Ferrisburgh determines dog kennel does not violate zoning

FERRISBURGH — Town officials determined last week that a dog shelter operating out of a Sand Road residence does not constitute a violation of zoning ordinances.
Ferrisburgh Zoning Administrator Ken Wheeling said Heidi’s Haven Rescue, a state-certified dog shelter operated by Sheila McGregor out of her home, does not run afoul of town statutes.
The property, at 2512 Sand Road, is zoned RA-5, for rural and agricultural use. This zoning designation precludes commercial uses. The zoning ordinance defines a kennel as “an establishment for the breeding and boarding of six or more dogs.”
Wheeling said he determined that the shelter did not constitute an illegal kennel because McGregor does not sell dogs, or charge a fee to lodge animals on her property. McGregor does charge a fee to those who adopt animals from her, though this fee exists to compensate for expenses, such as food, that McGregor incurred while caring for the animal.
Reached for comment on Jan. 2, McGregor said she wanted to work with the town to ensure all regulations are followed. She said that, if necessary, she would provide the town with vaccination records for all the animals under her care.
A separate town ordinance requires all residents to register their dogs. In 2013, McGregor only registered one dog, though often had many more on the property. What remains unclear is whether, as a shelter, McGregor would have to register her animals. While some are personal pets, most are rescue animals up for adoption. These animals reside with McGregor for anywhere from a month to several years, depending on potential adopters, McGregor said.
All animal rescue operations in the state must be registered by the Agency of Agriculture. According to state records, Heidi’s Haven Rescue has been registered since 2011. In order to be registered, a shelter must have nonprofit status, fill out an application and pass an on-site inspection. McGregor said the last on-site inspection of her facility occurred in 2012, and that she expects another inspection to occur within the next few months.
The town cited McGregor for a zoning violation in January 2008, contending that she operated an illegal kennel on her property. After the zoning administrator personally inspected the premises, the town rescinded its citation two months later.
The investigation was reopened in the fall of 2013, after Scott and Lisa Brace, who live about 100 feet down the road from McGregor, wrote to the selectboard about dogs that they said had wandered onto their property from McGregor’s property.
Lisa Brace, who runs a child daycare center from her home, told the Independent in December that she worried about strange dogs in her yard, in the vicinity of children under her care.
Four complaints were filed with the town animal control officer in 2013 by Brace, and a parent of one of the children at the daycare detailed 10 incidents of dogs barking and or crossing onto Brace’s property.
McGregor on Thursday acknowledged that in the past dogs under her care have escaped her fenced-in backyard. She stated that she did not believe the dogs ever posed a risk to anyone.
“I have never had a dog attack me or any other human in 30 years,” McGregor said.
McGregor said she has been caring for rescue animals since she was in high school, and has taken training courses at Cornell University and Tufts University. She said Heidi’s Haven Rescue typically adopts 20-30 dogs per year. In 2013, McGregor found homes for 28 animals.
Reached for comment Friday, Brace said she was disappointed by the town’s decision. She questioned whether Heidi’s Haven, even if it did not violate the town’s kennel zoning ordinance, would require some sort of zoning permit. Brace said she had to get a zoning permit from the town for her daycare before it opened in 1998.
“She is running a business of some sort, and it is affecting my business,” Brace said. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”
Brace said she plans on attending the next selectboard meeting to again raise the issue of dogs wandering onto her property.

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