Two sides of a vexing animal issue

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In a quiet corner of Ashburton, neighbours – neighbours with dogs and horses – are at odds.

On one side – literally – is Riding for the Disabled, which has occupied its eight-acre (3.2.ha) site in Leeston Street for 37 years.

On the other is The Dog House, a new dog day care operation operated by Kirsten Diack. She has lived in the area – the entrance to the new kennel facility is in Manse Street – for 10 years.

The Dog House – which has an array of double-sided wooden fences with foam inners as a sound barrier – is nearly ready to open and has a consent to operate from the Ashburton council.

As well, containers have been placed to deflect any noise, play areas have been put in (tired dogs, she says, tend not to bark) and the operation has built double-walled enclosed kennels should it get a barking dog. There is also an option to put any noisy dog in a fenced far corner close to the river and far from the RDA, or to refuse to accommodate known barkers.

Riding for the Disabled (RDA) is concerned the kennel operation may put its operation at risk, citing fears a barking dog may spook a horse and throw a disabled rider. It believes its options may be to close, shift or be closed.

Ms Diack said she had done everything to reduce noise and wanted to work in with the RDA.

The RDA has used its money, loans and donations to buy the site on which it has a clubrooms, training arena, horse paddocks and storage sheds.

In February this year it received a letter from Ms Diack about plans to set up dog day care on land next door to the RDA.

The chairman of Mid Canterbury RDA, Brian Early, called her to say the committee would oppose the venture. It later sent a letter outlining its concerns. In May, the RDA received a letter from the Ashburton council to say it was processing an application for The Dog House.

The RDA’s chief instructor, Maxine Hooper, then emailed the council officer to say it would oppose the application.

It was concerned a dog or dogs could scare one of the six horses the RDA uses to benefit riders with a range of disabilities. Over the years, 1200 children have trained at the facility.

In June, the RDA was told by the council that it had not yet made a decision on whether The Dog House application would be notified or non-notified.

In a notified application, submissions from interested parties are sought.

In September, the RDA committee was told by a “concerned” parent of a rider and others that Doggie Day Care had announced on its Facebook page it had its consent.

The RDA then emailed the council, asking if it had missed an email. The reply said the consent had been granted the previous Friday.

Said Mr Early: “We’ve been here for 37 years, through kindness and generosity. It’s disappointing and disheartening.”

An option for the RDA – though expensive – is to shift its arena further north, towards the Beach Road side of its operation to extend the distance between riders and horses and the kennels.

“It’s totally unsuitable. There’s been no thought that, perhaps, it’s not really a good idea to put kennels beside the RDA,” Mrs Hooper said.

The RDA believes the consent application should have been notified and a hearing held.

The council said the applicant provided a thorough assessment of effects which included the likely noise level of dogs and they proposed trees and a fence – built – to reduce the noise of barking.
“The decision not to notifiy the application to the RDA was based upon the evidence available and the circumstances of the site. While in such cases not everyone  can be happy with the result, in this case the effects were considered to be less than minor, which means they wouldn’t be significant. There are a strong suite of conditions attached to the consent
to ensure that the effects are kept at an acceptable level and we will of course monitor the application site and respond to complaints should they be received,” the council email said.
Because of the boarding element the centre would operate 24 hours a day however dropping off and picking up dogs would be restricted to 8am-9am, 11.30am-1pm and 5pm-6pm. Access is off Manse Street.
Ms Diack supplied The Courier  with copies of studies on dog barking, copies of letters between it and the RDA and an assessment of environmental impact.
Ms Diack said she had not gone into the business lightly, was a dog owner and lived next to the operation.
Cameras (pointing towards the kennels, not the RDA) with audio have been installed, double-walled lanes put in and a pool, sawdust play area under trees and tunnels created to keep dogs entertained.
Ms Diack said she had had six “trial” dogs at the site and there had been no problems.
In its assessment of environmental effects, she said: “We have not taken this proposal lightly. We have looked, in some detail, at the waste streams and outputs from the proposed business and have proposed a way to operate the business and not put any waste
streams into the Ashburton District Council sewer or storm water system.
“We have looked into what could be nuisance factors for such a facility, the most significant being noise. We have visited (and used, for our dogs) other such facilities and formed an opinion that an open air well managed dog day care and kennel operation will generate little noise.
“In addition to the research, presented and evaluated, along with the nature of the property, and its proximity to our house, we have also proposed extensive use of shielding, screening and acoustic fencing, along with tree planting so that should any significant
level of noise be generated its impact on the neighbouring properties be minimised to such a level where the facility would hardly be noticeable,” the assessment said.
Ms Diack said: “It’s all designed to have dogs quiet; it has not stopped the RDA operating.
“We would love to be able to
work with the RDA over this.”

The Dog House owner Kirsten Diack on a ramp in a play area at the dog day care facility
The Dog House owner Kirsten Diack on a ramp in a play area at the dog day care facility