Fur flies over Humane

Published 10:48 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2015

After hearing from opponents, the Suffolk Planning Commission on Tuesday tabled a recommendation on a request for a conditional use permit for a new shelter for the Suffolk Humane Society.

The organization that finds permanent homes for the cats and dogs at Suffolk Animal Care Facility wants to move its main operations center from a small house in the village of Driver to a property on King’s Fork Road.

Owned by councilman Mike Duman — a society member — 412 King’s Fork Road is near King’s Fork Middle School and the high school.

Email newsletter signup

A house there would be used as a permanent office and temporary home for up to five animals — usually cats, but perhaps a dog or two if the need arose — and several outbuildings would store donated pet supplies and other items, according to the application.

Suffolk attorney and Humane Society member Grier Ferguson told commissioners the larger facility would allow Suffolk Humane to help more animals.

One full-time and two part-time staff would work out of the office, and the society would hold regular meetings there, city planner Thomas Jordan said.

Addressing commissioners, Martin Bond, who lives with his wife, Patricia, at 414 King’s Fork Road, asked how the city’s planning department had arrived at its recommendation to approve the request for a conditional use permit.

“Obviously they ignored the homes that are there already,” he said. “There is too much open land in the city of Suffolk to put a dog kennel and/or shelter next to my home. There’s absolutely no reason for it. None whatsoever.”

Bonni Wilkinson of 408 King’s Fork Road questioned how many animals the society would ultimately house at the property. “How many animal shelters do you know that have only five animals? None,” she said.

“Who wants to listen to barking dogs all day and all night?”

According to Wilkinson, dogs could end up getting loose and attacking students at the nearby schools.

“My dad worked his whole life to leave his family a piece of property that’s nice,” Wilkinson said. “If this goes in, we will want to move, and we won’t even be able to sell our house.”

Jacolyn Purhamus, who rents 414 King’s Fork Road, said the fencing would be inadequate to stop an escaped animal from attacking students at the bus stop. “Not to mention the privacy of our property,” she added.

Dennis Confer, president of the society board, said he was surprised to hear the concerns. Dogs awaiting adoption are kept at the homes of volunteers, he said, adding those dropped off at the Suffolk Humane facility would go straight to the city facility.

“I wish they came to us first, because we would have clearly communicated what our intent is,” he said.

Commissioner Williams H. Goodman Sr. raised the specter of breeds such as pit bulls getting loose and attacking folks. “I see a concern here,” he said.

After generally agreeing the issue boiled down to a lack of communication, commissioners voted 6-1 to table deciding what action to recommend to City Council until their April 21 meeting.

James G. Vacalis cast the dissenting vote, apparently after an original motion, to approve the permit with a new condition stipulating no more than five animals, was substituted.

By tabling the matter, commissioners said they wanted to give Suffolk Humane leaders an opportunity to come together with their opponents to talk things through.