Rescue Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation caught in Mohave County permit purgatory

KINGMAN - Even a Mohave County Superior Court judge seemed puzzled Tuesday as to how a local sanctuary owner was to solve the Catch-22 she found herself in with the County Planning and Zoning and Health departments.

The Mohave County Civil Attorney's Office and RUFFF owner Hillarie Allison have been battling over getting the proper health and zoning use permits for the animal sanctuary for more than a year.

In April 2010, the county and a vet inspected RUFFF. The county found that RUFFF did not have a valid zoning use permit or an environmental health permit. Since then, Allison has been given three 6-month temporary zoning use permits to allow her to operate the sanctuary while she worked with the County Health and Zoning departments. The last temporary permit was issue in May. At that time, the Board of Supervisors told her it would not grant her another permit unless she got an environmental health permit.

But, according to county ordinances, Allison must first get a zoning use permit before she can apply for a health permit.

The County Attorney's Office requested a permanent injunction in November after Allison allegedly didn't meet all of the requirements asked of her during an August inspection of RUFFF by the Health Department by September.

Allison and two RUFFF volunteers testified Tuesday that she has tried to meet all of the requirements the Health Department has requested of her to get the health

permit, but each time department officials came to inspect the facility they seemed to find something else she needed to fix.

Some of those requirements include repairing kennels, installing measures to prevent the animals from escaping, having animal health records on hand and a system to match the animals with their records, regular exercise and socialization for the animals, installing backflow prevention devices on all water fixtures, and reducing the number of dogs to 135.

Allison has also corrected the organization's non-profit status with the state and has filed an application to do the same with the IRS.

Three veterinarians who advise Allison on sanitation policies and procedures for RUFFF also testified by phone from California, Nevada and Massachusetts. All three said they had no problems with the care of the animals and the sanitation practices at RUFFF.

When County Civil Attorney Dolores Milkie asked each vet if they had a license to practice in Arizona, they all said no. All of the vets also said that it was not uncommon for a vet in one state to contact a vet in another state for advice.

Milkie also pointed out that only one of the vets said that he has visited RUFFF in person. All of the vets said they had seen video and pictures of RUFFF and had no problem with what they saw.

Based on what was said Wednesday, it appears Allison is compliant in every way except for having bedding sand or concrete floors, and for not reducing the number of dogs on the property to 135.

Allison said the reason she has not made the changes in the floors is because she believes the current county health ordinances do not require concrete flooring in outdoor kennels and because multiple vets have told her that such floors are inhumane to animals being housed in a long-term facility, such as RUFFF. The animals housed in long-term facilities end up getting joint problems, sores and other health issues from concrete floors. The floors also get very hot in the summer sun and very cold in the winter, she said.

Many of RUFFF animals are old and have health problems that make them less likely to be adopted, which means they may stay at RUFFF for the rest of their lives, Allison said.

Allison said she believes the department is trying to enforce a kennel requirement from an ordinance that was approved by the Supervisors in 2010 but has been put on hold until it can go to a vote of the people in 2012.

Allison said she has held multiple adoption events at Sam's Club and Walmart in Bullhead City, adoptions by appointment at RUFFF and posts photos and information on adoptable pets on RUFFF's website. She has a number of animals adopted, but she also has a number of large dogs and people, in this economy, aren't looking to adopt large dogs, she said. They're looking for puppies and little dogs.

She also said the Supervisors and Planning and Zoning Commission's reason to issue her only 6-month zoning use permits was arbitrary. No one else in the county applying for a kennel permit or zoning use permit has been given a 6-month permit and no one else in the county has had to pay more than $500 for each permit.

Allison said she hasn't gotten a zoning use permit for RUFFF because the Health Department won't approve her for a health permit before the temporary 6-month zoning use permit expires. She has tried making the repairs before each inspection but it costs time and money.

Without the health permit the Board won't approve her for a two-year zoning permit.

Arden Morley, a Kingman resident, testified that Allison was not the only person who had a hard time getting zoning permits from the county.

Morely moved to the Kingman area in 2003. When she went to the County Planning and Zoning Department to get a permit to install a windmill, she found herself in a Catch-22. The department staff told her she needed permits for the carports on her property, but before she could do that she needed permits for the other buildings on her property, but she couldn't get those permits because she had un-permitted carports on her property.

Morley ended up hiring an attorney, who found that the existing buildings on the property were grandfathered into the zoning code and all she needed to get was permits for the carports and windmill. Several years after starting the permit process, Morely finally got her permits.

Morely also testified that the two-year zoning use permit for her cat sanctuary cost her about $340.

Milkie grilled Allison and the other defense witnesses. She claimed that county records show that Allison only had a conditional zoning use permit for RUFFF, because Allison never fulfilled the requirements of the first zoning use permit that was issued to her in 2003. She also claimed that Allison violated county ordinances when she started construction on RUFFF and started housing animals before submitting a site plan and plans for the kennels to the Planning and Zoning Department as required in the zoning use permit.

Allison testified she did have valid zoning use permits and that she submitted multiple site plans and kennel plans to the department.

Milkie pointed out that Allison had been given two extensions of time to meet the requirements in 2004 and 2006 and that by 2010 Allison's permit had been expired for more than two years.

Allison said she was unaware the permit had expired and as soon as she found out she tried to get a new one. Allison also said she had not challenged the kennel ordinance in court and that there was no Health Department exception to allow her to use bedding sand instead of concrete in the kennels.

Milkie called two rebuttal witnesses before the two sides made closing arguments. Virginia Crews, Allison's attorney, objected to the witnesses, saying that she had only been notified of them that morning. Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen noted the objection but allowed the witnesses to testify.

Milkie first called Mohave County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Robert Mceuen, who testified the county stopped giving animals to RUFFF to avoid euthanizing them when RUFFF's non-profit status lapsed.

Milkie then called Environmental Health Specialist Robert Martin to the stand. He testified that a percolation test a vet ordered Allison to do to determine how quickly the soil absorbed water and urine was not a valid test. The department does soil evaluation tests and drills core samples to make sure that there are not underlying layers that would prevent the absorption of water and to make sure that untreated waste does not flow into washes.

Martin said he did not conduct a soil test at RUFFF.

In her closing statements, Milkie said there are several violations of the county health ordinances at RUFFF that have been in effect for several years and that Allison has only recently made attempts to correct them. It sends the message that it is OK to operate in violation of the law, she said.

She asked Jantzen to put a lien on Allison's property in order to cover the fines and grant a permanent injunction that would effectively close RUFFF.

Crews pointed out in her closing statements that it is the county that controls the permitting process. They are the ones who ruled that Allison couldn't get a zoning use permit without a health permit and she can't get a health permit without a zoning use permit. She also pointed out that Allison has never been denied a zoning use permit and that even a county planning official said Allison had met all of the zoning requirements.

Jantzen asked both attorneys if there ever be a way to solve RUFFF's permit Catch-22.

Crews said she believed that Allison had already tried everything she could to remedy the situation.

Milkie said Allison had not attempted to remedy the situation until July.

Jantzen said he would look at the evidence and make a ruling. It is unknown when the ruling will be published.