PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Pinellas County leaders voted against a variance Wednesday that would have allowed a Palm Harbor pet rescue to stay open in a residential neighborhood.
Two sisters who own Canine estates at 2825 Pine Hill Road, near the intersection of Belcher and Alderman Roads, now have two choices: move or close.
The sisters take care of 25 small dogs at a time inside a residential home on a wooded 1.7 acre lot.
"Canine estates" takes in elderly and disabled dogs and pets belonging to people who pass away or are put into hospice.
Neighbors complained to county leaders about barking and other issues and Pinellas County leaders determined that the sisters, Jayne Sidwell and Sybil Freeman, needed a kennel license in order to stay open. County leaders voted unanimously against granting that license Wednesday saying they support the operation but the location is not a good fit.
“It’s terribly upsetting because we’ve had some of these dogs for 7-8 years, there’s no place for them to go,” Sidwell explained with a sigh. "What people don't realize is we don't have the money to move. I guess that's the end to Canine Estates."
"I'm pretty heartbroken," Freeman added while brushing back tears.
The sisters tell ABC Action News they funded most of the operations out of their own pockets and after paying for attorney fees, they don't have enough money to relocate.
Canine Estates has been operating out of the Pine Hill Road location for nearly 8 years. The sisters say they've adopted out over 700 dogs and have cared for several others with disabilities who couldn't be placed with families.
Canine Estates was hoping to get a type 2 variance to keep their rescue open, which would have required moving their fence to be further away from nearby neighbors.
The sisters worry if they close their doors, who will take in dogs on the euthanization list and those coming to them from Suncoast Hospice? “It’s just very upsetting, very upsetting to us," Sidwell said with a sigh.
“This mission means everything to us. Even though I’m over retirement age, this is my life,” Freeman added.
Blake Lyon, Pinellas County's Director of Building and Development, says the property where Canine Estates is located is a residentially-zoned property and in order to provide pet care, the Type 2 exception is needed.
“Unfortunately, they opened up the facility before they started that process,” Lyon explained.
More than 100 people attended the hearing in support of Canine Estates. Several neighbors also attended Wednesday's meeting.
Andi Brown, who lives right next door to the animal rescue, believes county leaders made the right decision. "I love dogs. I'm a proponent of dog rescues but not in my back yard, in a residential community," she explained. "People are coming and going all the time. We hear loud noises and the sound of barking. It really takes a toll on all of us."
Brown told county leaders she was forced to spend $30,000 on soundproof doors and windows to combat the noise of barking dogs.
Pinellas County leaders did not set a date when Sidwell and Freeman will have to comply, but county leaders did offer to help re-home the dogs if needed. Public Information Specialist Tony Fabrizio says the county will not go out and seize any dogs from Canine Estates, elaborating that the case was "strictly limited to a zoning item, not an animal welfare issue."