Neighbors of doggie daycare look for peace and quiet
by Dustin Brady
(Plain Press, June 2007) All Nina Swerdlow wanted was a good day’s sleep. Because the 55-year resident of Starkweather Avenue often works until 2 or 3 a.m., she sleeps during the day.
A year and a half ago, Swerdleow’s sleep got interrupted when Rebecca Riker opened the Mutt Hutt, a day care center for dogs, behind her. Now, Swerdlow says her sleep gets interrupted nearly every morning due to barking dogs. “I had to move my bedroom to the front of the house, it got so bad,” she said.
Swerdlow and other neighbors are now doing their best to get some quiet in their neighborhood.
“I think it’s a great concept,” Swerdlow said. “Away from people is fine, but it devalues my property when it’s right next to my house. Would you buy a piece of property next to 25 dogs you knew you couldn’t get rid of?”
“You can compare it to prisons,” said Tim Hess, attorney for the neighbors. “Everybody wants them but nobody wants one in their backyard.”
Riker bought the property on 2603 Scranton Rd. after looking into other alternatives. “I saw the property and quite honestly just fell in love with it,” she said in a testimony during a zoning hearing last year. “It completely envisioned everything I wanted to have for the day care.”
Her two closest competitors are located on Payne Avenue and on W. 102nd Street. Both dog day care centers are located in heavy industrial areas without residential units nearby.
Riker opened the Mutt Hutt in October 2005. For $18 a day, people leave their dogs at the Mutt Hutt while they are at work. The facility can hold up to 50 dogs per day, although it averages about 30.
Riker built the day care with the support of Councilman Joe Cimperman (Ward 13), Councilman Joe Santiago (Ward 14), and the neighbors on either side of her. “She’s done a wonderful job with the day care,” said Councilman Santiago. “It’s a wonderful asset to the community and to the dogs. I would take my dog there.”
The residents behind Riker have not shared Santiago’s enthusiasm. In 2006, they collected seventy signatures from neighbors against the Mutt Hutt. More recently, they filed an administrative appeal with the zoning board trying to keep Riker from letting dogs roam the Mutt Hut’s backyard. The backyard is located in a area with zoning split between semi-industry and multi-family residential districts. The appeal is still pending.
“The Mutt Hutt is legally permitted and zoned to operate in this location,” Riker said in a statement issued to the Plain Press. “It is unfortunate that the residents will not accept this.”
The most recent legal effort by the neighbors resulted in Riker being convicted on May 17 of three minor misdemeanor charges of dog nuisance. She was sentenced to pay $357 in court costs.
Swerdlow, along with neighbors Linda and John Dembie and Ron Adkins, have called the dog warden several times to complain of barking. Each time the dog warden came to the front door of the Mutt Hutt and did not hear anything.
Near West Side resident Ted Thelander took a decibel reading of the noise behind the Mutt Hutt in April 2006. According to Thelander, the barking registered between 95 and 110 decibels, the equivalent of a baby crying or a jackhammer running. The neighbors finally decided to videotape their complaints.
The videotape resulted in five dog nuisance charges. Two of the charges were dropped in a plea agreement in which Riker agreed to install barking deterrent devices. The devices emit a high-pitched sound that only dogs can hear. They are supposed to keep the dogs close to the house.
Riker has made additional efforts to quiet the dogs, such as hiring additional help during peak hours of the day. Neighbors say that the new measures have helped somewhat, resulting in less barking.
“Rebecca is trying to make peace in the neighborhood,” said Tim Whitford, Riker’s attorney.
The neighbors say that they want peace too, but they feel that the peace can only come with quiet. “The neighbors aren’t trying to embarrass her or her business. They just want some quiet,” said Henry Senyak, co-chair of the Lincoln Heights Block Club.
Swerdlow agrees. “Summer is coming up,” she said. “I want to be able to open my windows without hearing barking.”
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