By SYLVIA LOBATO
CONEJOS – The Conejos Board of County Commissioners will decide June 18 on applications for two dog breeding businesses in rural Conejos County.
Attorney Susan Chana Lask, an animal rights expert, has been enlisted by animal welfare people and will monitor the situation as it moves toward the deadline.
Two public hearings were held May 17 on applications filed by Ruben D. Mast and Lavern and Mary Coblentz, drawing protests from members an audience of some 30 persons, some of whom claimed the county had violated its own land use code due to the fact that some building had already begun on the property in question.
Mast admitted this was true, saying he had moved some animals from a location in Rio Grande County, but they were not being bred.
That made little difference to neighbor Ramona Sisneros, who contends nothing should have been done on the land until proper permits had been issued. She said she went out to her property on March 28 and saw a building there.
“The county codes require issuance of a land use permit before any development or activity associated with land use change could begin,” she pointed out.
Sisneros contends the county “has attempted to strip land owners’ rights — the very rights, entitlements and freedoms that they expect for themselves and would demand, the very ones they take for granted.”
“A special use application was required to be considered at a public hearing by the planning commission and the commission should recommend approval, approval with conditions or denial of the application,” Sisneros said.
She said she attended the April 4 planning meeting and expected consideration of undeveloped properties, since the requests by Mast and Coblentz should have been mere proposals at that time. “Imagine my surprise and disbelief as I sat through the Mast presentation,” she said. “Up comes pictures of his dog breeding facility.”
“Right then and there,” she told the Land Use Administrator Linda DeHerrera, “I knew you already approved this dog breeding venture before the planning board meeting.”
Angry, her voice rising, Sisneros said she understood the county needs economic development, but by proper means. “This is not ‘orderly development of the county.’ You have not followed proper regulated processes set forth in the county code, laws erected to govern this county.”
At the April 16 BOCC meeting, she said she found out there was yet a a third dog breeding facility being proposed, by one Lonnie Yoder. The BOCC did not get to that proposal, but Sisneros believed it had already been approved.
She told the BOCC what was before them should have been considered just a proposal, but buildings were already erected and state inspection possibly accomplished. The business infrastructure is already there, she observed, but “what you’re telling us is that you value their tights and land value over ours! That their proposal is more valuable than our property value. The fact the breeding facilities are already up is 100 percent proof.
“We live in the greatest nation in the world, it’s the rule of the many, not of the few,” she said before accusing the county of attempting to strip the neighboring property owners of their rights, their freedom and their entitlements, “the very rights, entitlements and freedoms that you expect for yourselves and would demand, not only for self, but for families as well.”
Sisneros pointed out that Conejos County encompasses 1,291 square miles, while La Jara’s zip code only covers a 10-mile radius — “How can three dog breeding facilities be justified within a two-mile radius of each other in the same area?”
“They have not implemented any safeguard to preserve our rights and entitlements to full enjoyment of our land. There is no true noise mediation plan if a noise barrier blanket is going to be the answer.”
Another neighboring property owner said he has lived near a breeding facility and the dogs are barking “all the time — all the time.”
Sisneros said, “We are talking 16 adult dogs and more than 60 puppies at times — that’s more than 76 dogs four months a year at only one facility. The county must no understand how noise carries in the open spaces where there are no trees and where houses are far and few in between.”
Moderator was Pam Dickerson, president of Colorado Citizens for Canine Welfare, while the BOCC controlled the time allotted.
Animal welfare advocates stated, one by one, that thousands of stray animals must be put down each year and pet shop animals take their place, causing problems and leading to death.
In breeding facilities, said Aileen Peek of San Luis Valley Animal Welfare Society, the mother dogs suffer physically and end up being killed after a time.
Mast said that would not happen in his operation, once a mother had declined, she would be given to a good home.
Peek said her group and others are working to keep pet stores from buying puppies from breeders.
Speaking in favor of the proposers was a Romeo resident, who suggested they are good people who just want to aid the county economy.
Once public comment was ended, Coblentz said he would be breeding Huskies and Mast said he would breed smaller animals such as Corgis and French Bulldogs.
Commissioner John Sandoval asked both applicants if they were personally aware of all the requirements, inspections and the like that are required at such a facility.
“At what age do you stop breeding them?” He asked and was told the breeding would end at age five.
It was noted that the Coblentz application says dog waste will be spread on the pasture.
However, the USDA found that one dog produces 274 pounds of waste a year that pollutes the ground and surface water that can only be contained by using a proper composting facility. DeHerrera said composting is the best method and Sandoval said the time between May 17 and June 18 will offer time for environmental impact statements to be prepared and to ensure important safeguards are in place, not only for the animals, but for neighboring residents.
Sandoval said he had five puppies at his home and is fully aware of the burden feeding and cleaning up after them becomes. With this in mind, he said a strong environmental impact statement should be completed and attached to each proposal.
Members of the audience noted that all of the applications omit basic information such as how many male and female dogs will be harbored, how many times a female dog will be bred, as well as the structure and insulation of the housing for the dogs.
Basic information regarding the amount of water used and how waste and wastewater would be disposed are included but appear incomplete.
Colorado’s statutory Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act (PACFA) responded to the national trend against puppy mills by setting high standards of care for dogs, but the applications appear to have been ignored by the Conejos County applications.
“The Conejos County Board has done a disservice to its residents by allowing these deliberately misleading applications to get past their desks when the health and welfare of their residents and the animals are at risk,” says Susan Chana Lask, a high profile New York attorney who is also an expert in Puppy Mills. She did not appear at the May 17 meeting.
Sisneros pointed out that the county codes are weak in the area of animal welfare and there are no safeguards in place to keep the facilities from growing.
“Our freedoms, entitlements to build houses anywhere on our properties has been stripped from us,” she said. “Homes will have to be built as far away from breeding facilities as possible to try to protect ourselves from the noise and smells.
“As far as our property value, it has tanked. Who in their right mind wants to live next to (a dog breeding facility) especially when there is no true noise mitigation plan in place?”