Although Leo Grillo's ranch in Agua Dulce is home to more than a dozen sheep, four dozen cats, a gaggle of geese and a lame starling named Chirp, it was his 12 dogs that got his neighbor's goat.
Fifteen months ago, saying he was bothered by the noise and smell, Grillo's neighbor Rick Curtis filed a complaint with zoning officials. He claimed that Grillo had violated the three-dog maximum set in light agriculture zones such as governs Agua Dulce, a quiet corner of the Santa Clarita Valley.
After several zoning appeals by Grillo, Curtis, who owns the next ranch house down unpaved Tyndall Road, and two other neighbors prevailed last Thursday when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors refused to grant Grillo a variance for the nine excess dogs. Because Grillo lost the appeal, he also must face zoning-violation charges in Municipal Court on Friday.
Grillo said that, by being forced to choose from among his 12 pets, he is faced with an "impossible decision."
For seven years Grillo has built his avocation of saving stray dogs into a nonprofit, 1,200-member organization, DELTA (Dedication and Everlasting Love to Animals), based in Glendale. The group runs two animal shelters in El Monte and is constructing a third on 22 acres in Acton.
Sought Rural Environment
Grillo, who makes his living as an actor and by doing telephone sales work, moved to Agua Dulce from Glendale a year and a half ago with his wife, son and pets in order to provide enough room and a rural environment for the animals, he said.
The dogs that are now Grillo's pets were all found abandoned in and around the San Gabriel mountains but were either too ill or too "odd" to be put up for adoption, he said. They include a huge black-spotted great Dane, an Irish setter with a heart condition and the "candy sisters"--Chocolate, Butterscotch and Coconut--all of whom are "mentally handicapped," according to Grillo.
Curtis said he and two property owners who are planning to build homes on adjacent lots have fought to have the excess dogs removed because their barking disrupts the quiet neighborhood.
Frequently Make Noise
"This is a rural area, and that ruralness makes for a very peaceful environment," Curtis said. He said that, even with the care Grillo gives to his dogs, they frequently make noise.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the area, said that Grillo's ownership of the dogs is a violation of zoning laws. "There are places at Mr. Grillo's shelters for the nine dogs," he said at the hearing.
Grillo, back at his ranch, said he may try to get a permit for at least a few more dogs than the three he is allowed. The zoning rules do not limit the number of other animals he can have.
"I have 12 kids here," he said, referring to the motley-looking bunch of dogs that swirled at his feet. "They're asking me to choose which kids stay with us, which kids are going to spend their life on a concrete floor in a shelter."