Court allows Beaver County shelter for big dogs to continue operating

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A court ruling gives 20 very large dogs the right to continue living at Gentle Ben's Giant Breed Rescue in New Sewickley, Beaver County, where they will be cared for until permanent homes can be found.

On New Year's Eve, Noreen and Richard Kohl learned of the decision from Beaver County Common Pleas Court. The fate of the dogs and their 501c(3) rescue organization had been in limbo since September 2012, when Barbara Layton, a neighbor in the rural township, complained about noise and safety issues.

For nearly 12 years the Kohls have been saving abused, abandoned and neglected dogs from being euthanized. They take in mastiffs and other large breeds of dogs -- some weighing as much as 200 pounds -- from shelters and organizations that do not have enough room to care for them. They generally have about 20 big dogs in their care, living not in kennels but in the house with the Kohls. About 30 to 50 dogs are adopted into new homes each year.

After Mrs. Layton complained, the Sewickley Township Zoning Hearing Board held hearings and ruled last spring that Gentle Ben's was a commercial kennel and could not continue to operate on the couple's 2-acre property, which is zoned residential.

At that point Pittsburgh attorney Matthew D. Monsour took the case pro bono, filing an appeal against the zoning board and William and Barbara Layton, listed as "intervenors" in court documents.

The ruling has significance beyond the rescue operated by the Kohls.

"This affirms the right of nonprofit entities to operate in non-commercial areas," Mr. Monsour said. "This is especially important for private individuals doing good deeds from their homes. The court's opinion supports their right to use their land for these beneficial and not-for-profit purposes."

"The court concludes that the definition of kennel in the zoning ordinance is not intended to apply to a single-family dwelling in which rescued dogs are maintained until adopted," says the 23-page ruling by the court. Gentle Ben's is not a commercial kennel because the Kohl's "do not derive economic gain" and "neither the zoning ordinance nor any other township ordinance limits the number of dogs that a property owner is permitted."

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-722-0087.

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