Cobden – A standing-room only crowd filled the Whitewater Region Township council chamber last Wednesday to learn more about an amendment to a zoning by-law to allow for the operation of a dog kennel within the Rural (RU) Zone.

At the conclusion of the sometimes emotional one-hour plus discussion, council said information received will be reviewed by staff who will present a report at the next council meeting if it is completed by then.

Over the last few years, it has been alleged a dog kennel, which has been referred to by several opponents as an illegal puppy mill, has operated on Foresters Falls Road. The township has received several complaints and copies of social media posts that have accused the owner, Tim Hubert, of mistreatment of dogs and operating without a certified dog kennel licence.

Among the allegations, none which have been proven or for which he has been charged, are no running water or electricity, lack of professional Canadian Kennel guidelines or policies in place, unsanitary conditions resulting in the puppies contracting serious diseases and placing too many dogs in a small confined area to wallow in their own urine and feces.

It is also alleged he informed some unsatisfied customers he would notify police of the theft of puppies by those customers or that he threatened them with legal action. Mr. Hubert is alleged to have taken some form of action when they returned seeking financial compensation for thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.

Some former customers also allege the puppies were incapacitated with serious medical issues within weeks of taking a dog home from his kennel. Some also claimed the dogs were near death and informed by veterinarians they were sick at the time of sale.

Public Input Outlined

Mayor Neil Nicholson opened the meeting by noting Councillor Chris Olmstead recused himself from the chambers due to a potential conflict of interest.

He then asked CAO Ivan Burton to provide an overview of the application. He said the two basic parts of the amendment sought permission to operate a licensed dog kennel and permission to change the boundaries of the zoning which would result in the kennel being moved closer to nearby residents.

“At the time of the writing of this report we had 124 comments; there was a petition with 109 signatures, and 20 general comments,” Mr. Burton said. “Animal welfare was one of the main points.”

Other concerns raised were living conditions, property values and claims the current dog operation is illegal. He said the municipality has received significant comments from the public in relation to the zoning by-law amendments to permit kennels.

“We do have with us tonight Mr. McBain (Municipal Law Enforcement Services),” he continued. “Jim has brought forth better general changes to the animal control by-law. As well, there are no recommendations from the staff here.”

Mayor Neil Nicholson

Mayor Reminds Visitors of Decorum

Sensing the high level of emotion in the room, and with Mr. Hubert in attendance and sitting next to some in the gallery who levelled allegations against him, Mayor Nicholson took a moment to remind everyone of the public meeting process.

“I want to stress it is important to stick to the facts regarding the re-zoning request,” he said. “Based on the volume and nature of some of the emails we saw, some people are opposed and some are very emotional about this issue.

“People who do wish to speak, you are being recorded; keep a level of decorum, keep your points factual. We welcome all points of view, but we ask that…that you act…let’s pretend there are kids in the audience.”

Speakers Oppose Zoning Request

Margaret Maloney of Foresters Falls, the original owner of River Run Rafting which was established in 1980, spoke of the economic impact of the kennel on housing.

“I’ve noticed a lot of people who are from away and are building homes in the area,” she said. “I am concerned that the kennel would detract from local property values and provide health and safety concerns.”

In what would be a familiar theme throughout the evening, she was the first to question council’s logic and mindset when considering this application.

“Why would anyone want to willingly live near a puppy mill or a kennel?” she asked as she turned towards the council table. “Would anyone here want that for themselves? There are currently a number of unlicensed kennels operating in Whitewater Region. This application, if approved, would legitimize those findings and be in the Official Plan.”

Dave Alexander of Forester’s Falls Road said he strongly opposed this amendment and spent much of his time addressing the issue of zoning in regards to the lack of proper utilities, medical care for the dogs, excessive noise caused by dogs barking through the evening and the chance of communicable diseases due to poor sanitary care.

“We cannot sleep at night with our windows open in warmer months without being woken up by the dogs barking and we cannot enjoy the outdoor nature on our porch without listening to these dogs,” he said. “Has it been inspected on an annual basis to make sure it is operating as required by the by-law? I doubt it because he has never applied to the township to operate a kennel.”

He said the operation has resulted in various police visits to the site.

“We are aware of at least four instances where up to four police cars attended the property. The police would not tell us the reason for being present,” he continued. “This issue was brought to the attention of council in July, and no direct action has been taken up until now. It appears that the action taken by the council is to try to bring the offender into compliance before having the offender adhere to the by-laws.”

Comments Draw Standing Ovation

Lisa Cundal of Petawawa said she worked in dog rescue and animal advocacy and she opposed the amendment due to concerns for the care and health of the dogs. Similar to the first speaker, she aimed some of her criticism towards council itself.

