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Court agrees with Heidelberg Twp. refusing kennel variance

The driveway leading to the Newsmantown residence which will not be permitted to operate a kennel on the property.

If Whistle Hill Puppies, a commercial kennel, is to start a new life in Newmanstown, it will have to refile its appeal to overturn the Heidelberg Township Zoning Board’s denial of a waiver.

John E. and Rachel F. Zook, represented by attorney Christopher Sarano, failed Friday in their bid before Judge Samuel Kline to overturn the zoning board’s January 2017 decision denying the Zooks a special exception to their property in agricultural area. The Zooks, according to Sarano, wanted an exception that would allow them to build 25 kennels on their property at 4565 Stiegel Pike, Newmanstown.

The Zooks operated Whistle Hill Puppies at a previous address in Stevens for several years and wanted to move it in the fall of 2016 to Newmanstown. The Zooks have a 21-22 acre farm, according to their lawyer. Of this land, 17 acres are leased for growing and harvesting hay.

Although kennels are an approved exception to the agricultural zone, when authorized by the Zoning Hearing Board, a rule of the ordinance is that the kennel cannot be the main economic activity of the farm.

According to the judge, the Zooks had to prove that raising dogs on the farm would make them no more money than renting farmland. While the Zooks testified before the zoning board a year ago that the hay lease was earning them $2,000 a year, there was never a question in those hearings, Sarano said, of how many puppies would bring them back.

The Zook family's appeal was dismissed on Friday in their effort to overturn a decision by the township of Heidelberg that they cannot operate a kennel on the site.

Sarano’s argument before Judge Kline considered that the main activity of the farm – in terms of space – was agriculture. Judge Kline repeatedly stated that the onus was on the appellant in the appeal to prove that the craft activity of the farm – in this case the kennel – would not bring in as much money as farming.

Sarano wouldn’t directly say how much the Zooks could earn breeding pomskies, cavapoos and miniature schnauzers, so the judge asked what the puppies were selling for.

“Between $800 and $1,000,” Sarano replied.

Judge Kline said he didn’t see where the Zooks wouldn’t earn more on the dogs than renting the farmland since they weren’t the primary owners of the hay.

The courtroom gallery was almost full for the hearing. Seated two rows behind the Zooks were supporters of United Against Puppy Mills, led by Jackie Keeney. One of the women whispered that the Zooks, seated two rows ahead of her, were “lazy Amish” after the judge pointed out they could make more money farming the land than renting it.

Whistle Hill Puppies has been in operation, according to state records, since 2011. The kennel was state inspected three times a year in 2011, 2012, and 2015 and twice a year in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017 .

During the final inspection in 2017, all state criteria were met. There were 6 dogs on the scene at the time, one adult and five puppies, for a voluntary closure inspection.

That year no dogs were bred and a total of 70 dogs were transferred off the premises.

During the 17 inspections over 7 years, the only violations noted by the canine guardian in 2012 concerned the type of material of the crate (wood, had to be resistant to fluids and able to disinfect), housekeeping and certain records of the puppy (dates of birth, strokes). All other inspections found that all state requirements, from sanitation to record keeping and rabies vaccination certificate, were in compliance.

The Zooks declined to speak to the Lebanon Daily News.

Matthew J. Creme, Jr., representing Heidelberg Township for the hearing, said after the court adjourned that the Zooks’ next appeal, if there was one, would go to a higher court.

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