A West Saanich couple says they’ve been the target of unfair treatment from the District of Saanich in regards to their dog kennel, Pawsh Oasis, on 280 Hector Rd.
When Lisa and Daniel Miller started the kennel in 2010, the new building was designed and permitted as a kennel with Saanich. But visits to the property by bylaw officers, the pound and Saanich Police started happening with regularity, said Lisa, who runs the kennel.
“There were bylaw officers visiting daily at one point, and I had the police stopping me on the side of Hector Road while I was walking the dogs,” she said.
Miller was set to meet with Saanich on Tuesday for a hearing in an attempt to get her business licence reinstated. It expired on Dec. 31 following what she calls an unfair hearing by Saanich. Council granted her permission to continue operating until her business case could be heard again. However, that meeting has been cancelled for the moment, and she will re-apply for the license first.
When Pawsh Oasis first started operating Miller said she knew of two opposing neighbours who would complain to Saanich bylaw enforcement, as it takes two noise bylaw complaints to qualify for a site visit. But one of those neighbours left in 2011 and their replacement has been in support ever since.
“The problem,” she believes, “comes down to one neighbour.”
Miller has the support of several neighbours. The group have spoken on behalf of Pawsh as witnesses at Saanich hearings and provincial and supreme court cases.
At one point, neighbour Lana Gray approached 109 people from the area in a survey-style petition regarding the kennel.
“It gained 101 people in favour, 14 who didn’t respond, 12 who abstained and one against,” Gray said.
When Saanich arranged two separate mediation sessions, the lone dissenter wouldn’t show up, according to Miller.
Even with dozens of visits from various staff such as bylaw officers, Saanich Police and Saanich Pound, Miller never received a fine or violation ticket for Pawsh, she said. She has a binder of complaints made to Saanich, all with the complainant’s name blacked out.
“Doesn’t matter what we do, they’ll find something else,” Daniel Miller said. “We spent $60,000 on legal fees to fight Saanich last year, planted a $2,000 hedge to screen a fence, which screens the house, and paved the gravel driveway so the sound of cars arriving wouldn’t alert the dogs.”
The cedar fence along the side of the dog kennel blocks the house from the neighbour’s property though a grove of evergreens already blocks the view of the neighbour’s house.
“We do everything we can to minimize barking, we limit [human presence] in the kennel, we use citronella and water sprays, and we turn away dogs that are too noisy,” said Lisa. “Saanich knows we were licensed from the beginning, of course there was going to be a bit of barking.”
It wasn’t until one neighbour submitted videos to the district that Saanich filed charges against the Millers in 2014. The provincial court found that the videos proved to violate Section 5 of Saanich’s noise bylaw: The sound made by a dog barking, howling or creating any kind of sound continually or sporadically or erratically for any period of time in excess of 10 minutes is … objectionable.
“You’d have to do a lot of videotaping and put in a lot of work to get 10 minutes of continuos barking from our kennel,” Lisa said. “Most of the time I sat in court with my $450-per-hour lawyer watching birds chirp. I’ve sat outside other kennels in Saanich, and it’s no different there.”
The Millers appealed the provincial ruling but it was upheld by the supreme court in 2015. In it, the complainants testified that noise from the kennel has been an ongoing problem since its establishment in 2010 and that it has caused them considerable stress and discomfort.
However, the rest of the Millers’ neighbours disagree.
Spokespersons for Saanich’s bylaw, pound and legislative services are all very aware of the property but wouldn’t comment on the amount of visits their departments have made.
Paws Oasis employee Denise Laderoute is in her third summer there and says the treatment she’s seen Miller receive is unlike anything she experienced while working for two-and-a-half years for another kennel in West Saanich. That kennel kept from 50 to 110 dogs (at peak times) while Pawsh Oasis has 16 right now, and up to about 30 at the Christmas and summer breaks, she said.
“She’s not a criminal, she’s a lovely woman trying to operate a terrific business and she’s being railroaded as far as I’m concerned,” Laderoute said. “We don’t let the dogs bark incessantly, we bring them in.”