Shelby TownshipFebruary 19, 2014
Township to take founder of foster-based animal rescue to court
By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer
Detroit Animal Welfare Group volunteer Janet Musilli, of Shelby Township, shows Tina to Jim Thomas, of Macomb Township, who came to the Utica PetsMart Feb. 9 to gather information about fostering and adoption.
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Kelley LaBonty, founder of Detroit Animal Welfare Group, said she never received a single complaint until last summer, when a neighbor complained about her having seven dogs.
Township Attorney Rob Huth said the neighbor contacted the township through the subdivision’s homeowners association president and raised the concern about a large number of dogs and a possible safety issue because there are children in the neighborhood.
“The trial date is scheduled for March,” Huth said. “The township’s goal has been to reach a resolution that satisfies the neighbors, as well as the owner of the rescue operation.”
LaBonty said the township filed a criminal lawsuit against her with two counts: first, running a rescue in a residential zone and having multiple dogs; second, creating a nuisance by not removing dogs.
LaBonty, who has fostered dogs through other organizations, such as the Michigan Humane Society, for more than 16 years, said she met with the township code enforcement officer in 2011 before launching her foster-based, nonprofit rescue and that the only stipulations were that her animals were properly cared for, stayed on her property and did not violate the noise ordinance.
“They issued us a letter telling us to remove all but our four personal dogs, but that’s based on what?” she said. “Since then, Shelby has supposedly changed to a two-dog limit.”
Planning Director Glen Wynn refrained from commenting about the zoning ordinance, saying that it is inappropriate to respond to any questions while in litigation.
LaBonty said both she and her husband work full-time and hire someone to come let the dogs out and pick up their droppings. She added that they would also be willing to move, despite putting a lot of money into their current residence.
“I understand if my house was a mess, but we live in a very nice neighborhood. My house is up for sale for $475,000 — it’s not a dump. My dogs have a very good environment and are contained and quiet,” she said. “I don’t know why this should be an issue if only one neighbor complained in 16 years.”
Her bottom line is that she will not part with her foster dogs, as they would otherwise be euthanized. She said shelters do not provide the type of care her animals need, and that is why the rescue started.
“At that time (I got the letter), I had two huskies with epilepsy, one dog with behavioral issues, one elderly dog and another with mange,” LaBonty said.
LaBonty is one of 80 volunteers with Detroit Animal Welfare Group, who foster animals and try to find them homes on the weekends at places like the Utica PetSmart from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sundays.
“In Macomb and Shelby Township, we have saved over 500 (animals) now,” LaBonty said.
Detroit Animal Welfare Group volunteer Sharon May said the organization has found homes for dogs, cats, chickens, horses, roosters, pigs, hamsters and pigeons.
“This is a big thing that could set a precedent for other rescues, so we’re very concerned about all the (foster-based) animal rescues. … We give (the animals) food, water, shelter, love, and try to get them homes,” LaBonty said. “To me, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars. What is criminal is people who abuse and neglect dogs.”