Dog rescuer may get to keep limited operation

By sandi carpello
Staff Writer

Dog rescuer may get to
keep limited operation
By sandi carpello
Staff Writer

HELMETTA — A recent dispute involving a borough woman and her unlicensed animal shelter may come to an amicable conclusion as officials are working on an ordinance that would allow hobby kennels in the borough.

The ordinance, which was scheduled to be introduced at last night’s Borough Council meeting, was being prepared this week by Borough Attorney Gary Schwartz.

Since July, borough resident Gail Drysdale, a volunteer with the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation, has been using her Main Street home as a temporary shelter for dogs. She said she cares for the dogs while the organizations looks to find a suitable family to adopt them.

Since she has been housing between seven and 17 dogs depending on the week, Drysdale was cited by borough officials and the Middlesex County Board of Health last November for running an unlicensed animal shelter in a residential zone, and was told she had to appear before the borough’s combined Planning/Zoning Board to request a use variance.

The application deadline, which was initially scheduled for Jan. 2, has been extended to March 1 while officials work out the details of the new ordinance, according to Borough Zoning Officer and Construction Official Brian Mitchell.

Drysdale, who defended the charitable nature of her service, was expected to apply for the use variance.

"I had no choice. I was going to be fined $100 a week if I didn’t get a variance," she said.

Drysdale’s troubles began in October when she took down an old, more private fence in her back yard and replaced it with a wire fence, revealing the number of dogs who were actually there.

Neighbors began to complain that the numerous dogs were creating nuisance issues such as noise and odors.

According to Mitchell, the ordinance as written would allow Drysdale to keep a base number of four dogs. However, she would also be able to keep one additional pet for every 5,000 square feet of property she owns. Even if the ordinance is passed, she will need to receive Planning Board approval, licensing from the Middlesex County Board of Health, and provide an adequate buffer around her property.

With a 25,000-square-feet property, Drysdale would be able to keep a total of nine dogs at a time under those restrictions. Drysdale, who keeps seven dogs as her own pets, said she would only be able to rescue two additional dogs.

"That’s better than nothing," Drysdale said. "That’s saying to me that the officials are validating my need to rescue."

The borough presently has no ordinance regulating the number of dogs an owner may have.

"Hopefully, the ordinance will come to fruition," Mitchell said. "We want to make Gail happy. We want to make the neighbors happy, and we want to help anyone else who is faced with the same circumstance."

If introduced this week, a public hearing on the ordinance could be held during the Jan. 22 council meeting.