Representatives from Big Dog Ranch Rescue, interested in moving to a site in Loxahatchee Groves, met with some resistance this week from people who live on Bryan Road.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council, neighbors were concerned about smells and barking dogs that might come with relocation of the no-kill, nonprofit dog rescue, although Big Dog representatives stressed that they maintain an immaculate facility and that the dogs are let out only under strict supervision.
The agricultural-residential (AR) land use allows for an animal rescue facility, although the nonprofit will seek accessory uses to allow for veterinary care and animal boarding.
Potential sites included what was once a nursery at the northwest corner of Bryan and Folsom roads, although Big Dog’s representatives said they had not yet chosen a specific location.
Landscape architect Jeff Brophy of Land Design South, representing Big Dog, explained that its present site near the southwest corner of State Road 7 and Southern Blvd. in unincorporated Palm Beach County is the former Folke Peterson Wildlife Center, where its current use is grandfathered in. However, an animal rescue is no longer a permitted use, so there is no longer room for expansion, or the addition of income-generating services.
“There is no way to include a veterinary service for the dogs, and there is no way for boarding the dogs,” Brophy said. “That’s one of the reasons why they need to get out and find another location.”
Other areas Big Dog has explored include unincorporated areas to the east or in municipalities, which generally do not have the type of parcels necessary for an animal rescue, Brophy said.
“We’re starting to look at the rural communities, where we feel it is probably a better fit in the first place, which brings us to you tonight,” Brophy said. “Right now, we’ve been looking at several different properties within the AR districts. The AR district allows for the principal use of the rescue facility. What it doesn’t allow are those two individual uses that would act as accessory uses, which are the veterinary services and boarding.”
Lauree Simmons, president of Big Dog Ranch Rescue, noted that the facility is the largest no-kill dog rescue in the state.
“Dogs taken to shelters — whether the owner has died or their family has lost their home in a foreclosure, whether somebody in the family has been ill or somebody is going to Iraq to serve their country — dogs put into shelters that their owner surrenders are given three days,” Simmons said. “When the shelter is full, they can euthanize that dog from the moment they take it in to within three days.”
Strays taken in are given five to seven days, she added, explaining that Big Dog saves about 2,000 dogs that would otherwise be euthanized each year.
“We want to make a difference,” she said. “We feel animals are part of the family. We are a very compassionate group of 12 directors who have given up their time to make a difference for these animals and also for the families that receive them.”
Big Dog is currently boarding a dog for two months whose family lost its home to foreclosure, as well as some dogs whose owner is on a tour of military duty, Simmons said. Big Dog also educates people on the importance of spaying and neutering, and accepts volunteers, including special-needs children and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, who can earn merit badges for their work.
“Special-needs kids who are not allowed to participate at other facilities can come out and bathe puppies, and we teach them how to train dogs and walk a dog,” she said. “We’re not just about dogs. We’re about families. We’re about helping other people. We’re about educating, and we’re about giving back to our community.”
Big Dog’s current site has 28 acres but they’re only allowed to use 5.
“It was designated as a wildlife sanctuary,” she said. “It wasn’t really laid out for an animal shelter. It was laid out for wildlife, so it has open buildings with open kennels covered under roof. We do have our hospital there where we treat our dogs, but it’s really not laid out correctly. What we desperately need is to start from scratch, build it first-class, so it is a wonderful facility for these dogs to live in while we’re rehabbing them, training them and finding them their forever home.”
The new facility would put all the dogs indoors in air-conditioned cage-free spaces similar to a home environment, and they would go out for exercise under supervision.
Brophy said Big Dog is looking to move as soon as possible. He reiterated that the use as a rescue facility is already allowed in agricultural-residential districts and that all they would need is permission for the accessory uses. “We don’t have anything site-specific,” he said. “This is merely at code level at this point.”
Councilman Ron Jarriel said he thought the idea was good, pointing out that the town already has veterinary uses, as well as facilities such as the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center.
Councilman Ryan Liang agreed that it would be a nice fit for the town and recommended referring the accessory use issue to the Local Planning Agency.
Councilman Jim Rockett said there would be some major hurdles for people who live on Bryan Road, several of whom were there to speak.
“I think there is some major information they need before we go too far on this,” Rockett said. “The idea of a dog rescue, I don’t think anybody in this room is against the idea, but where it’s located is where we lose support.”
Rockett said a workshop where Big Dog representatives could meet with residents would be a way to work through some of the differences.
Mayor Dave Browning said he was concerned about the location, Big Dog’s desire for room to expand, as well as traffic concerns. He pointed out that the nearby intersection of Folsom Road and Okeechobee Blvd. is one of the town’s busiest.
Andre LaCroix, a 24-year resident of the town and 13-year resident of Bryan Road, said he is a dog lover but was troubled by the location.
“I think the location might be a little tough,” LaCroix said. “It’s a residential area, and this particular pet facility has more of a commercial feel, and I think more of a commercial site would be better.”
Planning & Zoning Advisory Board Member Grace Joyce felt it was unfair for the council and residents to be put in a position to comment on an application that has not yet been submitted.
“Your comments could indirectly or unnecessarily cause these folks to think that you would vote one way or another,” Joyce said. “This is the type of thing that would be ideal for a community workshop, so everyone gets to attend and everyone’s opinions get to be heard.”
Brophy said whatever the location is, the rescue group anticipates meeting with neighbors. “Neighborhood meetings are great,” he said. “We always support them. We’re not trying to go around any type of process that would usually be carried forward to address the issues that the residents brought up.”