Comma Coffee’s cat is denied variance
July 18, 2009
CARSON CITY – June Joplin, owner of Carson City’s Comma Coffee, said she was “disappointed but not surprised” at the State Health Board’s decision Friday to deny a variance that would allow a cat in her shop. “People no longer have a voice,” she said after the hearing. “It’s one small cat, but it’s a really big issue about our freedoms.”
About 30 people showed up to the emotionally charged hearing to request a variance for Small Cat, whom Joplin called “an ambassador for the shop representing the philosophy and heart of it as a place to pause and unwind.”
When city health officials banned the cat, Joplin circulated a petition, collecting about 1,300 signatures of support.
“People love her and come here for her,” Joplin told the board in a sometimes tearful statement.
Many supporters showed up wearing T-shirts featuring a picture of Joplin holding a coffee mug in one hand and Small Cat in the other.
City health officials, however, said she had “displayed a pattern of non-compliance.”
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Joe Pollock, deputy director of the Frontier and Rural Health Program, said the coffeehouse has been cited three times in the past eight years for code violations, including dogs, cats and a snake in the store.
“I respectfully ask for your denial,” he told the board.
Dustin Boothe, epidemiologist with Carson City Health and Human Services, listed several illnesses that cats could pass on to humans. He said many people are unaware of the risks or of particular health problems they may have that could increase those risks. He said a sign warning patrons of a cat would not be sufficient protection.
Deputy District Attorney Thorn Towler told the board that Nevada law states a variance can only be granted if it is shown it “will not be detrimental or pose a danger to public health.”
“Doctors Pollock and Boothe gave very good reasons why this variance shouldn’t be granted,” he said. “I don’t think, legally, it can be at this time.”
Comma Coffee employee Shepherd Darquea said Towler’s statement “signifies an ignorant mentality.”
He said, “we’ve become a fear-mongering nation,” that’s “constantly scaring ourselves.”
Wayne Pressell urged the board to find a balance.
“The balance here is between the public good and the public health,” he said.
Patron Diana Durnell argued that Small Cat was actually improving public health.
“I’d rather have a mouser around than have any contact with rodents or rodent droppings,” she said.
Applause erupted when Richard Dunn traced the history of cats, saying they were originally domesticated 5,000 years ago to protect human food from vermin.
He said cats eventually wiped out the bubonic plague by killing the rats that carried it.
“We owe our public health to cats,” he said.
Some speakers choked up, some became angry as the meeting progressed.
David Schumann called the regulation “burdensome” and “excessive.”
As he walked past Towler, he charged, “You’re an idiot.”
In the end, Dr. Edwin “Flip” Homansky, via satellite remote from Las Vegas, made the motion to deny the variance.
However, he first told the audience he appreciated the emotion of the meeting.
“It touched a nerve with me,” he said. “Anyone who runs an establishment and has patrons that feel so strongly must be doing something right.”
Board member Roger Works said it was a difficult decision because he is a veterinarian and animal lover. He also disclosed that he is married to Marena Works, director of Carson City Health and Human Services.
He joined fellow board members Homansky, chairwoman Frances M. Barron and Joan Anjum in unanimously voting against the variance.
Members Jade Miller and Lubna Ahmad were absent.
Joplin said she wasn’t sure if she would pursue further action, but some supporters said they were prepared to take the issue to the Legislature.