Duke’s neighbor explains why Freedom dog facility is a problem, and trustees avoid tough questions

Image of the Duke's dog training facility
Duke’s K9 Dash ‘N Splash. Submitted photo

Freedom Township trustees and community members discussed the future of resident Michelle Filler’s dog training business, Duke’s K9 Dash ‘N Splash, and the high turnover rate of township zoning inspectors on Thursday.

Earlier this month, residents and people affiliated with Duke’s expressed their support for their business at a previous trustees meeting and in a petition.

Filler’s neighbor Dorothy Maur attended the July 15 meeting and explained that the noise, traffic and sanitation issues that come with living near the business have interfered with the lifestyle she previously had. She noted that recent heavy rains have brought “runoff from the dog shit, the dog piss, and the people’s food” onto her property.

“If you lived where I lived, you wouldn’t want that in your backyard either,” said Maur, who has lived on the property bordering Duke’s for the past 35 years and has two dogs of her own.  

“The problem isn’t the business,” she said. The problem is “the fact that it’s not permitted, and it’s the fact that there’s no control. Once it starts, it can just blossom into anything.” 

Trustee Jeff Derthick, who worked with Filler as the acting zoning inspector before she bought the property, disagreed. “The problem is that according to the prosecutor’s office, it was OK. It was permitted. Everybody says ‘she needs to get a permit,’ but I was personally told different. And that’s why I didn’t do anything about it, or I would have.”

Derthick said when he called the prosecutor’s office to ask about Filler’s business, he was told, “We don’t want to touch it. It’s a gray area. It’s ag. Let it go.”

He continued: “I’m a busy guy. I’ve got lots of stuff to do, so I let it go. But these guys [Chairman Roy Martin and Trustee John Zizka] haven’t.” 

Derthick said he’s spoken to assistant prosecutor Brett Bencze several times since then and asked if Bencze has changed his mind about Filler’s business being agricultural. “The answer is always no,” Derthick said. 

Martin said Filler has two options from here: She can wait and see if the lawyers will decide if the business is truly agricultural, and if not, go through the permitting process, or she can apply for the permits now. 

Part of the permitting process will be presenting a case during a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, Martin explained, and the trustees have no influence over the BZA.

Residents also pressed trustees to talk about the high turnover rate among Freedom Township employees and a rumored lawsuit against the trustees. 

“It’s all over Facebook — Freedom trustees this, Freedom trustees that, a lawsuit,” said one attendee. “Why are these people resigning? Is it because of one person? … Then let’s get rid of that one person, because one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” 

After a pause, Martin said, “No response.” 

Zizka acknowledged the question by nodding his head but didn’t say anything.

Derthick confirmed that there is a lawsuit but said it is too early to disclose additional details. “The zoning inspector’s position has been a rotating door, and that is what it is,” he added.

“But why is it a rotating door?” the attendee wanted to know.

Derthick offered an indirect response. “Yes, you have the choice to vote in November,” he said.

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Lyndsey Brennan is a Portager general assignment reporter. She is completing her master's degree in journalism at Kent State and is an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund internship program. Contact her at lyndsey@theportager.com.