It would not be appropriate to say that Litchfield City Council had gone to the dogs.
But board members spent a lot of time discussing the canine variety issues on Monday night.
Council voted unanimously to reject a conditional use permit that would have allowed a resident to keep five dogs. And later in the meeting, councilors heard about the efforts of a group of dog owners to find a suitable location for a dog park somewhere in town.
The rejected CUP came after a lengthy discussion of Planning Commission action on December 14, during which a request by Brenda Lindom was rejected by a 4-3 vote.
Lindom, who rents a house on North Swift Avenue, applied for a kennel license after a neighbor complained about the health of his dogs. When a policeman from Litchfield attended the house, the dogs were found to be in good health. However, Lindom was told that her five mastiffs had to be licensed by the city, and she applied for and obtained licenses.
At that time, city staff realized that there was conflicting information regarding the number of dogs that could be housed in a residence. The city ordinance limits residential properties to two dogs, but police enforced a provision of the ordinance that five dogs are allowed. This provision requires a kennel license, however.
City staff told Lindom she needed a kennel license to keep all five dogs at home. And she applied for a conditional use permit to operate a kennel – even though they are all personal dogs – which prompted a Planning Commission public hearing, which neighbors were notified of.
A neighbor attended the Planning Commission meeting and spoke out against the CUP, and two other written statements of opposition were received before the meeting. Opponents mentioned the strong odor coming from the dogs’ kennel and the effect on property values the kennel could have on neighboring properties.
As a result of the Planning Commission meeting and the denial recommendation passed to City Council, the city received seven written letters of support for Lindom’s candidacy for the CUP.
In addition, Lindom sent a letter of explanation. Before moving to Litchfield in 2015, she said, she checked the city’s dog regulations and was told the ordinance limited ownership to five dogs.
The limit was an important consideration, Lindom said, because she owned and actively exhibited mastiffs at competitions throughout the county.
“My dogs never all came home at once,” she wrote. “If I didn’t show, I would pay a manager and send him to be shown.”
Her five mastiffs are all AKC champions, she said, two of whom hold both the AKC and International Champion Rankings. Additionally, one of her dogs was purchased as a therapy dog to help her two adopted children, both autistic and with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Both children made good progress and didn’t need a therapy dog, but “she made a wonderful companion for them. 11 now,” Lindom wrote of the dog.
Lindom and her husband have paid “thousands of dollars” for each of their dogs, as well as thousands of dollars to groom them and travel with them to shows, “all parts sweat, blood, but most of all… love that accompanies these beautiful babies as part of our family.
She added that “we give our dogs the best possible care. I didn’t go through (sic) just any dog. I bought dogs whose parents had health tests for everything genetic so I knew they would have better, healthier, longer lives.
Denying the conditional use permit would force him to give up some of his dogs or move house, Lindom wrote.
The members of the city council were not unsympathetic. In fact, councilor Sarah Miller said Lindom was trying to do the right thing and things had “snowballed”, despite the fact that prior to the complaint filed earlier this year, no complaint had been filed with the city regarding the dogs.
Councilman Vern Loch Jr. said the issue could be viewed the wrong way. Rather than a conditional use permit, which would stay with the landlord, not Lindom as the tenant, a provisional use permit would be more appropriate, he said. Terms could be set, just like in a CUP, Loch said, but interim use would only be in place as long as Lindom kept dogs at the address.
“My heart would be to accept that (CUP),” adviser Ron Dingmann said, “but JR (Loch) brings up a good point. of precedent….”
Mayor Keith Johnson sided with the opponents. “The people who complained, it’s huge. The smell. What about the value of the neighbor’s house? If you come back to the Planning Commission (with a request for interim use), these are questions to think about. This is not a place in our community to have five dogs.
“It’s five big dogs, not toy poodles,” Councilwoman Darlene Kotelnicki said. “The size of the dogs concerns me.”
In the end, the Board voted 6 to 1 to deny the conditional use license, with Miller the only dissenting vote.
Talk about the dog park
Bill Hicks, speaking on behalf of a group hoping to establish a dog park in the city, told the city council about four possible sites for such a park.
The locations — Memorial Park, Casey Park, North Park and Wellhead Park — all offer pros and cons, Hicks said, and the group hoped that by making suggestions they could spark conversation and action towards create a park.
“It was an introductory first step,” Hicks said after showing cards and discussing the pros and cons of each. He recognized that there might be other suitable locations for a dog park. “We are bringing together a group of people from the community who would like to see a safer place for their pets. Now we want direction from you and city staff.
City administrator Dave Cziok said “one of the first steps is that staff will have to educate themselves. I think…the staff mentioned a few other places.
Mayor Johnson asked Hicks about complaints that a dog park might draw nearby residents, particularly the smell that might come from the dogs.
“Only if people don’t do their duty, which is to pick up their dog,” Hicks said. “Of if the waste receptacle has no lid.”
Dog park supporters are looking for an area of approximately 1 acre that could be fenced off and divided into two or three sections that can accommodate large and small dogs. Additionally, Hicks said, there’s usually a strong appetite for a long, narrow track that allows dogs to chase Frisbees or just run around for exercise.