International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog

It’s a Dog’s Life

April 13, 2009
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Posted By: Dwight Merriam, Partner, Robinson & Cole, LLP

Now, there’s a phrase with ambiguous meaning.  If you go way back, 400 years or so, you can find where a “dog’s life” and “go to the dogs” referred to the hard life of dogs kept for hunting, left out in the wet and cold, and fed only scraps.  In the mid-1600s there was a proverb: “It’s a dog’s life, hunger and ease.” Nowadays, the meaning for some people has turned 180 degrees and has come to signify living in a pampered way.

So, too, the tales (tails?) of land use law for this week wag both ways.  First, from the news reports, this one out of Hampstead, North Carolina, comes the story of a Pender County no-kill animal shelter that apparently has been forced to shut down because it is illegal under the current zoning.  The shelter operators claim it is a pre-existing nonconforming use; the county apparently believes it was not open and continuously operating before the zoning was adopted. Click here for the story as aired on the local television station. 

Here is one of the pups about to become homeless.  Worse yet, according to the many protesters who tried to force the county to let the shelter remain open, unadopted dogs from the no-kill shelter will go to the county shelter which does euthanize unwanted animals.


From News 14 Carolina

As of Friday night, the latest reports were that the shelter had closed with half of the remaining 15 dogs having been adopted.  See “Topsail Humane Society closes, looks for new location” by clicking here.

The shelter is at 117 Lewis Street – I can’t tell exactly which building here – but it looks rather residential except for the boat storage, don’t you think?


The second recent story is of a Connecticut decision that I found on line a few days before it will be officially reported.  It’s from the state’s single middle-level appellate court and is about a woman who had 22 shih tzus as pets.  I know more about the case than I wanted to as I had to sit through one painfully-long local hearing on the matter while I awaited my turn for one of those five minute “hello-how-are-you-here’s-our-little-application-glad-you-like-it-thank-you-for-the-approval-good-night” jobs.

The case is Kilburn v. Plan and Zoning Commission of West Hartford (April 14, 2009).  Click here for a copy and be the first in your block to read it.

The case is interesting not because Faith Kilburn was denied a special permit to keep 22 of the little yelpers in her home, but because in deciding on her original application requesting to keep 22 the commission said she could keep three (more than two is a “kennel”) and she had two years to get rid of the rest.  She didn’t challenge the condition and two years later when the condition hadn’t been met (and nothing surrounding the proposed use had changed), she applied to amend the special permit to keep 22 and was again denied.  If you don’t appeal the condition when it is imposed, you can’t complain about it later, said the court.

From a search of and, I believe this is her fenced yard:



Think about it – 22 shih tzus at 10 pounds each is about equal to a heavyweight Saint Bernard.  Hey, there’s an argument – the 22 little guys equal one really big dog.  There is a whole body (so to speak) of agricultural zoning law based on animal units.  This is really fun.  Boulder County has a great section on animals with this wonderful graphic (click here):


I’m thinking, maybe she should have argued:


   22   shih-tzu2  =   1 800px-stbernardinsnow


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This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.