Montcalm County commissioners continue dog kennel debate


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:36 am on Monday, September 14, 2015

STANTON — After two failed motions, the third time was the charm for an appeal of a county dog kennel license renewal Monday.

Dawn Thurwachter of Edmore appeared before the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners Law Enforcement & Courts Committee along with her attorney, Matthew Anderson of Wixom, to appeal a denial of a dog kennel license renewal by Montcalm County Animal Control officials.

Dawn Thurwachter of Edmore talks with her attorney, Matthew Anderson of Wixom, after Thurwachter appealed Montcalm County Animal Control’s denial of a kennel license. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

Thurwachter has bred longhair miniature dachshunds for nearly two decades. At previous county board meetings, she has said she built her house to be in compliance with Michigan’s dog law and she believes it’s better for small dogs to live inside a home.

According to Animal Control Director Angela Sova Hollinshead, Thurwachter’s request for a kennel license renewal was denied last May because Thurwachter keeps some of her dogs in the walk-out basement of her house and some are allowed upstairs due to old age or medical-related reasons. Hollinshead says this is against county ordinance, which requires a kennel to be located somewhere other than inside a human dwelling.

“We believe based on reviewing the ordinance, it’s kind of a misinterpretation,” said Anderson, who thinks the term “human dwelling” is poorly defined in the county’s ordinance. “I think the focus shouldn’t be on where the kennel is located, but the quality of the kennel.”

Commissioner Patrick Q. Carr has long voiced his distaste of county government trying to monitor what goes on inside people’s homes without good cause.

“I still can’t get my mind around why we care,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be simpler if we issued them a kennel license and they can keep them (dogs) outdoors or inside? As long as they’re not making fudge and the health department’s not having to get involved, why do we care? It’s not my personal choice (having multiple dogs inside), but I don’t like to see us telling people what they can do with their property unless it’s a major health concern.”

Hollinshead said it’s important that kennel-licensed dogs be kept in a kennel separate from a human dwelling so Animal Control officials can freely inspect dogs and kennel conditions. If dogs are kept inside a house, Animal Control officials typically must get a warrant from a judge to enter the home to inspect the dogs.

Carr questioned why the county can’t simply make it a requirement that anyone who purchases a kennel license and decides to keep their dogs inside a human dwelling agree to inspections from Animal Control officials.

Anderson noted Thurwachter is attempting to sign up for a kennel license because she wants to be legal and has her dogs’ best interests at heart.

“We’re looking for an opportunity to comply with regulations and have a kennel,” he said. “We’re very much concerned about the quality of the care and these animals. The people that are doing it the proper way won’t have an objection to it (in-home inspections).”

Carr agreed with Anderson and reiterated his concerns.

“Why are we trying to make this so complicated?” he asked. “If people want to live amongst their dogs and they meet the conditions for it, why do we care? The way they’re personally living their lives in their homes that they’re paying taxes on, why do we care, why should we be involved?”

Johansen made a motion to grant Thurwachter’s appeal. However, there was no second, so the motion died.

After more discussion, Johansen made another motion to grant Thurwachter’s appeal. The vote deadlocked 2-2, with Johansen and Commissioner Thomas Porter voting “yes” and Reyburn and Commissioner Betty Kellenberger voting “no,” meaning the motion failed (Carr sits in at committee meetings, but doesn’t have a vote).

More discussion ensued. Reyburn made another motion to grant Thurwachter’s appeal. This time the motion passed 3-1 with Kellenberger voting “no.”

The full board will vote on the recommendation during their next regular meeting at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 24. CORRECTION: Since the committee granted an appeal, the full board does not have to vote on the granting of the appeal. The committee’s vote stands.

Johansen also made a motion to have the Law Enforcement & Courts Committee discuss possible revisions to the dog kennel ordinance during the committee’s next meeting in September. The motion was approved.

Johansen also encouraged his colleagues on the committee to consider meeting more often, as concerned citizens have repeatedly brought up the kennel ordinance at county board meetings with no clear resolution in sight.

“We’re not fair to the public,” Johansen said. “We need to be fair.”

Information about Montcalm County Animal Control, as well as details about dog licenses and kennel licenses, can be found at montcalm.org online.

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