Neighbors are unhappy about a dog training facility that opened in April near their homes.
Town zoning regulations allow the facility, Integrity K9 Training, which specializes in training canines to compete in a sport called “IPO.”
The owners are up to date on licenses and are members of professional organizations.
However, town officials who approved the plan should have considered the nature of the facility, said Meghan Glomb, of 58 Dunn Hill Road. “It’s not an appropriate place for that business,” she said July 6.
Integrity operated in a Wallingford warehouse for about a year and moved to Durham in late March.
Glomb said one day in April, she heard incessant barking behind her house that continued all month.
Integrity had moved onto 361 Wallingford Road, a property bordering her house.
“That’s how we were alerted that there was something going on,” Glomb said.
Glomb said she complained to town Animal Control Officer April Leiler.
Leiler said Monday she visited the property in April and found several dogs, which surprised her.
“I knew that property had sold, but I wasn’t aware that it had been sold to someone with lots and lots of dogs,” she said.
Integrity owner Samantha Smith and trainer David Caruso live on the 7.65-acre property, which boasts a raised ranch house, pool, gazebo and outbuilding they’ve turned into an indoor training area.
Nearly an acre of land is lined with 6-foot-high chain link fencing for outdoor training. Ten outdoor kennels hold one dog each.
Smith said she has about 20 dogs on the property currently, both German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
“Do they bark? Absolutely,” Smith said. “Do they bark for extended periods of time? No they don’t … We have to teach them to bark for the sport aspect.”
IPO stands for Internationale Prüfungsordnung, German for international trial rules.
Three phases of the sport are obedience, tracking and protection.
“I don’t want my dogs barking for a long period of time,” Smith said. “They don’t need to drain their energy that way and I don’t want them learning bad behaviors.”
Sport and service
IPO has local, regional, national and worldwide trials. Dogs of Smith’s have competed nationally.
“These dogs are loyal, they’re determined,” Smith said. “It is pretty incredible to watch what they do.”
Obedience trials, Caruso said, are 80 percent of IPO testing, including heeling, retrieving and jumping.
They plan to use the town open spaces and hay fields to practice tracking.
“Come trial time, that’s what you usually track on,” Caruso said. “Nine out of 10 times, it’s hay fields.”
Protection includes defense and attacking components.
“That bite component is there, but obviously it’s not willy-nilly” Smith said. Dog trainers protect themselves with bite sleeves made of jute.
Smith said she’s beginning a breeding program.
“We keep most of the puppies in order to train them” for sport, police or service dog work, Smith said.
“It’s not just about making money or fulfilling even just a passion,” Smith said. “It’s also about trying to give back in different ways.”
Caruso said a dog they trained now works for a police department in a New Mexico town along the border.
“When you actually see them work, it feels good,” Caruso said.
Number of dogs
Smith is a member of International Association of Canine Professionals. She and Caruso are members of United Schutzhund Clubs of America and American Working Malinois Association.
All dogs wear remote collars, Smith said, and signs around the property warn trespassers.
Integrity is not an open boarding facility, Smith said, and the only dogs that stay are there for training.
When not training, the dogs rotate through the kennels, swim in the pool, play (though not so much together because unlike pets, they aren’t spayed or neutered) and go out on walks.
“They’re pretty easy-going overall, which is nice,” Smith said.
Glomb said she objects to the location of Smith’s business because it’a commercial use in a residential area.
However, town zoning regulations do permit agricultural use on the property.
Geoff Colegrove, town zoning enforcement officer, said agriculture, by nature, is a business and therefore inherently commercial.
Even so, it’s not a traditional agricultural use, Glomb said.
“That business, we do not feel fits into agriculture at all,” she said, adding she feels the use falls under home occupation zoning regulations, which require neighbor notification.
“We mis-stepped majorly and the town just doesn’t seem to care,” she said.
Smith’s site plan review application, dated March 27, states she applied for a "commercial kennel/training facility."
Because kennels are a permitted right, Colegrove said, the application did not go before the Planning and Zoning Commission, and there was no public hearing or published notice.
A legal opinion prepared by town zoning attorney Steven Byrne, which was requested by the town and issued recently, states “some level of dog training” is an allowed use on the property.
“Whether or not the scope and intensity of training … exceeds the training commonly associated with commercial kennels requires further investigation,” Byrne wrote.
Noise and safety
Neighbors are unsatisfied with the town’s response to noise and safety concerns, Glomb said.
Under Durham town code, barking dogs are a public nuisance, 24 hours a day.
“The noise is obnoxious,” Glomb said. “It got better after the neighbors got louder and more complaints went to the town.”
The next step would be to figure out a way to empirically measure noise coming from the property, Colegrove said.
Glomb said she’d be satisfied if dogs can stay quiet and in the fenced-in area, or if the facility moved.
“My kids haven’t been out in the yard once to play since this all started,” Glomb said. “I have a 3-year-old that’s 25 pounds. It’s a real, serious safety concern.”
While demonstrating obedience training with Inferno, a 3-year-old female Belgian Malinois, the dog would retrieve a toy and then jump onto Smith, hugging her front legs around Smith’s waist.
“This is how it usually ends up,” Smith said, petting the dog’s back. “She’s one of the dogs that can do no wrong.”