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Code Violation Forces Rescue to Move Dogs

The president of a Gulfport animal rescue organization is ordered to pay a $750 civil penalty and remove 10 dogs from her home.

Fines Imposed, Dogs Must Go

The director and founder of Limbo Chihuahuas-Chihuahua Rescue received devastating news at a Special Magistrate hearing last week.

Mary Barrett, the organization's president, was ordered to pay a $750 fine and move all of her rescue dogs from her home by Monday, Oct. 15.

Special Master James Thaler found Barrett in violation of city ordinance for operating a kennel for her nonprofit animal rescue organization.

Following Thaler's order, Barrett's attorney, Diane Griffith, said the fine would "bankrupt the organization" and "probably euthanize 14 dogs." Griffith then stated, "Congratulations, is that what you wanted?"

Thaler responded to Griffith's remarks: "You are way out of order in making that statement. You will show me, the city and those dogs respect, to damn those dogs is on you," Thaler said.

Thaler ruled Barrett is operating a nonprofit business out of her home and ordered her to remove the dogs and pay a fine.

"There's nothing on the city or this hearing today about the euthanization of the dogs. They should not have been there in the first place. This is not on anybody's back," Thaler stated.

"I appreciate rescues, I have a rescue. I don't want you all using it as an excuse. You refuse to get a conditional use permit," he said.

Special Master Jim Thaler handed down the order after finding Barrett in violation of City Code 22-4.02, which does not allow businesses in a residential zoning district.

Thaler is allowing Barrett to keep her animals which includes 3 dogs and 2 cats, but said she has to remove all of the current rescue dogs. Barrett says that includes 10 dogs.

Thaler stated that regardless if the organization is a non profit, business is conducted at the address.

Barrett said the fine will hurt the rescue, which is composed of an all-volunteer board of directors; however, she said it will be paid.

"The rescue still goes on, but I have to be able to foster for my own organization. We’re gonna fight it," Barrett said.

Timeline: Animal Hoarding Call Led to Inspection, then Citations

Animal Control Officer Jason Anderson conducted a routine annual inspection on August 7 as part of Barrett's pet dealer permit that she obtained a year ago from Pinellas County. A year ago, Barrett was not a registered non profit in the state of Florida.

Anderson said an officer originally visited Barrett last year after a resident called with concerns that Barrett was hoarding animals. At that time, Anderson said officials explained to Barrett that she had to register as a non profit or get a pet dealer permit.

Two months ago, an officer returned to her home for a routine check up. It was during the inspection that Anderson documented a total of 27 animals, including three dogs and two cats that belonged to Barrett.

Anderson said there were missing pet licenses and the property lacked adequate ventilation, so he cited Barrett with five citations including unsanitary pet conditions for a pet dealership.

At that time Anderson told Barrett that she needed help with her animals, “There’s too many animals, there’s not enough ventilation, we need to get some better treatment for the animals,” he stated on Thursday.

Prior to the Thursday hearing, Barrett's attorney, Diane Griffith, said two of the five citations were dropped because Anderson entered Barrett's home illegally. Griffith said during the visit, Barrett tried to explain to Anderson that she obtained her non profit status in the state, but when Anderson found no record of the organization having 501c3 status with the Federal Government, he informed her that she had to let him inside to check on the animals.

At the hearing, Griffith stated that the statue no longer applied to Barrett because according to county ordinance 14-61, non profits do not require a dealer's permit and therefore are exempt from the dealer's permit annual inspection, which Anderson conducted during his visit.

Anderson told Gulfport Patch that two of the five citations were dismissed as a technicality because Barrett is exempt from the pet dealer citations since she has become a non profit organization.

The three citations pending are "no license citations," according to Anderson. He said many of the animals he documented during his visit were not licensed.

While Anderson testified and explained all of the above information, his sole purpose of addressing the Special Master on Thurday, was to describe what he saw during his visit. Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Earling stated that he had not seen the inside of Barrett's home but Anderson had.

