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Neighbors appeal ruling that New Sewickley giant-breed rescue shelter is not a kennel

| Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 11:33 p.m.
Rich Kohl plays with Sophie, a great dane, at his New Brighton home Thursday, January 2, 2014. He and his wife Noreen run the Gentle Ben's Giant Breed Rescue. Heidi Murrin Tribune-Review

The neighbors of a New Sewickley rescue operation dedicated to fostering giant-breed dogs are appealing a Beaver County judge's ruling that the nonprofit is not a kennel operating in a residential area.

Attorney Patrick Livingston filed the appeal on Tuesday in Commonwealth Court on behalf of Bill and Barbara Layton, neighbors of Richard and Noreen Kohl's “Gentle Ben's Giant Breed Dog Rescue,” arguing that Court of Common Pleas Judge John Dohanich was too narrow in his definition of what a kennel was under the township's zoning code.

“This is not an animal-rights case; this is a land-use case,” said Livingston. “As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter to me if the judge defines it as a commercial or a nonprofit. It's a kennel.”

Matt Monsour, the attorney representing the Kohls, said he was confident the lower court's decision would stand up to scrutiny.

Noreen Kohl said she was disappointed the Laytons decided to file the appeal but declined to comment on the Laytons and the relationship between the neighboring families.

“If there's not a favorable decision, hundreds of dogs could potentially be euthanized because we aren't able to care for them,” she said.

The township had ruled that the Kohls were improperly running a commercial kennel in an area zoned for residential use. When the Kohls appealed that ruling to the Court of Common Pleas, Dohanich ruled the dog rescue operation didn't meet the definition of a kennel because it didn't have separate facilities for keeping and feeding the dogs: All 20 to 40 of the canines eat and sleep in the same space the Kohls as the dogs await adoption.

The Laytons, who entered the case between the rescue and the township as “intervenors” because their property was affected, said they were animal lovers and weren't against the idea of a rescue, but questioned the scale of the operation, regulation by the state and the rescue's close proximity to their home and others.

“What they're doing over there is inhumane. You don't keep 30 or more large-breed animals in your home in a pack mentality,” said Bill Layton, 59.

Layton teared up and paced his dining room as he recalled an incident in 2011 when two mastiffs attacked a Great Dane while the Kohls weren't home, leaving him to break up the fight by shouting and banging on the fence.

He said helping the Kohls load the dog into a car for a trip to the emergency vet was the breaking point in their relationship. Prior to the dispute over the rescue and its effect on their property, the Laytons adopted two dogs from Gentle Ben's, including a Newfoundland they still have.

“The Laytons' newfound belief that Gentle Ben's is ‘inhumane' is laughable. They adopted two dogs from Gentle Ben's prior to their personal dispute with the Kohls and sent a thank you card to the Kohls expressing their gratitude for the Kohls' service after the alleged mauling,” Monsour said.

“It was not a ‘mauling' as Mr. Layton stated. It was two of our personal pets who got into a fight,” Kohl wrote in an email. “Both dogs recovered and lived harmoniously for another two years.”

He said the number of dogs is irrelevant under the zoning law; the definition of a “kennel” could only be met if they are kept for profit.

Livingston said briefs outlining each side's legal arguments will be filed once hearing dates have been set.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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