Having gone through a spate of kennel applications and the resultant negative feedback, Wellesley is reviewing its kennel bylaw. If this week’s public meeting is any indication, the township will be hearing from plenty of people before making any decisions on the matter.
Wellesley is already home to 21 kennels, with three more on the books in various stages of construction. The growing number has elicited criticism from animal welfare organizations and, internally, from Coun. Shelley Wagner.
Now, the township is struggling with finding a balance between farm-based operators and concerns about animal welfare.
Farm operators looking to supplement their incomes see kennels as a option, with township councils typically providing leeway to on-farm businesses. Animal rights groups push for rules that protect the welfare of the dogs ahead of financial issues.
The easy answer would be to say no to future applications, which would please everyone by the applicant. As with gravel pits – another hot topic of late – the benefits accrue to just one property owner, while others put up with noise, traffic, dust … or at least the potential of such problems. Kennels come with the added concerns about the treatment of the dogs at breeding operations.
With the latter, critics have called for more inspections, especially the unannounced kind, as giving operators advanced warning can lead to a hasty cleanup and, thus, misleading impressions.
A complaints-driven process, bylaw enforcement isn’t always as effective as critics would like, whether they’re organizations focused on welfare issues or neighbours concerned about noise.
Particular applications aside – and there will almost certainly be more for council to consider – the bigger-picture issue is what happens if and when there are complaints.
There are longstanding issues when it comes to dealing with complaints from the public, no matter how valid.
Once a business is in operation, officials seem loath to levy fines – even the inconsequential ones laid out in toothless regulations – when there are ongoing disturbances.
In that climate, residents are right to be sceptical government officials will be there to help them. In cases where the municipality imposes a (potential) problem on a neighbourhood, there must be provisions to remedy the decision.
For municipalities, that differs from often meddlesome bylaws covering parking and property standards, for instance.
Few people would take issue with the municipality taking action in the case, for instance, of an incessantly barking dog. Everyone within earshot would welcome the intervention. The same goes for other noise-related complaints – loud parties, stereos routinely cranked to 10, homeowners often eager to use power tools early in the day or late at night, to name a few. These instances are universally disruptive, and are precisely why enforcement is necessary: some people just aren’t considerate of their neighbours.
Put many of the actions have far less visible benefit to the community, which, after all, is the sole reason for rules to exist.
Ideally, enforcement locally would come would a light touch – education rather than punitive action, for instance – in keeping with the township’s rural lifestyle. That extends to neighbours being more, well, neighbourly in settling disputes.
A much heavier hand should be applied to ongoing problems that can’t be solved by changes. People have a right to expect their quality of life to be undiminished by government decisions. Failure to ensure that demands a way for officials to change course.
In reality, the township is a no-win situation, as everyone feels put out by the process, even in cases where the violation is clear. But that’s no reason not to ensure the process is fair and that actions are only undertaken as appropriate.
Whatever Wellesley councillors decide, nobody is likely to be completely satisfied.