Animal Control Contacts Code Enforcement

The situation was brought to Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Earling on or before August 9 by Pinellas County Animal Control Officer Jason Anderson. Anderson provided Earling with photographs, a video and documentation of his visit.

Earling said Barrett was cited and then contacted several times prior to the Special Magistrate Hearing. Earling called Barrett to conduct an inspection last Wednesday and see if she had come into compliance, but she denied access to her home.

Kennels Not Allowed, Businesses Not Allowed

As a result of the information provided by Pinellas County Animal Services, Barrett was cited for having a kennel in a residentially zoned district. According to Special Master Jim Thaler, kennels are not allowed in an R-2 Zone and neither are businesses.

Diane Griffith, Barrett's attorney, maintained that Limbo Chihuahua - Chihuahua Rescue is not a business and explained that the Code of Ordinances does not specify allowances or restrictions for non-for-profit kennels.

"Gulfport City Ordinance defines a kennel as 3 or more dogs. Everyone agrees, a kennel is defined as 3 or more dogs. So then, you by definition under code, have a kennel," Thaler said.

According to City Code 22-5.04, the following uses and structures are permitted in an R-2 zoning district:

  • Single-family dwelling.
  • Duplex dwelling.
  • Public park for passive recreation use, including picnic areas and playground equipment, not to exceed one and one-half (1.5) acres.

Griffith stated that under the section regarding business fees, a person running a for-profit kennel must pay an annual assessment of $70. (The information is under item #167 in City Code 13-34 in the Charter and Code of Ordinances. ) She stated that the fees did not apply to Barrett, because her organization is a non-profit.

Griffith's argument was that Barrett fostered dogs as part of her rescue organization's efforts to place animals in permanent homes.

Thaler stated that Barrett could have applied for a conditional use permit in order to have a kennel as part of her rescue organization.

“We’ve never been aware that we needed one," Griffith said.

Thaler concluded that business was conducted at Barrett's home address, including dog training and volunteer visits to pick up or drop off dogs. He also noted that Barrett's address was listed as the principal address for the organization on Sunbiz.org. Having a business in an R-2 zoning district is not allowed and having a kennel in that district is also not allowed.

As a result, Thaler found Barrett in violation of city code.

What's Next?

Griffith has told Gulfport Patch that she will file an appeal with the Pinellas County Circuit Court. The appeal would likely freeze Thaler's order to remove the rescue dogs from her home; however, the fine of $750 is due to the City of Gulfport by Thursday.

In the meantime, Barrett said she's always looking for foster homes. Learn more about the organization on the group's Facebook page.

