Board denies couple’s request to open large breeding facility in Columbus

COLUMBUS, Ind. – The Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals denied a couple’s request to open a kennel that would have bred up to 100 dogs each year.

Aaron and Lena Oberholtzer filed a request on Oct. 23 for conditional use approval to open a dog breeding kennel. The property is located at the northeast corner of the intersection of 950 North and 500 East, in Flatrock Township.

According to the application, the couple wanted to build a 3,360 square foot structure to house a kennel where they would have 80 cages and dozens of small dogs. The proposed kennel would have had several outdoor dog runs and exercise areas and would have been family owned and operated.

The application stated there would not be any employees at the kennel and the facility would have been operated entirely by the Oberholtzer couple.

The area near the proposed facility is primarily agriculture fields. The nearest single family home is approximately 800 feet east of the property.

A number of animal advocates and residents shared their opposition to the breeding facility, calling it a "puppy mill."

"The application to breed up to 100 dogs is not done as a hobby and is clearly being done for financial reasons," said Lia Elliott, board member for the CARE animal rescue in Columbus. "This is truly an operation that is 100 percent designed with profit motives."

Elliot said the proposed kennel is not a family seeking to breed a favorite pet or continue a beloved bloodline, but an application for a full scale puppy breeding mill.

"I am heartbroken about the way animals are treated in these types of facilities," said Elliot. "It's a very different type of housing facility than most folks would have for their own pets. They can be kept in wire cages with only six inches of clearance on each side of the animal."

Community members packed the board's meeting Monday evening, where the proposal was heard. They spoke out for more than two hours citing concerns over noise, public health and the impact on the coyote population, as well as animal welfare.

On Monday, Aaron Oberholtzer spoke with FOX59 and said he bought the 55-acre property in hopes of opening a breeding facility where he and his wife could "make a living" and "take care of dogs." He said they plan on selling the puppies to out-of-state pet stores. Oberholtzer said he and his wife are law-abiding citizens who would have been workable with neighbors and would have taken good care of the animals. He declined to speak with FOX59 at the meeting.

Before the meeting, an online petition gained 2,000 signatures from people who opposed the breeding kennel. That petition was presented to the board.