Dispute leads to kennel ordinance changes
A backyard fence separates Carmen Robinson's property from the Wadena County Humane Society animal shelter.
When the dogs are let out to relieve themselves, Robinson knows it.
"It's irritating," she said, "when you listen to the barking every day."
Fed up with the noise, Robinson and a group of neighbors approached the Wadena City Council last year to ask for a remedy. Although leaders determined the humane society wasn't violating the noise ordinance or any other laws, the council formed a committee to consider revisions to the city's kennel policy, which defines kennels as locations where "three or more dogs over six months of age are kept, congregated, confined, boarded, or bred, or offered for sale."
In a 4-1 vote May 13, the council approved the committee's recommendations. The most controversial change states, "the kennel operator shall not permit noise to be emitted from outside runways which can be heard by adjoining property owners between the hours of 4 p.m. and 9 a.m." It will take effect June 1.
The committee opted against changing the kennel definition, reiterating the city's often ignored ban on more than two dogs in residential areas. Although residents can apply for kennel permits, they're only allowed in commercial zones, where only about 30 families live, according to Dean Uselman, Wadena's planning and zoning director.
Not everyone will be happy with the new policy, but the committee worked hard to consider what's best for the entire city, said Councilman Toby Pierce, who served on the group with Councilwoman Gillette Kempf, the city administrator, the police chief and the city attorney.
"This was very thoroughly discussed," Pierce said. "We bounced a lot of things back and forth ... We hope it will help the situation."
New noise rules
Shelter manager Carolyn Hartman called the hours imposed by the revised ordinance "inhumane."
"How many of us could go 17 hours without having to use the bathroom?" Hartman asked the council at the May 13 meeting. "That's my concern."
A couple council members pointed out that the dogs will still be able to go outside after hours, they just can't make any noise.
Referencing the group of neighbors that attended the meeting, Hartman responded: "With the line in the back row here, you know if there's one bark there's going to be a complaint ... We are in a commercial block. We're zoned as we're supposed to be."
Housing up to 23 dogs, the 18-year-old animal shelter - located on the north side of Highway 10 - is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Currently, workers let the dogs out at 5 p.m. and they are usually inside for the night by 7 p.m., Hartman said.
Complying with the new policy means the shelter will have to change its hours and/or pay for opaque fencing to limit the dogs' exposure to bark-inducing stimuli, said Kimi Jacobson-Bockman, a humane society board member.
"It's not going to be easy," she said. "It's going to be a lot of extra expense for us. It's going to hurt us."
Jacobson-Bockman said the rules will also make it more difficult to prepare the dogs for adoption.
The added cost, she said, "is not helping" the humane society's plans to build an $80,000 to $125,000 addition to the west side of the building. Regardless, the organization is planning to launch a fundraising drive this summer.
Most people who commented on the Pioneer Journal Facebook page were critical of the revised rules. Several noted that trains, trucks and vehicles blaring loud music are also nuisances.
"Life is full of noise, get over it," one person wrote.
Another commented: " I am feeling quite sad about the dogs at the shelter that have to now stay kenneled inside for 17 hours a day. That's not healthy for man or dog."
The humane society's neighbors said they were pleased overall with the new restrictions.
"Under the circumstances, I think you did a pretty good job," Jody Grossinger told the council.
Robinson said she likes the change, though she's skeptical the humane society will comply. She'd rather have the shelter move to country - or at least the fringes of town.
"It's just not a good place for a humane society to be," Robinson said.
Two dog limit
Concerned with the two dog limit in residential areas, Councilman Brian Hillesland cast the lone vote against the revised kennel ordinance.
"Most people in this town that have more than two dogs are probably not aware of (the rule)," he said.
The committee considered adjusting the limit or creating a special kennel permit for residential areas, but decided against it.
"Administratively, that was a big burden," City Attorney Jeff Pederson said. "There's a cost associated with all of that and secondly, it just wasn't consistent with what we felt the general policy of the city should be."
Mayor Wayne Wolden called the revisions "a good step forward," though he would have preferred adding a grandfather clause, so families with three or more dogs wouldn't be forced to choose which pets to part with.
But Police Chief Naomi Plautz said it would be impossible to determine when people got their dogs. "There's just no way to enforce the grandfathering part."
While the committee was considering policy changes, the police department didn't enforce the two dog limit, Plautz said.
Enforcement will now continue. The first step is a 30-day warning.
"Generally speaking, you try to give the person enough time to give the dog a good home," Plautz said.
If that doesn't work, officers will issue an administrative citation, she said. The fine for most dog-related offenses is $50.
Continued disobedience of any part of the ordinance could lead to a misdemeanor criminal citation, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
So far, Pederson said, no one has been criminally prosecuted for violating the two dog limit. He said he expects residents' compliance, along with police and prosecutorial discretion, will continue to keep the issue out of the courts.
Plautz said she's not planning a dog dragnet. The police department, she said, will enforce the ordinance if violations are reported or if officers happen to encounter them.
After someone told police she was violating the ordinance, Grossinger purchased a kennel permit earlier this year so she could keep all three of her chihuahuas. She said she's glad she lives in a commercial zone. If she lived most other places in the city, she would have been forced to make a difficult decision.
"To me, that's like getting rid of a family member," Grossinger said.
Before voting May 13, the council contemplated delaying action to give the public more time to comment on the ordinance.
"At some point you've got to make a decision," City Administrator Brad Swenson said. "We've been delaying the decision for months already."
Then Kempf moved to approve.
Kempf, a committee member, said the group worked hard to negotiate a compromise that simultaneously allows "pursuing a business and the quiet enjoyment of your private property."
"There's no way we can make everybody absolutely happy," she said. "If everybody gives up a little bit, we'll all gain as a city and community."