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Marsha Warner October 02, 2012 at 01:09 PM
What s the fine going to solve?
dmbgray October 02, 2012 at 01:51 PM
I agree she had way to many dogs for a residential area. However, she was trying to do good for the animals. My question however, is if the city ordinance defines a kennel as 3 or more dogs and kennels are not allowed in an R-2 zone, then there are a lot of people who are in violation of that ordinance. I think it needs to be revised.
Cherlene Willis October 02, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Hello dmbgray, That is a very good question. Barrett's Attorney Diane Griffith brought that up during the hearing. Basically, here's what I gathered: the city will not go around looking for people who have 3 or more dogs. However, if you have 3 or more dogs and you are breeding animals - you need to pay the business fee of $70 to the city. James Thaler found Barrett guilty of the code violation because she was operating a non profit business out of her home. He said because she does business there, fosters dogs, has volunteers pick up and drop off dogs at her home - he's considering her home the address for the business and a business is not allowed in an R-2 zoning district. Does the city need to take a second look at the kennel definition and regulation? Mary Barrett says yes. She said it was confusing because if that's the definition, then everyone in Gulfport has a kennel. Furthermore, there's nothing in the code that addresses non profit organizations with a kennel. Hope this helps answer your question - Cherlene
Cherlene Willis October 02, 2012 at 02:30 PM
OK! I just spoke with Bruce Earling. He explained that a person who is operating a kennel has 3 or more dogs AND is selling puppies or selling the dogs. They concluded that Barrett was running a kennel because although she claims she doesn't make any profit from adopting out the animals, she does collect funds (adoption fees). Officials say that's why she's considered to be running a kennel. If you live in Gulfport and are not selling animals, you can have as many dogs as you want, according to Earling. If you are selling animals, you need to pay the annual city fee for $70. Hope this helps - Cherlene
Dianne Griffith October 02, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Don't forget, Bruce Earling specifically said in court that a person can have "as many dogs as they want, as long as it's not FOR PROFIT". Megan's organization is NON PROFIT.
Liz Wood October 02, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Limbo Chihuahuas does not sell dogs or puppies. We are a non-profit adoption group for Chihuahuas and mixes. We most certainly do not make a profit and often lose money of getting dogs who would otherwise be euthanized healthy and ready for adoption. This is very different from a person who breeds dogs and sells off the puppies. Limbo Chihuahuas dogs come mostly from high kill shelters. Many of these dogs are older dogs, some have been used for breeding in the past, many have been neglected. I recently adopted a Limbo Chihuahuas dog was turned in to an animal control outside of our county. My adopted dog is very sweet and old, but it is clear that she had been neglected in the past. Unless Limbo Chihuahuas or a similar group rescued her, she would have been euthanized as she was not a highly adoptable dog. Gulfport needs to have different regulations for rescue groups than for breeders. Rescue groups do not sell animals and should not be treated as animal sellers. People who foster dogs for rescues are also not in the dog selling business. There is a big difference between rescues and breeders who breed for profit.
Lynda October 02, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Great point, Liz!!! This is the time to push for codes and regulations designed for non-profit rescue groups in Gulfport. Non-Profit rescue groups are an important part of a "no-kill' strategy for counties since they often focus on animals who need special homes.
Trace Taylor October 02, 2012 at 07:06 PM
I'll contribute what little I can spare toward paying the fine with you. Will anyone else pitch in with me?
Trace Taylor October 02, 2012 at 07:08 PM
I am grateful for the service you are trying to do! very grateful! keep doing it. Don't give up.
Trace Taylor October 02, 2012 at 07:09 PM
As I understood it, there was no selling of puppies or dogs. So then this doesn't apply to her and she has been wrongly acused and judged. Is that correct?
Trace Taylor October 02, 2012 at 07:12 PM
So then why are they persecuting and prosecuting her. Out of all the people I have met who have nothing but bar tabs and excuses, they go after a woman trying to help old abandoned dogs find some peace in their last years of life. Where's the justice. I'll contribute what little I can spare towards the fine. Will anyone pitch in with me?
Liz Wood October 02, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Thank you Trace and anyone else for contributing to the fine. Like any other rescue, we always need funds. Our mailing address is Limbo Chihuahuas, PO Box 5061, Gulfport, 33737. Again, like all other rescue groups, we always need fosters for our dogs, and we are grateful for all our fosters who provide a wonderful service while our dogs are waiting for their "furever" homes.
