STANTON — Montcalm County’s kennel ordinance was updated last year with the goal of enacting stricter, more specific requirements.
However, a number of dog owners think county officials are barking up the wrong tree.
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners Law Enforcement & Courts Committee heard more than half an hour of public comments Monday from citizens concerned the kennel ordinance will do more harm than good to dogs. The updated kennel ordinance is in effect for new kennel customers now and goes into effect for current kennel customers in 2015. (See info box below)
Jim Solak of Edmore originally brought up his concerns with the ordinance at last month’s full board meeting. Solak has had a kennel license since the 1970s and has raised beagles, coon hounds, shetland sheep dogs and Australian shepherds over the decades. His primary concern is the ordinance’s upcoming requirement about the kennel building itself.
“Dogs are a way of life to me,” Solak told commissioners at May’s meeting. “Why should I be punished by requiring me to put up a building when I am doing nothing wrong? One size does not fit all.”
Solak returned to commissioners at Monday’s committee meeting, backed up by a crowd of supporters. Solak said his beagles are currently housed in open kennels featuring a deck and surrounded by a chainlink fence. He said his dogs have shade, fresh food and water and he cleans the kennels more than once a day.
“I am here to try to get that rule eliminated,” said Solak regarding the building requirement. “I don’t comply with the kennel license, but I can go out and get dog licenses. I won’t be inspected. That’s 100, 200 dogs that aren’t going to be inspected anymore, and I don’t think that’s right. If I’m forced to build a building, I won’t do it. I’ll just get individual licenses. But I’m not in favor of individual licenses for the reasons I just stated.”
Hardy hunting dogs
Lonnie Morden of Lakeview has had a kennel license for more than 35 years. He owns beagles, which he keeps in an open kennel with a cement floor and a chain link fence. He lets them run on 40 acres of land as well when he’s training them for hunting.
“My dogs wouldn’t know what to do with heat or air conditioning,” he said. “They’re outdoor dogs, they’re not pets. They’re hunting dogs, they’re my hunting companions.”
Ed Ehle Jr. of Sidney has had a kennel license for more than 30 years for his beagles.
“With the hunting dogs, you can’t put them into a building like that and then expect them to do what they were bred for,” he said. “You take them out of a warm building into the cold and you’re harming them more than you’re helping them.”
Rick Snow of Greenville said his beagles thrive in cold weather, as evidenced by multiple hunting trips in the Upper Peninsula.
“These dogs are bred to run in subzero weather,” he said. “When it was 27 degrees below zero this winter, I was out running dogs, because that’s what their job is. An insulated dog house is actually better for a dog than a building. They’re hunting beagles and they’re for the outdoors, for the cold conditions and the weather.”
Jill Keeler and her husband of Stanton own hunting dogs as well.
“We have yet to have a dog that even looks uncomfortable, even this past winter,” she said. “Moving these dogs inside would hurt them more than help them. They’re hounds, they’re meant for this weather. I think it’s very, very unnecessary to force people to build a building. If you have a kennel, you love dogs, you want to take care of them, else you wouldn’t have a kennel.”
Marlin Martin of Carson City has had a kennel license for 16 years, also for hunting dogs. He said he keeps them warm with insulated boxes in the winter.
“We try to take good care of them,” he said of his dogs. “A separate building just for dogs would be quite an expense. I just don’t think it’s really necessary to force someone to spend money on a separate building.”
Small dog breeds
Several owners of small dog breeds were also present at Monday’s meeting to express concerns about the kennel ordinance.
Mary Anna White of Sheridan has maltese, shih tzus and yorkies. She said cement runs may be easy to clean, but they damage the padded feet of small breed dogs. She provides patio blocks for her dogs and lets them play outside.
“These dogs do need housing,” she said. “They cannot tolerate cold weather. I hope cages large enough are acceptable. I have each dog in their own cage. I can monitor how much they eat, how much water they consume.”
Pam Hutson of Sheridan also has malteses, shih tzus and yorkies. She said she spent $15,000 to build a room for them in her garage, which features heating and air conditioning. The dogs are kept in cages in the garage and are let out daily.
“My area’s so clean you could eat off the floor,” she said. “I wouldn’t want my dogs running every day on cement because it would wear their pads out.”
Dawn Thurwachter of Edmore has bred longhair miniature dachshunds for the past 17 years. She said she built her house to be in compliance with the state’s dog law and believes it’s better for small dogs to live inside a home.
“The one thing I find troubling is Animal Control is supposed to be ensuring the health and welfare of dogs,” she said. “Not once has anyone asked to see (my dogs’) vet records or shot records. Coming after people who are being compliant, who love their breeds, who love their animals .. I’ve been berated and harassed by Animal Control officers. To force me to build a $15,000 building to be in compliance is a bit over the top.”
Dennis Martin of Fenwick has maltese, poodles and shih tzus, as well as golden retrievers and German shepherds. He built a special building with a heater for his small breeds.
“I try to take very good care of my dogs,” he said. “As far as licensing and stuff, it’s a money racket. You’ve got to be reasonable.”
According to Montcalm County Animal Control Director Angela Hollinshead, the county’s kennel ordinance was updated last year in an effort to clarify the state’s vague wording about kennel regulations.
“The goal of updating the kennel information and requirements was to make the requirements a little more strict without trying to penalize everybody,” she said. “It was in our best interest to make something up that had a little more of structure to it as far as how kennels should be built. We decided to set it across the board and make it the same for everybody.”
Hollinshead said there are several kennels in the county with more than 70 dogs, so requiring kennel owners to house their dogs in a building would make inspections easier for Animal Control officers.
“It can’t be part of your house,” said Hollinshead regarding kennel buildings. “We have a lot of kennel customers who have 70-plus dogs and the goal is to get them out of the house. It can’t be part of the structure that you live in. It’s always been a kennel ordinance and a kennel rule that kennel dogs were not to be house dogs.”
Monday’s meeting ended with Commissioner Betty Kellenberger of Carson City agreeing to form a committee with some of the dog owners to discuss how to improve the kennel ordinance.
Kellenberger can be reached by phone at (989) 584-3484 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The complete Montcalm County kennel ordinance can be found at www.montcalm.org online.