Canine justice: A local rescue shelter is not a commercial kennel

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The cynical expression "no good deed goes unpunished" applies to Noreen and Richard Kohl of New Sewickley, Beaver County.

The Kohls are big dog lovers. In particular, they love really big dogs -- mastiffs, Newfoundlands, Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernards and Great Danes among them. Because of their size, finding rescues for the big breeds is challenging -- think about the cost of food alone.

That never dissuaded the Kohls from trying. For 11 years, they have operated the nonprofit Gentle Ben's Big Breed Rescue at their own, big home -- 4,000 square feet. They save, rehabilitate and find adoptive homes for as many as 50 dogs each year, but the operation now is threatened by a complaint from a neighbor and what looks to be a misapplication of the rural community's zoning ordinance.

The local law says that "the keeping of five or more such animals for economic gain shall be deemed a commercial kennel." Doing so legally in New Sewickley requires at least 5 acres zoned for agricultural purposes; the Kohls have a 2-acre fenced yard. But failure to meet the size requirement hardly seems to be the appropriate clause in the ordinance.

There is no "economic gain" going on here, so the Kohls' argument is that they are not a commercial kennel in any sense of the word. Five lawyers who volunteered to help with their legal fight agree, along with more than 5,000 people who have signed an online petition to support them.

As Post-Gazette Pet Tales columnist Linda Wilson Fuoco reported in Saturday's editions, the Kohls' attorney, Matthew D. Monsour, is planning to appeal the ruling to Beaver County Common Pleas Court.

We hope the lawsuit will wind up in the hands of a judge with the wisdom displayed by Solomon and the love of animals exemplified by St. Francis of Assisi. That way the Kohls can keep doing their good work on behalf of the abused and neglected dogs that can't make it without their help.

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