Despite no evidence to validate allegations against a 501c(3) nonprofit pit bull rescue, the Kosciusko County Board of Zoning Appeals denied a special exception to allow dog kennels in an agricultural district.
While the BZA must base decisions on six specific criteria, in the matter of S.C.A.R.S. Pit Bull Rescue, founder Tracy Landis said the four present board members seemed to disregard the rules and base their decision solely on public opinion and speculation. “And why does the opinion of people in Bourbon, Etna Green and Tippecanoe matter to my kennels in Warsaw?” she asked.
On June 11, Landis went before the county BZA to seek a special exception for her pit bull rescue. She is asking to build kennels on her recently purchased property in the west 7200 block of CR 100 South, an agriculturally zoned area.
Although the BZA received the detailed sight plan and thorough policy on her rules, regulations and procedures for operating the dog rescue, they flatly denied Landis’ request. She said the board asked for no proof of claims made by those who remonstrated against the kennels, nor did they even refer to her documents that, in detail, spell out how the nonprofit rescue handles everything from waste to “nuisance barkers.”
The BZA received five letters in opposition to the kennels and a petition bearing the names of 63 individuals, including those from Bourbon, Etna Green and Tippecanoe. In some instances the petition bears several names of individuals all residing in one household, many of those miles away from Landis’ property. “I’m not sure how those are even relevant,” she said.
On their “findings of fact” forms each BZA member is to complete, reasons for the denial included: “smell is bad,” the rescue will result in “health issues,” and the parking area is too small.
“How are any of those things facts when it doesn’t exist yet?” Landis asked. “The letters from people say they are against it for the ‘what if’s’ and ‘could be’s.’ That’s not fact, that’s hearsay and speculation.”
To prove her point, Landis referred to Jean Northenor, a resident of CR 650 West – 1.5 miles away from the property in question. Northenor told the BZA in the public meeting that she had contacted people in Claypool who complained about the smell and noise of Landis’ current property. “She said the police said they had complaints of barking dogs and odor, but that’s a flat out lie and they didn’t bother to check into that,” Landis claimed. “I don’t have outside kennels there. The dogs are kept in my house so what noise or odor is there?”
Until the fall when she moved out, Erikia Wolford lived with her mother for about 5 years in a house right across the street from Landis in Claypool. “Tracy actually keeps it up really nice and it’s always really clean,” Wolford told StaceyPageOnline.com. “We never heard barking and she has no kennels outside so I’m not sure why people would say there’s an odor because there’s not.”
Wolford did say one neighbor living next door to Landis does complain, but it’s been general complaints. “We’ve had problems with him. I think he just doesn’t like big dogs,” she surmised. “Tracy also has a Great Dane and he’s afraid, but that is the sweetest dog.”
Additionally, Wolford said Landis’ property is fenced and none of Landis’ dogs ever got out.
Claypool Police Officer Lou Mediano Jr. also told StaceyPageOnline.com, “In the last 5 years I’ve been here, I’ve received maybe one or two complaints about barking dogs in general.” He said no other types of complaints, including odor complaints or claims of dogs running loose, have been reported.
Despite producing a detailed site plan and an in-depth explanation of every aspect of the dog rescue, the four BZA members who denied it all said the orientation and landscaping will not “produce a harmonious and compatible relationship of buildings and grounds to adjacent buildings and properties.” Landis’ property is surrounded on all four sides by farm land. Nearby are barns on neighboring property, and a half-mile down the road is a large dog kennel operation.
Although Mike and Carol Blackford signed a petition against Landis’ dog rescue, which will not be open to the public, Dan Richard of the Area Plan Commission could find no record that they themselves had applied for or obtained permits or exceptions for their own kennel operation. Google Earth images show the Blackfords operation appears to include at least 10 dogs individually chained, and approximately 16 kennels.
Landis asked about the Blackfords operation in the public meeting, but the board ignored her. Instead, BZA members John Connolly and Lee Harmon noted on their “findings of fact” forms that Landis’ petition for dog kennels does not meet “applicable Special Exception use.” However, under county regulations, a dog kennel is a noted special exception in an agricultural district.
Landis told the board the rescue will not be open to the public, but BZA member Walt Church noted in his findings that the parking area is too small.
“It’s like they didn’t even listen to anything I said. I think they heard ‘pit bull’ and that was it,” said Landis. She also noted a neighbor across the road remonstrated against the pit bull rescue saying she feared for the safety of her children and grandchildren in the event a dog got out of what Landis said would be two security fences – one to be a privacy fence – and a third picket fence. “She has a pit bull and another dog and they come over by my property all the time.” Landis added, “I’ve had 165 dogs through my rescue since 2010 and I have a zero bite history.”
Landis stressed to the board that she temperament tests all dogs before accepting them into the rescue. “If they have a bite history or are aggressive, I refuse them,” she told the board. Landis told StaceyPageOnline.com, “These dogs come from shelters and are on a kill list, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad dogs. Shelters kill animals because they have no room or because they’re sick. They also put down black animals, dogs and cats, because people don’t want black pets. People are just misinformed.”
She noted in the public hearing that at any time her rescue will not have more than 15 dogs, and that includes her own personal dogs. “There may be an exception from time to time if I get a dog that’s pregnant, but I don’t want a hundred dogs,” she stressed.
Landis is appealing the BZA’s decision based on breed discrimination. Because she operates under a 501c(3) nonprofit, she is seeking donations to help with the appeal. “I just don’t think this board is serving the county fairly. There’s a man in Packerton who was approved to have farm animals in a residential zoned area,” Landis said. “He said his kid has pigs for 4-H but then said he also does hog roasts for people and a couple of the pigs are for that. Isn’t that a home-based business then? How many other things like this get approved or denied because they aren’t looking into the facts of things?” asked Landis.
Landis has hired Fort Wayne attorney Cody Williams who agreed to take on the appeal. Williams told StaceyPageOnline.com, “In a court of law most the evidence would be thrown out because it’s very questionable. I question if those who spoke against it actually have a valid interest,” said Williams. “It seems they heard the breed of dog and that’s all they cared about.”
Williams also said Kosciusko County does not have a dangerous dog ordinance, but even if it did, cities that do have them, like South Bend, are already finding them being challenged in courts. “Plus this isn’t a dog rescue in the city, it’s an agriculture zoned area,” added Williams. “In an appeal in court, that evidence would be thrown out.”
Anyone who would like to donate to S.C.A.R.S. Pit Bull Rescue, which is a nonprofit organization so all donations are tax deductible, may do so at Landis’ website.
(The video below shows Landis with two dogs, one a full pit bull, that she rescued from a woods near Pierceton earlier this year. See story.)