Passion for pets
Private animal shelter faces closure over ordinance violation

CONYERS - Beverly Schaner is trying to rescue as many animals in her corner of the world as she can. However, she may have to find a different place to do it since Rockdale County is accusing her of violating its ordinance limiting kennels in residential areas.

Schaner was cited in July by Rockdale County code enforcement officers for operating a kennel without a permit from her home in the Happy Hollow subdivision after they received an anonymous complaint on the county's code enforcement hotline, according to Holly Bowie, director of Rockdale County Department of Legal Affairs and Community Compliance.

Schaner's case with the county is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Rockdale County Magistrate Court.

She said Thursday that she expects the judge will tell her to shut down her operation and remove the animals at her house to meet the county ordinance that allows only seven animals in a residential home. Schaner said she is trying to find homes for three dogs and 17 cats. That does not include the three dogs and seven cats she considers her personal pets.

"I know I'll have to get rid of the animals I have now, but I will still be over the county

ordinance," Schaner said. "I could never get rid of my pets, because they are family to us. It would be like the county asking me which one of my babies do you want killed in order to be in compliance, and I just can't do that."

She has talked to the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners about her problem and hopes they will work with her to allow her 30 days to move the animals out.

Schaner said she realized that she should not have boarded animals in a residential neighborhood, but maintained that the county's code of ordinances does not have a business classification for her operation, a nonprofit animal rescue group. The closest classification is a hobby kennel, which she insists she is not.

Schaner incorporated as the Humane Society of Rockdale County under a permit for educational services. She said her goal is to start a public awareness campaign to promote neutering and spaying and possibly going into local schools to educate students on proper pet care.

Schaner began rescuing animals after seeing how a dog helped her terminally ill father before he died in 2006. Pets also helped her mother cope with her husband's death.

The episode with her parents changed her life, she said, and she started looking at ways to help pets.

"After my father died, I became lost, and I thought the best way to find yourself was to lose yourself in something," she said.

When she could not find anyone offering rescue services in Rockdale County, Schaner started to do it herself. Schaner has adopted animals from Rockdale County Animal Control and has taken in abandoned pets brought to her. Since April, she estimates she has found homes for 50 animals and transferred 20 others to out-of-county shelters.

For their part, Rockdale County Code Enforcement officials said the ordinance is clear. In addition to the number of animals at the home, Schaner's property does not meet the minimum area of 2 acres that is required to operate a kennel.

This is not the first time Rockdale County has struggled with private kennels. The 2005 case of Gemini K-9 Kennel in the Terrace Ridge subdivision was cited as one reason the county commission revised the ordinance the following year under the Uniform Development Ordinance.

Gemini K-9 was cited for raising up to 10 pit bulls in the north Rockdale County neighborhood, but the owner claimed the animals were personal pets and his commercial breeding and training business was located in Gwinnett County.

The county code at that time could not remedy the situation and it took a court order from a civil suit brought by neighbors to force the kennel owners to remove all of the dogs from the property.

The county has since redefined the ordinance by lowering the number of animals allowed for a hobby kennel and specifying a minimum lot size to 2 acres, which essentially moved kennels out of high-density neighborhoods.

"The fact that she has been cited shows that the ordinance is working," Bowie said.

Schaner said she hopes to continue her animal rescue operation elsewhere in the county. She is considering purchasing 8 acres of property adjacent to Johnson Park on Ebenezer Road.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.