County Canine Breeders Tell Supervisors “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie!”

Clarke County dogs are back in the news.  Proposed changes to Clarke County’s zoning requirement for professional dog breeders and kennels is fueling concerns with local canine keepers that the county’s liberal position on dog-businesses may be coming to an end. Dog enthusiasts at yesterday’s meeting promised to fight the proposed changes at the August 17th public hearing and future repercussions if the measure passes.

Clarke County currently has some of the most lenient zoning laws in the area for governing commercial dog breeders and kennels. The county currently requires a 175-foot “set back” from property lines for commercial dog operations and a special use permit for breeders and kennels only when the number of dogs housed on a property exceeds 20 animals.

The proposed changes under consideration by the Board of Supervisors will lower the special use permit requirement to ten dogs and increase the property line set back requirement to 200 feet. The proposed changes apply only to commercial operations.

A Welsh Springer Spaniel, one of approximately 800 show dogs featured at last week's Shawnee Kennel Club dog show held in Berryville, Virginia - Photo Edward Leonard

Even if the proposed changes are approved, Clarke County will still offer the some of the area’s most lenient oversight for dog operations. According to Clarke County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston, Loudoun County requires a special use permit for five dogs or more while Warren County sets the threshold at six animals.

While the proposed changes would tighten restrictions on commercial breeders and kennels, Clarke County has no restrictions on the number of dogs that can be kept for non-breeding purposes.

“These changes just do not make sense to me” said Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell). “ If a person can have 100 dogs as pets on a half-acre lot why are we setting a different standard for breeders?”

The proposed zoning changes being considered are the result of months of sub-committee work by the Clarke County Planning commission and staff. Although the sub-committee membership included several Clarke County dog breeders and a representative from the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, it appears that an acceptable compromise on zoning requirements could not be reached and that the dog enthusiasts are now entrenched against any additional oversight.

“Our kennel club doesn’t understand why this has come up at all” Shawnee Kennel Club president Sharon House told the Supervisors. “Our kennel club members are not aware of a “puppy mill” anywhere in Clarke County.”

House then told the Supervisors that passages of the proposed changes will cause the Shawnee Kennel Club to reconsider whether it will continue to hold its annual dog show at the Clarke County Fairgrounds.

“We like to have our dog shows at the Clarke County Fairgrounds. It’s a nice facility and the people are nice.  But if this change goes forward we are going to consider clustering our dog shows with other shows elsewhere” House said.

The Shawnee Kennel Club dog show was held in Berryville last weekend. The three-day event attracts hundreds of dog enthusiasts to Clarke County and is a welcome source of income to area restaurants and businesses.

Alice Harrington, an Arlington resident and Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders representative, participated as a member of the Planning Commission sub-committee. Harrington has asked questioned the need for the special use permit changes repeatedly throughout the review process and continued her questioning the measure with the Board of Supervisors yesterday.