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Case Shows Need to Rate Kennels

February 05, 1989

To the unsuspecting pet owner, Kelly's Pet Hotel might look a little scruffy. The paint is worn on the "loving care" sign outside, and in general the place could use a little sprucing up.

But there is nothing in the public areas to warn potential customers that Kelly's might be in trouble with the law. The man behind the desk shows a visitor that Kelly's is mentioned in the "Ultimate Dog Catalog" and points out the Yellow Pages ad, which says Kelly's has a squeaky clean cattery.

If questioned about the sign that says "No Kennel Inspections," the man says the kennels are full, but pet owners can see them when they bring in their animals.

With all of the recent media attention given to Kelly's Pet Hotel and its embattled owner, Ruby Mae Brown, there may not be too many unsuspecting customers in San Diego right now.

But apparently there were some over the holidays who say their pets were ill cared for at Kelly's, prompting an inspection by the Humane Society, which found filthy conditions and unkempt animals. Brown also faces trial this week on 285 misdemeanor counts of violating animal-control regulations, resulting from inspections last year. In addition, Brown has been denied a license renewal because of a 1984 conviction on animal abuse and neglect charges and has been jailed twice in the last week for refusing to relinquish a gun after threatening to kill if she loses her license.

But still, Kelly's Pet Hotel is in business.

Why? Because the need to protect animals must be balanced against the need to assure that a person's livelihood is not taken away without due process.

In this case, the balance has been tipped in favor of Brown, who first appealed her conviction, then the court order prohibiting her from boarding animals and now the county's attempts to take away her license.

That may be what's required by law, but, in the meantime, what is being done to protect pet owners?

The county Animal Control Department has been diligent in its attempts to revoke the license of someone who seems obviously unfit to be in the business of caring for animals. And Municipal Judge E. Mac Amos Jr. should be particularly credited for demanding that Ruby Mae Brown relinquish her assault rifle and not hesitating to jail her for refusing.

But Brown's legal remedies are not yet exhausted, and, while her important due process rights are being exercised--in an overcrowded court system where appeals can take years--the public needs better protection.

Perhaps a rating system similar to that used in regulating restaurants could be developed for kennels.

With restaurants, the A, B or C rating given by an inspector must be posted immediately. Restaurants with C ratings have 30 days to correct problems. But, in the meantime, the public can tell at a glance if there have been health violations. Health officers say that one of the beauties of the system is that it avoids the need for most lengthy court proceedings.

That tips the scales a little for the public and against due process. But the vast majority of kennels would benefit, and the public could easily avoid those few kennels that don't take animal care seriously.

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