Complaints from animal rescue operations – and from their neighbors – have prompted the Charlotte city manager to have staff look into the current zoning rules regarding operations known as "private kennels."
Rhonda Thomas typically has about 20 dogs on the three acres where she lives in west Charlotte. About 16 years ago she formalized her love of animals into a nonprofit called Project HALO. She rescues dogs from shelters and recruits new owners to adopt them. She's one of about 100 such groups the city's Animal Care and Control office partners with to get pets out of shelters. But recently Thomas says the city "put her on notice."
"They think I'm running a commercial kennel because I'm charging an adoption fee," says Thomas.
The difference between a private kennel and a commercial one is a central consideration of a new working group of staff from the city's zoning, code enforcement and animal control offices.
Assistant City Manager Eric Campbell says a 2001 court case involving Project HALO determined private kennels could operate in residential neighborhoods, "but, what that doesn't take into account is the impact that has on neighborhoods if folks are pulling up, looking at animals; if animals are out in your neighbor's yard continuously; if there's excessive barking."
Neighbors have complained to the city council along those very lines. But animal rescuers have complained, too, that they're being unfairly targeted by zealous zoning officers.
The city has interpreted that 2001 court case to define a private kennel as a nonprofit that houses 15 dogs or fewer - all licensed in the owner's name – and charges no adoption fee.
Animal rescuers say they're only housing the animals temporarily and shouldn't have to take on the $30 fee and liability of licensing them personally. The adoption fees they charge are more like donations to cover their costs, they say.
"Every dog that lives here or leaves here is spayed and neutered, has all of their vaccines up to date and if they're heartworm positive, we treat them," says Thomas of Project HALO. "We'd lose money on every adoption - we have to charge a fee."
The city's manager's working group will have to decide if the current definition of a private kennel is sufficient – and whether they belong in residential neighborhoods.