Justice has gone to the dogs

The West Hartford woman with 22 little Shih Tzus at home — illegally — still has them despite an order to move ’em out. The Hartford Courant finally bothered to update us today. (It is just terrible at follow-up stories, by the way.)

The woman’s appealing the town’s ruling in court and a judge is letting the dogs stay pending a decision – a ruling that may not come until the end of the summer. Then, of course, she may be able to appeal that judgment, giving the dogs yet more time to stay illegally.

When it’s all done,the dogs will likely be dead.

It’s a great legal system we have that chugs along in slow motion while people go right on ignoring the plain language of reasonable laws.



Filed under News, Town government, Zoning

13 responses to “Justice has gone to the dogs

  1. Peter G

    The slow movement of the court system can be very frustrating, agreed. Think of how much more frustrating it is for individuals who have a direct stake in the process, like the woman in this case!

    But the court had the authority to decide what state of affairs should be maintained while the appeal is going on. If the Town had been able to show that it would have suffered some serious harm by allowing the dogs to remain in the house, it’s possible that the judge would have ruled differently. As I understand it, though, everyone agrees that there is no evidence of these dogs posing any threat to the health and safety of their owner, the neighbors, or the community. So the legal question is simply whether the Town has the authority to regulate the number of pets one may have absent some showing that their presence is detrimental in some way.

    Looked at from that point of view, any judge is going to be asking himself or herself this question: Which would be worse, to allow this woman to keep the dogs pending the outcome of the appeal, where there is no showing that that would cause harm to anyone, or to require that she get rid of the dogs, which would certainly be harmful to her? Considered in that way, the judge’s decision just makes sense. If she loses the appeal, the Town has not suffered any harm that cannot be remedied. If she wins the appeal, she has not suffered any harm that cannot be remedied.

  2. Hasn’t the town wasted enough time and legal fees on this nonsense? She’s not doing anyone any harm, and the dogs are well cared for. Maybe the town will also someday decide that they have the authority to regulate how many kids one has.. after all they can also be noisy and messy… The town needs to get out of everyone’s house already and just take care of the roads and trash collection.

  3. Mike

    The town does have the authority to create zoning laws for businesses, however, including kennels. You may say the dogs are no harm to anyone, but if I lived next door to 22 dogs in a single home, I might have an issue with the noise. Their are commercial kennels, and presumably town pounds, where there are fewer than 22 dogs – but those are not allowed in residential areas because they are a nuisance with the noise. They should not set a precedent where 22 dogs is permissible, becasue next time, they might not be so well cared for, or next time there might be a danger posed or a health hazard present. I live next door to one dog, and God knows he makes enough noise to annoy me sometimes. I can’t imagine him with 21 friends.

  4. Peter G

    Mike, you’ve identified what I always understood to be the problem that the law is supposed to address: noise, health hazards, nuisances, etc. But in this case, at least from what I read, the woman’s neighbors and the health department all agree that the dogs are well-fed, well-cared for, clean, and do not pose any problems for the community.

    So if that’s true, doesn’t it suggest that the proper standard is not “you can’t have x number of dogs” but “you can’t have even 1 dog if that dog poses a nuisance or a hazard for the community?”

    I think some people may have felt that setting a limit on the number of dogs would be a good way of avoiding disputes and litigation because the numeric limit was absolute and clear and didn’t require any interpretation. Problem is, that because it’s only a numeric limit it doesn’t correspond to the real reason for placing limits, which is to prevent health and noise hazards for the community. So naturally it was just a matter of time before someone challenged it because the law as written doesn’t seem to be reasonably related to the problem it claims to address.

  5. Mike

    Peter –
    You are right that sometimes even ONE dog is too many. And while any number you set is arbitrary, to not set a number but to have other criteria used would be even more arbitrary. Who’s to say that a dog barks too much – or runs outside too late.
    If you recall the issue involving Ray Allen’s mother on Balfour, where she had dogs in an outdoor run. Caused a huge stink with the neighbors due to the hours they were kept out and the noise they made. I think she had two dogs, but probably shouldn’t have had any if she couldn’t properly care for them. But fighting neighbors could use an arbitrary canine “behavior” standard to cause further troubles.
    The differences in breeds is another factor – when the legislature tried to ban as “cruel” the keeping of dogs in outdoor runs or on leashes for too long a period and in inclement weather, owners of huskies and malamuts were up in arms – saying their dogs thrived in the cold.
    So I realize that too much governmental interference with owners and their dogs can be misplaced. Owners, like parents, all take different approaches. I’m not sure what the answer is, but their are professional mushers running the Iditarod that have fewer than 22 dogs in their kennels. Whatever number is arrived at, I do think 22 is a bit excessive.

  6. Peter G

    Yes, but in what way is 22 dogs “excessive” if it is not in a way that harms us in some fashion? Or are you advocating a law that you acknowledge prevents no harm, simply because it is more expedient?

    I happen to believe in all sorts of government interference. I think the government should run the health care system and that local governments should own or control the utilities that provide essential services. I believe that in an advanced industrial society, college education at a public university should be free. But I can’t wrap my head around laws that regulate our personal behavior and choices for reasons other than preventing harm to ourselves or our communities.