“This mill has been on our radar for a long time.” she said. “This mill had been brought to the attention of this council many times. It has been reported to the OPP  (Ontario Provincial Police) and PAWS (People’s Animal Welfare Society) many times since it opened in 2019 and at its previous location. Witness statement and pictures of the condition of the dogs taken by someone who was there have been submitted many times to this council, to the OPP and nothing has been done.”

She said Whitewater Region is gaining a reputation as a safe haven for puppy mills.

“The reputation Whitewater Region has developed within the puppy mill industry is that this is the place to be,” she said. “I would love for council to explain at what point they developed the ability to provide the insight and oversight of a kennel and protecting the animals, when it has not happened to this point despite the council’s awareness of this situation.

“I think that it’s shameful that council would accept or want that instead of wanting to be the municipality that is setting the bar so high that the rest of the province will follow,” she added.

She ended by explaining why she appeared as a speaker.

“I’ve been trying to shut the Huberts down for 20 years,” she said. “In my dog rescue, I clean up the mess. I rescue the dogs. I take care of their medical needs. I try to rehome them. To think this tiny town is competing with southern Ontario for the puppy mill industry is disgraceful. Shut it down.”

As she returned to her seat, most of the gallery stood and gave her a standing ovation.

Lynn Olsheskie of Ottawa said she took the pictures of the kennel that were submitted to council last year.

“When I went to pick up the dog, he offered to give me a single mom discount,” she said holding back tears. “Shortly after I took the dog home I had to take him to the vet and I received a bill for $3,500.

“The condition of this place was disgusting and all he could talk about was how much money he made off the dogs. Please do not give it (approved application) to him.  This is not a business.”

Tim Hubert

Applicant Responds To Criticisms

Mr. Hubert provided an overview of his German family history and said his family has considered themselves part of the community. He said there were many misconceptions about his business.

“I’ve listened to everyone’s comments; I’d do anything to help you out,” he said. “There’s a lot of mistruths here.”

Mayor Nicholson had to interrupt Mr. Hubert as he attempted to respond directly to Mr. Alexander regarding his comments, informing him he was to address council. Over the next few minutes Mr. Hubert began to list off measures he has taken to run a kennel.

“There is a vet comes to the property every week and he’s well experienced,” he said. “He’s worked in Barry’s Bay, in Carleton Place and in Pembroke. He tells me what to do, and he’s not shy. The OPP were mentioned by Mr. Alexander and were there for my protection. I taught myself artificial insemination in order to breed dogs myself and now I get calls from across Canada for dogs.

“This is what people are wanting. I don’t do this because people don’t want my dogs,” he continued, adding has sold dogs as far away as Gander, Nfld.

“I never wanted to wash dogs but I was told I had to do it, so I did it. I do have electricity and I do have water. Dogs cannot produce milk without water. I do adhere to veterinarians. I go for the latest things I can do. And yes, I talk to dogs. I admit it, I talk to dogs.

“I’ve been bashed around by Facebook.” he said. “Connie Tabbert, thank you for bashing me.”

Coun. Tabbert attempted to respond but Mayor Nicholson interrupted saying, “not now Coun. Tabbert”.  He asked Mr. Hubert to return to his seat, thanking him for appearing before council. He then read a motion stating the information received will be given to staff and they will provide a report to be addressed at the next council meeting if it is completed.  

Second Hubert Zoning Bylaw Amendment Application

After Council had dealt with the Tim Hubert matter, the next item on the agenda was another zoning bylaw amendment application: this one from James Hubert. The subject property is on Highway 17 and is surrounded by the highway on the south and east and environmental protection areas on the north and west. The purpose of the requested amendment is to “ permit the additional use of a kennel,” according to the planning document presented to Council.

Several members of the public who had come to the meeting for the Tim Hubert application also commented on this one, even though some had not been aware of the second Hubert request prior to arriving at the meeting.

Public comments were, for the most part, in the same vein as earlier. However, environmental concerns were raised by Dave Alexander, who commented that the protected areas are provincially significant wetland and that the proposed kennel appears to be close to the edge of that area.

Speaking as a member of the public, Tim Hubert spoke in favour of the application.

“The property has no neighbours so it’s ideal for dogs,” he said.

The proponent, James Hubert, said he has no problem with licensing.

“But be fair,” he said. “License everybody. It’s unfair to single out a couple.”

As in the Tim Hubert matter, Council passed a motion to receive for information the comments from its staff and the public, with a report addressing  issues raised to come back to the council table when staff has time to complete it, possibly as soon as the next regular meeting, scheduled for February 1.

(With files from Marie Zettler)