Lynda October 02, 2012 at 08:21 PM
I am happy to contribute. Is there a web site? Is there a PO Box? It is a good idea to have mail delivered to a PO Box or an address different from the main foster location because there are some people who can be dangerous.
Lynda October 02, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Thanks, Liz. Your comment wasn't there when I made mine. Very happy you are using a PO. Box; it is much safer. Good luck with finding a workable solution to keep rescuing; lots of people will support your push for reasonable code changes.
Dawn Ladd October 02, 2012 at 11:48 PM
SHE IS NOT SELLING DOGS! These are ADOPTION FEES designed to cover medical costs and to assure that dogs aren't used for unsavory purposes. Profit??? You must be joking! There is no profit in animal rescue. Do you see Ms. Barrett driving a lexus and getting spa treatments? I proudly donate to Megan's group regularly and will continue to do so KNOWING that the donations I make are going to benefit the dogs. Seriously, quit harrassing this group. It is despicable.
mtober October 03, 2012 at 02:20 AM
I know Ms. Barrett has great intentios and I admire her for what she does. However, I can't help but ask, why has she not applied for a "special use" permit? Also, let's cut the Animal Control people a little slack. We were all outraged by the way they didn't respond to the concerns about Dreamer and now we are criticizing one of their officers for being concerned about these animals' welfare. (BTW I think if the Gulfport Vet had stated there was abuse there may have been a different outcome for Dreamer) Honestly, I have to wonder how you can have 27 animals in an 850 sq. ft house and provide proper care. As to Magistrate Thaler, his job is to interpret the law and determine whether or not it was violated. He may not like what is happeneing either, but his decisions can't be based on "what' he likes or doesn't like. I have heard nothing but high praise for Mr. Thaler as an attorney and Gulfport resident, including from our own Vice Mayor Henderson. Frankly, I am appalled by the comments made to Mr. Thaler by Ms. Barrett's attorney--they were totally out of line. Having said all this, I wish all parties the best in this matter and hope it is resolved responsibly and in the best interest of the animals.
Dawn Ladd October 03, 2012 at 04:26 AM
We all want this to be resloved responsibly but for that to happen, no dogs would be killed. While 27 animals sounds like a lot in a small home, remember, these are Chihuahuas, diminutive little dogs, not Great Danes. Yes, Magistrate Thaler is tasked with interpreting the law but where is the system of checks and balances in this case? Of concern to me is that Magistrate Thaler's interpretation of "selling" dogs. A clarification is needed. Adoption fees aka donations are established to cover veterinary expenses, food and shelter and to prevent potential harm to the dogs by unscrupulous types that pose as adopters. Rescuers know what this means. Breeding for profit is at the opposite end of the spectrum and it is alarming that this distinction is not obvious. VERY alarming. To accuse Ms. Barret of selling dogs is outrageous and defamatory. I have seen nor heard any proof to support this. Since this case really hinges on that interpretation, someone needs to do their homework. I wish I could believe that this animal control officer was concerned for the animal's welfare but if he was--the last thing he would want to see happen, is for these innocent dogs to be at risk for being killed. Let's call it what it is. Euthanasia is simply a euphemism. This officer could have helped work to find a solution. If there is no place for these dogs to go, they will be killed. Period. You can't put that on Ms. Barrett. So who will be responsible for their deaths?
Mary M. Barrett October 03, 2012 at 05:16 AM
Margaret - Love ya - appreciate your comments however misdirected. I volunteer for an organization - my home is not that organization. That is it in a nutshell. I am sorry but folks that foster dogs for org. ,should not have to get special permits especially when Bruce said himself that you can have as many dogs as you want just not selling for profit. I'm sorry isn't that the definition of not for profit? Mr. Thaler interpreted the law and predetermined the outcome before the hearing - I watched them discuss their 'evidence' prior to the hearing. Of course he then admitted that. That is not honest and respectable. Never mind that animal control should have never have been there - off topic - untruthful -Sorry Yes - the lawyer was out of line but I am sorry to say - so was Mr. Thaler- for above in particular. Cut animal control slack? This is the second time animal control has bullied and threatened me. Yes - last year Mr Anderson while in training - was told to go to the van in front of me because of his attitude. He was shamed in front of me but not before his trainer and he asked me to rat out all the other rescue groups that were operating without 501c3 in their homes so they could take care of them too- under their thumbs so to speak. Then officers began coming out just randomly fining me for things I did not know existed.Believe me - biggest mistake I ever made was to try and work with animal control.- awful organization. No animal care was not his concern.-