  7. Well, perhaps these 22 dogs are OK neighbors, though I’m skeptical. But sometimes government has to draw a bright line that’s somewhat arbitrary because it’s too hard to do everything on a case by case basis.
    Think, for example, of speed limits or decibel levels for noise (I wouldn’t mind Springsteen at top volume in my neighbor’s back yard but a jackhammer at the same volume would drive me mad.)
    The alternative to arbitrary numbers is arbitrary enforcement.

  8. Mike

    Peter, I am not arguing that 22 nice, polite doggies are harming us in some fashion. My only argument for setting a fixed number of dogs allowed on any residential property is from a zoning perspective. It would be too easy for a commercial kennel to pop up in a residential neighborhood without some limits on the number of dogs that may be kept on a property. It has actually happened in one CT town, (Monroe, I believe) where a black market-type kennel opened up – one without advertising, without incorporation or any licenses or permits. Essentially a private home that kept 20 – 30 dogs at all times. Neighbors were having major problems getting the place shut down. So for that reason, I would push for setting some firm number of permitted pets. For every case of a nice lady keeping 22 nice dogs, there is another of some smooth operator looking to skirt the system to make a buck.

  9. JudyisaLoser

    The rule of law needs ot be upheld in our town, and this property owner thought she could rely on sympathy to maintain 11 times more dogs than is allowed by our zoning laws that have been on the books for many years. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and it has been drawn at 2. Perhpas if she had made even a little bit of effort to comply in the intervening 2 years she would have been treated more leniently. The town has done nothing wrong in its handling of this matter.

  10. Peter G

    Mike, am I mistaken or isn’t it the case that if a “black market type kennel” were to open in a residential neighborhood there would be a whole raft of other kinds of violations at issue having nothing to do with the number of dogs (i.e., no permits, zoning violations for a commerical business in a residential neighborhood, etc.)?

    So I can’t see that having an additional rule limiting the number of dogs is needed to address the situation that you describe.

    For the record, before you go on about the “22 nice, polite doggies,” I have no particular fondness for dogs and can barely imagine having one. This isn’t a matter of sentimentality for me. It’s a question of whether a law controls what it was intended to control in the most logical and efficient manner. And if the purpose of the law is to control noise, nuisances, etc. then it should be geared toward those problems, not an arbitrary number. As you yourself pointed out, even 1 dog can be a nuisance. It could even be argued that by maintaining a “2 dog rule” the Town is setting up a defense for someone who has 2 really obnoxious and out of control dogs: after all, the Town PERMITS the resident to have two dogs, right?

  11. Peter G

    May I add that although JudyAron and I appear to have almost nothing in common politically, and probably have dramatically different ideas of what West Hartford (or Connecticut or the country) should look like, I have no sympathy with the use of name calling (“JudyisaLoser”).

  12. I have finally decided this is the time to put my 2 cents in. For those of you that may not know it Zoning Regulations are appealed on a daily basis.
    I first met Faith when I saw this story on TV this past December. I happen to own a Pet Sitting business and I was compelled to meet Faith. I’m so grateful that I did. She was gracious enough to allow me into her home and to meet her lovely Mother and furry kids. I am in many homes on a daily basis and my clients are the most amazing people. When I started my business you take any client you can get and now I finally have the luxury to pick and choose whom I wish to retain as a client. I have seen homes and living situations that are not fit for humans to live in . I have seen filth and neglect and yes I have reported them.
    I wouldn’t hesitate to take on Faith as a client. Her home is spotless. You would never know by walking through her home that she has even 1 dog.
    I was so impressed…I’m very lucky to have met Faith.Over the years we all have known people that when an animal becomes ill regardless of their age they opt to have them put down. Faiths dogs range from ages 6 to 15 .Two of her dogs Lovie and MeToo have heart murmers, 10 year old Happy had to have an eye removed not long ago. Not only does Faith maintain their health. She takes notice of every little difference in behavior and makes absolutely certain her babies are looked at by the Vet and given the proper care.In fact she must carry 13 year old Sunshine up and down the stairs due to severe arthritis and demmentia. She loves them all unconditionally as they do her. When she takes them out into her yard she takes them in very small groups at a time. As Faith is mindful and considerate of those around her. I find it very strange that Faith has had these pups for so many years without a mention and all of a sudden the town has a problem with this.
    I think the State Of Connecticut should concentrate on our homeless, child abuse and neglect,drug issues etc.
    Today I saw on the news a home in Milford that contains many more animals than Faith has. The yard was said to be an eye sore but they mentioned that because the animals had food and water they would leave the owner alone. As I watched this broadcast you could see so many cats in the windows and hear the dogs barking. I would like someone to explain to me why this is acceptable but Faiths situation is not.
    I’m grateful to all of you who are supporting Faith at this time. It has caused such distress and it breaks my heart that such a wonderful human being can not live her life in peace.

  13. Sandy, Thank you for your firsthand report. It gives all of us more to think about.

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