted by staffers as derogatory.

  4) Negative comments relating to animal shelter staffers.

  5) Questioning performance and schedules of staff members of the animal shelter during a meeting of Friends of the Animal Shelter (now Friends of Plumas County Animals).

  “The conclusion of the investigation was that the complaint of a ‘hostile work environment’ was unfounded,” Trumbo said. “However, it was also determined that the majority of the issues brought forward could have been avoided if clear guidelines to define the role of the volunteers and that of staff were in place.”

  (The Board of Supervisors approved the Plumas County volunteer policy Oct. 4, 2011.)


Illegally banned

  Buzzetta is no longer a volunteer at the shelter. And many of the volunteers quit the shelter after the volunteer privileges of Buzzetta and other Friends members were revoked, she said.

  What raises Buzzetta’s hackles is that she has been told by the sheriff’s department not to enter the animal shelter for any reason, even to renew her dog’s license or look for a dog to adopt.

  Buzzetta said this amounts to her being illegally banned from the Plumas County Animal Shelter for no good cause.

  When Buzzetta protested to Canalia, she said she was told she could adopt a dog from High Sierra Animal Rescue (in Portola), and she could renew her dog license either by mail or prearrangement with the sheriff’s department. Canalia also told Buzzetta he would accompany her to adopt a dog at the shelter.

  But that’s unacceptable, Buzzetta said. She said her civil rights are being violated. “Why should the sheriff, who is responsible to uphold the law, be able to stomp on my rights?” she asked.

  At least 15 residents of Plumas County, many of them in high-profile public service jobs, wrote letters of commendation and support for Buzzetta in spring 2012 and sent them to the sheriff’s office.

  But that didn’t change the sheriff’s directive to Buzzetta.

  When Canalia was contacted for this story, he said he could not comment, as county volunteers are considered employees, thereby making this a personnel matter that he is unable to discuss.

  Canalia referred questions to county counsel Craig Settlemire.


Lawyers involved

  Getting no satisfaction from the sheriff’s office, Buzzetta consulted Quincy lawyer W. Wayne Yates Jr. in November 2012. After presenting Yates with copies of correspondence and documents relevant to her case, Yates sent a letter to Canalia on Nov. 27, 2012.

  “It is apparent from your May 1, 2012 letter that your decision to suspend Ms. Buzzetta’s volunteer privileges was based in large part to the article written by Ms. Buzzetta (“Volunteers urged to grasp opportunities at the shelter,” March 21, 2012 Feather River Bulletin), which did not meet your liking.

  “As I trust you know, the First Amendment to the Constitution allows for freedom of speech and the press. While it is questionable whether this was done lawfully, you have now taken the position that Ms. Buzzetta, as a private citizen, cannot enter the Plumas County Animal Shelter to conduct business related to her own animals as other citizens are free to do.

  “This crosses the line. I know of no legal authority which allows you to do this. I trust this issue can be resolved without further legal action.”

  Yates received a response from Plumas County Counsel Craig Settlemire dated Dec. 6, 2012.

  The response denied that the article was the reason Buzzetta’s volunteer status was revoked.

  Additionally, Settlemire wrote, “Ms. Buzzetta is free to renew her dog licenses through the mail, the same way the vast majority of dog owners in the County elect to renew their licenses.

  “If Ms. Buzzetta wishes to renew her licenses in person, Assistant Sheriff Canalia has offered to allow Ms. Buzzetta to do so at the Sheriff’s Office — she need only call ahead to arrange a mutually convenient time. Further, if Ms. Buzzetta wishes to adopt a pet for her personal residence (and not on behalf of Friends), Assistant Sheriff Canalia would be happy to arrange for a viewing of the available animals.

  “Similar accommodations could be made for any other business Ms. Buzzetta needs to conduct with respect to her animals.

  “From prior experience, though, anytime Ms. Buzzetta enters the Animal Shelter building she engages in highly disruptive behavior and is hostile to the staff and volunteers present.

  “In the interest of the proper functioning of the County department, she has been asked not to enter this building. The County has not yet sought a court order that would mandate this restriction, but I believe it would be in the best interests of all parties involved if the matter did not escalate to the point where such legal proceedings became necessary.”


No comment

  Settlemire, when contacted by phone and asked to respond to Yates’ contention that the county has no legal authority to prevent Buzzetta from entering the shelter, said he could not comment on Buzzetta’s case because it is a personnel matter.

  He did say that Buzzetta has ample opportunity to conduct personal business at the shelter, as outlined previously by Canalia and Settlemire.


Prior volunteer suspension

  Buzzetta’s volunteer privileges were previously revoked Jan. 1 – 7, 2012, when it was discovered she had falsified a cat adoption agreement.

  Buzzetta acknowledged she falsified the papers in December, 2011. She said she forged a signature to help speed up the adoption process. She said the shelter’s staff was not processing paperwork in a timely fashion.

  Buzzetta was disciplined with the one week suspension according to the county’s volunteer policy section 4.18 which states, “Plumas County reserves the right to require that a volunteer leave immediately, with or without cause, without prior notification. All volunteers serve at the will of the County.”

  Settlemire’s letter to Yates stated that Buzzetta “later falsely claimed that Sheriff Hagwood had given her permission to resume her volunteer duties.”

  Buzzetta said she never made such a claim.


What’s next?

  Buzzetta said she doesn’t want to renew her dog license at the sheriff’s office — she wants what every other citizen has: the right to walk into a public building unfettered and unafraid of being arrested.

  Buzzetta said she has a well-known devotion to animals. On many occasions she has voiced her concerns for animals lodged at the county’s shelter at Board of Supervisors meetings, in newspaper columns (Feather Publishing’s “Tales from the Shelter”) and at Supervisor Lori Simpson’s monthly state of the animals meetings.

  It remains to be seen if Buzzetta will challenge the directive to stay out of the shelter, or if the sheriff will rescind the directive.

  If she does venture in, it is unclear what action, if any, the sheriff will take.

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