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 [email protected].

  1. There is another thing in common with the zoning inspector position, JEFF DERTHICK, he was to train them. Maybe he should have done a better job. then he tells the interim zoning inspector he will not further train her. Maybe because he doesn’t know WHAT HE IS DOING. After all he was fired from that position for lying. They are currently looking for another inspector and Mr. Derthick said he would train that person. REALLY? By the way Mrs. Filler DOES NOT LIVE IN FREEDOM, I BELIEVE SHE RESIDES IN TWINSBURG, WOULD SHE BE ABLE TO HAVE HER BUSINESS THERE AND NOT FOLLOW THEIR RULES?

    1. This isn’t Mrs Filler’s problem, it is a Freedom Twp. problem. She has constantly reassured she was operating her business legally. Even IF zoning rules against her, she has a very good case to be grandfathered in. Are you also implying the Prosecutor needs further “training”? The prosecutor did state it was okay. It seems to me, the definition of an Ag business needs rexamined but, any rewriting of the zoning law would probably exempt Mrs Filler’s business.

  2. The person in a position of power above the trustees has ruled that this business is allowable. Why can’t they just accept that and move on? Mrs filler was directed what to do and she did it,. Sounds to me like somebody is just having a little fit about not getting the power that they think they deserve. And they are taking it out on a wholesome family business that is a benefit to the community. Perhaps Mr ziska and the complaining neighbor should actually visit to the business to see what it is all about and make informed decisions instead of making up lies and complaining about things that aren’t even happening.

  3. As past president of the Freedom Township Historical Society, I have always found Trustee Jeff Derthick to be honest and upright in all his dealings with me. And in dealing with the historical society and the one room schoolhouse renovation, the society is currently doing. The society is leasing the schoolhouse from the township. Trustee Derthick has always treated me with respect, kindness and patience and has shown the same respect, kindness and patience to the other members and volunteers of the society. Donating hours of time, using his own equipment and gas to mow the schoolhouse yard and do excavating work. His family is always volunteering their time and working hard, doing good things for our township.

    That was not my experience as president with another Freedom Township trustee.

    The attack above in the comments on Trustee Derthick stems from his position concerning Duke’s K-9 Dash N’ Splash. Which I do support, Duke’s being in Freedom Twp. Thank you for talking the time to cover Freedom Township.

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