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Animal rights group calls for action on county dog breeding businesses

A national animal rights group is urging supporters to contact local officials and to attend an upcoming BZA meeting to oppose the approval of dog breeding facilities.

The BZA meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 15, in the LaGrange County Office Building on Michigan Street in LaGrange.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has posted a page on their website that is being shared on social media noting that the LaGrange County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) will be hearing three land use variance requests at their August 15 meeting. The page asks people to write to the officials or attend the meeting in person to oppose the facilities.

Under the LaGrange County zoning code, a dog breeding facility with more than four adult dogs must seek a land use variance as it is not a permitted use. The variance is approved or declined by the BZA after a public hearing, like the ones to be held Tuesday. During the hearing, the petitioner or a representative, and any supporters, are allowed to speak for 15 minutes. This is followed by a 15-minute period in which those who oppose the request are allowed to speak. The petitioner then has an additional five minutes to address any issues brought up by those against the petition.

PETA has already filed a letter against the petitions with the BZA, noting that “complaints concerning odor, noise, and inhumane conditions are commonplace with dog breeding facilities of all sizes.” It later notes that the “activities of breeders and breeding facilities result in notoriety for jurisdictions where they proliferate.” This includes overcrowding at local animal shelters.

The issue of dog breeding facilities in the county is not a new one, as more and more families look to start a home-based business. The BZA began the requirement for dog breeding facilities to have a land use variance in 2013 following complaints concerning ones that were already operating. At the time, the BZA changed the county ordinance that required anyone wanting to keep four or more adult dogs on their property to seek a land use variance.

In the first six months of 2017, the BZA has heard 14 land use variance requests for dog breeding facilities. Of those, only one was withdrawn by the petitioner, with the remaining 13 approved.






“The board looks at five criteria, and if they vote positive on all five, it passes,” explained the BZA’s legal counsel, Jeff Wible. If the majority of the BZA votes no on any one of the five criteria, the petition will fail. Those questions look at the land use and the effects around it.

The five questions asked are:

(a) The approval will not be injurious to the public health, safety, and general welfare of the community;

(b) The use and value of the area adjacent to the property included in the variance will not be affected in a substantially adverse manner;

(c) The need for the variance arises from some condition peculiar to the property involved;

(d) The strict application of the terms of the zoning ordinance will constitute an unnecessary hardship if applied to the property for which the variance is sought; and

(e) The approval does not interfere substantially with the Comprehensive Plan.

In remonstrating against a request, “They need evidence and a solid reason why it (variance) should not be granted,” Wible said. And, he added, the information needs to be relevant to that petition.

Wible noted that complaints about the conditions of facilities fall under a “nuisance action.” He added that the BZA does not have enforcement capabilities. “The BZA does not have the staff to look at each place. I’m not sure the public wants to pay for additional enforcement,” he said.

Wible commented that the facilities that are labeled as “puppy mills,” denoting poor conditions for the animals, are likely ones that have not been before the BZA and are operating without a variance.

Former LaGrange County Planning Administrator Bob Shanahan noted that the board does have the right to turn down the requests. He pointed out that the variances are only in agricultural zoned areas and fall under animal husbandry. “You have to expect that sort of activity,” he said. “It (breeding animals) is not an illegal activity.”

When Shanahan worked with the BZA to set up the ordinance, it was to allow the board to know where the facilities were going in and to have “some sort of conformity,” Shanahan explained.

Shanahan also worked at the time to help establish connections with organizations that work with the dog breeders and area veterinarians to ensure good conditions for the animals.





Most petitioners who come in front of the board note that they are working with an area veterinarian and other groups to ensure healthy conditions for the dogs, even though that does not appear to be a requirement of the zoning ordinance.