MargoR October 03, 2012 at 11:27 AM
She's not "selling" dogs. Adoption fees barely cover the vet expenses (where the bulk of the money goes) and food.
MargoR October 03, 2012 at 11:29 AM
She's NOT selling animals. The bulk of the adoption fees go to vet care first, and the balance on food/supplies.
Trace Taylor October 03, 2012 at 05:52 PM
What I want to know is what is the personal vendetta going on here. Why does the abolishment of a little dog rescue make these "appointed servants of the people" jump for joy. How cruel are these people. Certainly not "servants of the people" behavior. At the very least they could have behaved with some decorum and appreciate the gravity of their persecution. Why do they hate this woman and her rescue of sweet little old dogs, who without her would have been killed. What are they getting from this besides glee and $750 dollars? What do they have against someone trying to do a little good in this screwed up, corrupt, and mostly, unjust world. Where are their hearts because it's looking like they have none. If this is the kind of justice and public service we can expect from these individuals in these offices, then I opt out of them being public servants. Can anyone please name all the officials at every level who were party to this tax-payer-dollar-spent trumped up B.S. I want to remember their names in case I see them on any ballots in the future. I'll be sending out my contribution towards the fine, the rescue, and the appeal ASAP. I encourage everyone who can, even a few dollars helps, to do the same. and thank you for everyone who has.
Trace Taylor October 03, 2012 at 05:52 PM
CUT THE ANIMAL CONTROL PEOPLE A LITTLE SLACK: Why is animal control, who had nothing to say about the condition and bad health of Captain Jay's dog, all of the sudden, wanting to look like they care when, by their actions on both counts, they do not.
Trace Taylor October 03, 2012 at 06:32 PM
"If the Gulfport Vet had stated.................." Those of us closer to the situation, saw dreamer and recognized a sick, neglected dog when we saw it. You could have been blind. Tactile and olfactory senses would have told the story. None of the legal avenues would help. It's why we finally resorted to offering Jay money for the dog. Did animal control even bother to check dreamer or his situation aboard the boat for themselves and if they did, did they not see a problem with the dog's condition or home environment, cause lots of people did. Not to rehash but to rather exemplify, Dreamer lived in piss and crap for how many weeks on the beach, sick with infection and peeing bloody-brown urine. After many of us tried the legal avenues of getting help for the dog, it was left to it's fate and in Jay's hands and he wasn't a nonprof trying to save animals from horrible situations. He was just a very bad pet owner. So, let's cut the dogs and the rescuers some slack! I'm sorry magistrate and animal control but based on the facts at hand as I have read them, this is no victory. It's just shameful.
Dianne Griffith October 03, 2012 at 07:03 PM
UPDATE: We filed an emergency motion with the City of Gulfport today asking it to put a hold on the fines and the removal of the dogs until our appeal can be heard, and the City AGREED! Thank you City of Gulfport!!!!
Paul Ray October 03, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Awesome, thanks Gulfport!
Cherlene Willis October 04, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Thank you Dianne for posting an update! Readers are keeping an eye on this case. I greatly appreciate any updates as this continues. - Cherlene
Trace Taylor October 04, 2012 at 05:20 AM
Wonderful!!! Just Wonderful but I am still sending my monitary contribution for your rescue efforts. Wonderful!
Inrchld October 07, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Yes, it helps very much and thank you for posting it. Adoption fees really should be coined donations or some other way as they truly, barely defray the extreme cost of medical expenses incurred by foster animals. If one looked at a rescue's books they would see the vast vet bill these * fees * could never possibly cover. Rescues depend on well-defined donations to make it. They struggle so much the IRS doesn't cannonize them a bona fide 501-3c till they proudly hit the 5 year mark as so many sink. It's tough to be immaculate with a house full of fosters but the video didn't display the atrocities you'd see in a mill. Youtube puppy mills for comparison. Dogs in utter filth with their jaws falling off from complete dental neglect and much, much worse. Gulfport is so rescue proud and noted for the love of our pets. I'm saddened and dismayed. Hard to look at the lovely pics of dogs painted on our buildings and read this argument. Makes these pics seem a facade :(
Inrchld October 07, 2012 at 06:24 AM
You can count on my pledge. If our town is going to close for the day for a large multi rescue event they should know they are supporting groups performing the same scenarios they condemn.
Inrchld October 07, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Me too. Hope to see this resolved and the Gulfport back in Gulfport real soon.

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