By SYLVIA LOBATO
CONEJOS — Caught in the middle of a controversy between Amish animal breeders and residents of the area around La Jara, the Conejos Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) June 15 approved two new dog breeding operations, then passed a six-month moratorium on all special use permits for kennels.
No new applications will be accepted for kennels or expansion of existing kennels and can be extended another six months if additional time is needed to investigate and adopt new regulations.
Since applications by Reuben Mast and Lonnie Yoder were already in process, those requests were considered, with some discussion, and approved with conditions.
A May 17 public hearing on those applications had been continued 30 days for further investigation and information and the June 15 date was closest to the decision deadline.
The BOCC approval brought the number of breeding facilities in Conejos County to three, with a special use permit application by Lavern Coblentz having been reviewed and approved Dec. 15, 2017.
Yoder has a breeding operation in Rio Grande County, but was moving his family — and their dogs to Conejos County if the application was approved.
Materials supporting the moratorium noted that three dog breeding kennel operations had been processed by the Land Use Office in the past year, placing the operations within a 10-mile radius of La Jara.
Among the protests was an allegation that the public had not been given proper notice regarding the applications, but it was shown that ample notice had been given.
A large concern was noise, since dogs bark unpredictably. The BOCC required some sort of sound barrier, though the nearest full-time resident near either place was beyond one-quarter of a mile away.
The prospective breeders were asked how many dogs would be involved,. Ideally, there would be one male for each five females of the breeds produced. De Herrera said the county would need documentation on the affect repeated breeding would have on the females.
Mast said he plans to breed larger dogs, but ones who are not known for barking a great deal.
Yoder, who told the commissioners dog breeding was his primary source of income, plans to breed smaller animals and would like to have eight total breeding females with a maximum of two males.
His comments brought some discussion regarding the number of dogs that would be present at any given time. BOCC members suggested a three-breed cap and Mast asked how a three-breed cap would work if he had a breed that wasn’t selling and needed to effect a change. Would it work to phase that breed out and work in another?
There is some flexibility, but there should be no more than three breeds at any one time, he was advised.
Commission Chairman Mitch Jarvies suggested 11 females with three different breeds, maximum.
Another concern was disposal of animal feces and Yoder said he was planning to compost but could burn the animal waste. Land Use Administrator Linda De Herrera said composting was preferable.
Commissioner John Sandoval suggested inspections each year and determination if the operation is going well and it was noted that after eight years with no bad inspections, the special use permit would be issued in perpetuity.
If there is a problem, the special use process must resume.
Both men agreed to submit reports and Yoder said he would “submit reports, good or bad.”
Yoder said he had no intention of “stacking” the breeding cages as had been seen in examples of puppy mills, with feces and urine from dogs in the upper levels dropping down on those below.
He said hewould have individual cages all on one level and a whelping building where females would give birth.
A veterinarian would be required to determine which female breeding dog could continue breeding and which should be retired. The same will be true of males, the BOCC agreed.
Both permits were approved by a unanimous vote
On June 5, the Planning Commission recommended that the BOCC impose interim zoning moratoria on applications for special use permits for dog kennels to establish proper standards for them.
The County Land Use Code did provide for special use permits for dog kennels but did not provide specific regulation of the construction or operation of kennels or other dog breeding or boarding facilities within the county.
“Whereas, the BOCC is now aware that thousands of puppy mills exist all over the United States and that regulations specific to dog breeding kennels are necessary to prevent the proliferation of puppy mills, the Board finds it appropriate for the Board and the Planning Commission to review the standards under which large scale and/or commercial kennels or breeding facilities be permitted within the county,” the moratorium proclamation reads.
The BOCC determined that the moratorium would allow the careful development of regulations pertaining to dog breeding kennels and would allow the issues surrounding dog breeding kennels to have the benefits of full public debate.
At the same time, the moratorium would protect the county from approving special use permits before formulation of new, possibly more restrictive regulations.
The six-month moratorium is also geared toward giving notice to county land owners and allow them to participate in the debate as to what the new regulations should contain.