NEWINGTON - Amy Berube is defending her right to continue operating her business and the rights of similar business owners, who have operated virtually under the radar for many years.
The business in question is in-home pet care, otherwise known as doggy day care. The question is what regulations govern the business, which does not fall under any ordinances in Newington or laws at the state level.
Berube is working to change that, with a proposal to amend the town’s zoning regulations to include in-home pet care. The proposal is expected to receive feedback from local citizens and the Town Plan & Zoning Commission at a public hearing on Wednesday, March 24, in Newington Town Hall.
“I think it would be awesome,” she said of the possibility of “doggy day cares” opening legitimately. “It’s good to know other sitters and be able to refer back and forth. I can’t take everyone.”
She hasn’t accepted any new client dogs in the past two of her six years in business.
Shelby’s House-A-Canine Camp runs out of her Indian Hill Road home, where there are five to seven dogs at any given time - two being her family’s pets.
Berube has tailored the group to only those that fit well with each other and the home, referring other clients to friends who operate similar businesses in and out of town.
Everything seemed to be going well up until last October, when she received a letter from the town asking that operations cease following a complaint received that she did not have a home occupation permit.
“I didn’t even know that existed,” Berube said. “In all my research, I could only find that the town did not have a limit to the number dogs a homeowner could have.”
Berube submitted an application, which went through the town’s public hearing process and received support from dozens of people.
Highly emotional testimony came from neighbors, in overwhelming agreement that the business was not bothersome, but also clients, claiming their dogs could not board in conventional kennels. One neighbor claimed to be bothered by excessive barking, which Berube says is not an issue with the dogs she cares for.
It became clear that the town was treading on unfamiliar ground.
“During the course of applying to legally conduct her business some commissioners expressed the opinion that the home occupation guidelines we have aren’t conducive to a doggy daycare,” Town Planner Craig Minor explained. “We need a new section more appropriate to this.”
Berube and her attorney proceeded to draft Section 9.2- 3.4.10, now awaiting review.
Its passage would allow in-home dog care in all residential zones, requiring that operators obtain and keep proof of vaccinations and animals’ health. The number of client dogs would be limited to five at any time and “exterior disturbances” including business signage and excessive barking would be prohibited.
The TPZC is working to publicize the meeting, so residents have an opportunity to champion or criticize doggy daycare coming to a house near them.
“We don’t want to do this in the dark,” Chairman Frank Aieta said. “We’re trying to give the public a heads-up that this is a possibility in their neighborhood. We know that there are other ones in town,” he added. “Hopefully, when we resolve this, we’ll be looking at the other ones, too.”
If the amendment moves forward, new applicants would follow the same procedure as home day care operators, who are subject to neighbors’ feedback at public hearings before being issued a special permit.
After resolving her case with the town, Berube plans to take the issue to the state with fellow dog-sitters. Current regulations, which date back decades, pertain only to commercial kennels.
“It is a problem that does need to be addressed,” she said.
Friend and fellow pet service entrepreneur Christina Bengston is one supporter.
“The town and the state need to get on the same page and catch up with the times,” said Bengston, who owns The Great Crate Escape.
She visits pet owners’ homes to provide sitting, taxi and walking services. Referrals often come from Berube.
“We’ve had a great business relationship from day one,” Bengston added, pointing out that pet sitters are becoming more prevalent in Newington and beyond.
“It’s a great alternative to the industrial-type atmosphere of a kennel, which rescue dogs are often too afraid to go to,” she continued. “Still, it’s definitely something that needs to be licensed to protect operators and clients. There are such grueling state laws for in-home childcare; there should be some protection for pets as well.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, @schmittnbh or email@example.com.