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Petunia was a small dog Canine Estates rescued at their Palm Harbor sanctuary, now closed.

Tampa Bay

Owners of a Palm Harbor dog sanctuary forced to close sue Pinellas County to reopen

Owners say opponents to the sanctuary lied about its impacts.

Proprietors of a nonprofit organization that rescues small dogs that are sick, can no longer be cared for by their owners or that are at risk of euthanization at shelters are suing Pinellas County after it was forced to shut down earlier this year.

In a lawsuit filed July 5, owners of Canine Estates Inc., a nonprofit organization, said the county wrongly forced them to close its dog sanctuary located at a Palm Harbor Property iconic for its large lots and rural feel in an otherwise dense area.

Jayne Sidwell filed the lawsuit. She owns the nonprofit along with her sisters, Sybil Freeman and B­arbara Erskine. 

Since late last year, the sisters and Sidwell’s husband, Greg Sidwell, have been working with the county to appease neighbors’ concerns about what they deemed an improper “commercial” use of the property. 

During a Pinellas County Commission meeting last November, several residents spoke against Canine Estates arguing property owners were keeping dozens of dogs on the property that caused noise disturbances by barking day and night, increased traffic along otherwise quiet neighborhood roads and leaked waste into nearby water sources, among other complaints. 

The homeowner who led efforts to shutter Canine Estates, Andrea Brown, complained she had to spend $30,000 for noise-proof windows to block out the sound. 

In her lawsuit, Sidwell claims the property met conditions agreed to with the city to remain open, and those neighbor complaints were rife with outright lies. 

The lawsuit claims the property’s R-A zoning allows “agricultural activities, personal use” and the “utilization of land to … feed, breed, and manage livestock, poultry, honeybees, or their produce; dairy products; or any other agricultural or horticultural activity that is for personal use.”

Neither the LDC, Alderman Overlay, Comprehensive Plan nor any other County regulation limits the number of pets or dogs a property owner can keep on their property, the lawsuit claims.

Further, the Sidwell’s moved any business activities off the property. They own an office off-site, and all adoption activities occur there. That, the lawsuit contends, squashes the argument that owners are conducting a commercial business in a residential home. 

At the time complaints began to roll in, no one lived on the property, which also caused issues. Since then though, the lawsuit says Freeman has moved into the property. She and two volunteers who come to the home during the day, allow the dogs to go outside during the day, but bring them in at night where they all sleep in individual crates. 

Any waste from the animals is collected as it is created and disposed of in trash bins. Cleaning products used to clean waste from the astroturf installed in a dog play area are environmentally safe and nontoxic, the lawsuit says. 

Sidwell also limited the number of dogs on site to 25 and dogs cannot be more than 25. Canine Estates typically rescues breeds like Chihuahua, Dachshund and Maltese. 

The lawsuit claims opposition to their rescue organization is overinflated. The group collected 378 letters in support as well as more than 5,100 petition signatures while opponents collected just 12 letters and 75 petition signatures. 

Sidwell is asking a judge to overturn the county’s order that the sanctuary close. 

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Isabelle Varinot

    July 13, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Canine Estates Inc save dogs, provide them with an awesome environment, ​vet care, and more importantly, love, much love. Jane, Sybil and Barbara give their time and their money to pursue their mission. The wonderful volunteers are doing an amazing job. Canine Estates Inc makes miracles. They make dogs and people happy. Canine Estates is a sanctuary . Nobody should be allowed to stop such extraordinary people to give love, compassion and happiness.

  2. Lamont Cranston

    July 13, 2019 at 9:50 am

    The irony here is that their property is zoned “agricultural”, and yet they cannot have a dog rescue there. So, they could have horses, cows, goats, chickens, but no dogs…government at it’s finest my friends.

  3. T J Crowe

    July 13, 2019 at 10:09 am

    The Pinellas County Board of Adjustment ruled that keeping dogs on the property is not consistent with the rural characteristics of the neighborhood. The property is zoned RA which, by law, allows farming and raising livestock (cows, pigs, chickens, etc.). How is keeping 25 or fewer small dogs not consistent with those rural characteristics? Pinellas County is wrong.

  4. Jill Clark

    July 13, 2019 at 10:14 am

    To think the person causing the closing of Canine Estates is the person behind Halo Foods for animals, yet is ready and willing to have all these poor dogs euthanized or put into shelters, from where many were saved from sure death. Seems to me she is just looking to have her hurrican proof windows compensated at any cost. I know I have seen all the good Canine Estates does in that community, is such a sad, sad shame so many are so ready to throw these dogs out on the streets, just to side with that hateful, spite filled woman who claims to care about animals. I truly hope a judge overturns this, all built on lies!! So sure, have your farm animals, but god forbid you help unwanted little lap dogs on a property. Thank you Canine Estates for all the good you have put out into the world,and these people should be ashamed of themselves, but if not, there is always karma. If anyone has not looked into this case,please do, it is a HUGE miscarriage of justice!!

  5. Beebs T

    July 13, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Who is getting paid off?? Seems someone wants the property. Here’s an idea, get a bunch of chickens and rooster to keep there. I’m sure the neighbors would just looove that noise and smell

  6. Andrea Schleicher

    July 13, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Canine Estates is a vital part of this community. The work that the sisters do to save these little souls is unprecedented. In addition, Canine Estates works with Pinellas County animal services. Every dollar spent in litigation is money lost saving precious lives. Andi Brown, a supposed animal lover, should be ashamed of herself.

  7. Donna Long

    July 13, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    I hope that CE can prove ALL the lies that were told to get them shutdown and another lawsuit can be file to recoup the money that has been spent defending themselves from such defamation from one Miss Brown.

  8. Rebecca Ann Geanaros

    July 13, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    I have visited Canine Estates and seen first hand how clean, well managed and humane the place is…literally, if I were a homeless dog with an infirmity, a senior dog who outlived their owner…I WOULD WANT TO BE CARED FOR BY THEM and have them represent me in finding the perfect rescue adoption family, which they have successfully done so time and time again. The home and grounds are beautifully kept and I didn’t hear a peep out of any of the dogs. Canine Estates is a plus to any community…doing good for their city and county too!!!! Saving the city and county save money too!!! It is a travesty that they were not given their due in court the first time and the courts were misinformed about them. I got my senior dog from there and I always recommend them to anyone seeking a pet.

  9. May Good Prevail

    July 14, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Very happy to hear that the owners are standing strong, fighting back for the truth and won’t be bullied into submission. I hope the county will rule in favor of the vast majority.

  10. Carol

    July 14, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    I fostered one of the pups a few years ago When I drove up to the estates, the road was very quiet, and I had an appointment, as they did not do walkins. It was so quiet when I walked in I had to turn around to see a living room with probably 15 dogs laying and/or playing. So clean, no doggie odor. Seems to me the traffic complaint probably comes from more residents, as is most of the county/state as we continually try to crowd out the animal populations. Whole original suit was bs.

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