Public resistance has grown against a proposed kennel north of Hope that would breed up to 100 small dogs a year, but a key objection has been addressed as the matter comes up for consideration.

Aaron and Lena Oberholtzer are seeking conditional-use approval to operate the kennel on 55 acres located in the northeast corner of the intersection of County Road 950N and 500E in Flatrock Township.

The couple’s request to breed small dogs, such as Yorkies and Bichons, in the Agriculture: Preferred district will be considered Monday by the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals.

Due to an expected large attendance, Monday’s 7 p.m. meeting has been moved to the lower level conference room at the Columbus Municipal Airport’s terminal building, 4770 Ray Boll Boulevard.

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When the proposed kennel was first brought up during a Nov. 27 meeting, the issue of dog waste was a major topic of discussion.

The potential for a public health hazard from dog waste was illustrated by an alert issued in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Kathleen Summers of the U.S. Humane Society.

As of Dec. 12, 2017, 97 illnesses in 17 states were linked to a laboratory-confirmed bacterial infection that appears to have originated from contact with puppies sold through a pet store chain, the agency reported.

While opponents to the Hope area proposed kennel such as Chad Miller had intended to use that information in testimony Monday, amendments recently filed by planning staff will require him to change his strategy, Miller said.

Instead of allowing droppings to be spread on agricultural fields, the Oberholtzers will have to agree to bag the waste and place it in trash containers as a condition for BZA approval, assistant city/county planner Melissa Begley said Friday.

“That does take away from our original arguments,” said Miller, who lives about 500 yards east of the proposed kennel in rural Hope.

But Miller said he intends to still argue the kennel could attract disease-carrying mosquitoes, lower neighboring property values and create a noise pollution problem.

Staffing concern

Summers, who specializes in these types of kennels nationwide, said she is most concerned the local couple isn’t planning on hiring additional help.

Two people taking care of more than 100 dogs is going to be problematic, she said.

Opponents such as Miller are calling the proposed kennel a “puppy mill,” a term that carries negative connotations in the minds of many animal lovers.

Such kennels often are characterized as places where purebred dogs are bred, with no regard for their welfare, in overcrowded, unsanitary cages solely for profit.

There’s also a wide perception that high-priced animals obtained from puppy mills often have illnesses or congenital defects that aren’t discovered until after they are adopted.

“Everybody had got a wrong picture on what we want to do,” Aaron Oberholtzer said. “Although we are applying to have up to 100 animals, we probably won’t have that many dogs.”

The kennel would have both heating and air conditioning, as well as outdoor dog runs and exercise areas, said Oberholtzer, who moved with his wife to the Hope area last August from Washington County, Indiana.

Government standards

The couple plans to strictly follow regulations regarding kennel operations established by the state of Indiana and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.

“From the daily cleaning out of kennels and the size of the pens, to even making sure there is no tarter on the teeth, we will go by whatever they require,” Aaron Oberholtzer said.

But those government requirements are outdated, Columbus Animal Rescue Effort past president Lia Elliot said.

For example, current regulations still allow dangerous wire crates and don’t require continuous water be provided to the animals, she said.

“Most people would be horrified if they knew what goes on that would not trigger any legal penalty,” Elliot said.

Kennel history

Lena Oberholtzer is licensed as a dog breeder in Fredricksburg, about 20 miles southwest of Salem, in Washington County, according to USDA records. Her license is scheduled to expire at the end of July.

Opponents have written critical comments on the Oberholtzers’ operations in Washington County using social media, but Bartholomew County Humane Society shelter manager Jane Irwin said she has not heard anything to indicate the Oberholtzers might treat the animals cruelly.

Opponents also have been attempting to research a kennel operation earlier operated by the couple in Iowa, according to social media posts.

Aaron Oberholtzer declined to provide details on the couples’s history with managing kennels.

Setting precedent

“But even if this couple does a good job, any approval (by the Board of Zoning Appeals) will set a precedent,” Irwin said. “Do we really want to get something like this started here in Bartholomew County? We’re a progressive community — and this is moving backwards.”

If the BZA gives the go-ahead, it will still take another three to four months before the facility could be constructed and begin operation, Aaron Oberholtzer said.

If approved, the kennel would not be open to the general public as a walk-in operation, he said.

When asked what separates puppy mills from trustworthy dog-breeding operations, Irwin said reputable breeders only seek enough money to cover expenses, rather than try to make a living from the kennel operation.

Responsible kennel operators also maintain a breeding plan that stresses health, temperament and socialization, Summers said.

If you go

What:  The Bartholomew County Board of Zoning appeals will consider giving Aaron and Lena Oberholtzer a conditional-use permit to operate a kennel on 55 acres located in the northeast corner of the intersection of County Road 950 North and 500 East in Flatrock Township.

When:  7 p.m. Monday.

Where: Lower level conference room at the Columbus Municipal Airport’s terminal building, 4770 Ray Boll Boulevard.

Kennel proposed for 100 dogs

A Hope area couple, Aaron and Lena Oberholtzer, are seeking conditional-use approval to operate a kennel in an Agriculture: Preferred zoning district on a 55-acre property they own at 9173 E. County Road 950N in northeastern Bartholomew County. The couple, who said in their application that they would breed up to 100 small dogs, will appear before the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals at 7 p.m. Monday.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.