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6 Noble County kennels receive zoning approval

Six dog kennels capable of housing 324 canines received after-the-fact approval from the Noble County Board of Zoning Appeals.

About 115 people filled the board room Wednesday, said Plan Director Steve Kirkpatrick, who oversees the board but is not a voting member. Only neighbors who lived within a half-mile of a kennel were allowed to speak for or against the homeowners’ belated zoning change requests.

The kennels were already operating, selling puppies retail and wholesale, before several complaints brought the issue before the board.

Kirkpatrick said he had never heard of the kennels and was shocked to find six at one time in violation of county zoning regulations. One kennel housed nearly 200 dogs and puppies.

“There is no reason it should have gotten this far,” Kirkpatrick said. “If people have any doubts as to what they can and can’t do on their property, they need to call the planning and zoning departments first.”

In Noble County, homeowners are limited to owning a maximum of four dogs over the age of four months in a typical residential setting, Kirkpatrick said.

The five-member board is made up of Noble County residents, and the board had to decide each case based on land use only, he said.

“The only thing they consider is if that parcel of land is compatible for that number of dogs and if it’s compatible with the county’s comprehensive plan,” he said.

“Another agency inspects the kennels; we have nothing to do with that,” Kirpatrick said. “There seems to be a general misconception about what the zoning board does.”

Kennels must undergo an annual inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The largest kennel, owned by Marlin and Erma Bontrager at 2084 W. County Road 1150 N. near Rome City, was found in violation of USDA rules after its most recent inspection in October.

While Bontrager’s site was approved, the board set conditions that included a maximum of 200 dogs; the business is non-transferable to future owners; no sales to the public (wholesale only); and no boarding of other dogs. More neighbors spoke in favor of the kennels than against them, Kirkpatrick said.

Sitting in the front row was Lori Gagen, director at Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion, and Pam Sordye, director of Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan. Both women were vocal in their opposition to the kennels, although neither one was allowed to speak at the meeting.

Sordye was the first person to file a complaint against the Bontrager operation.

She was investigating a Michigan-based pet store chain, Family of Pets, when Sordye discovered the chain received the bulk of its puppies through Indiana pet breeders in Noble, LaGrange and Elkhart counties, she said.

Through shipping records, she found that Bontrager was a frequent supplier of puppies, and the health and care of some of the dogs had been questioned, she said.

John Stottele, owner of Family of Pets, which includes five Family Puppy stores in southeast Michigan, said in an email that, as of October, he is no longer buying puppies from Bontrager.

Gagen said it was not so much the “puppy mill talk and the unanimous votes” that upset her as it was the process, which she called “broken.”

“I tried and tried to find out prior to the meeting if we would be allowed to speak and no one could tell me,” Gagen said. “How can they be responsible stewards of county government when they make it so hard for citizens to be informed?

“We spent days collecting data for a presentation only to find out we would not be allowed to speak,” she said.

Other kennel sites approved Wednesday include:

•Guy and Rebecca Staples, 3837 S. 925 W., Larwill – breeding, boarding and training; maximum of 14 dogs; must build a 12-foot-by-40-foot soundproof addition; sanitary waste disposal by land application; business is non-transferable to future owners; expires in one year and must be in compliance to be renewed.

•John and Leona Troyer, 11322 N. 700 W., Topeka – breeding and wholesale and retail sales; maximum of 55 dogs; non-transferable.

•Jacob and Lorene Schwartz, 10444 N. 600 W., Ligonier – wholesale and retail sales; no boarding of other dogs; maximum of 20 dogs.

•Jacob, Susie, Orvan and Marlene Fry, 11685 N. 600 W., Topeka – breeding and wholesale and retail sales; no boarding of other dogs; maximum of 20 adult dogs; non-transferable.

•Dean, Wilma and Loren Miller, 6559 W. 900 N., Ligonier – wholesale and retail sales; maximum of 60 dogs; no boarding of other dogs; non-transferable.

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