Nurturing? Or a nuisance?
A Stow, Ohio, family faces a Feb. 17 deadline to rehome a pair of alpacas they call “emotional/therapy pets,” but which a Goldfinch Trail neighbor has characterized as a nuisance. According to Brendan Mackin, Stow’s assistant law director, neither the laws of the state nor city ordinances “provide for this type of (emotional support) exception” and the animals, which are considered livestock, must go.
This past summer City Council heard complaints from a neighbor that Scott Westberg has created a nuisance situation with his choice of pet and the smells that result from the animals. Westberg says he has been cooperative with the city, going so far as to rehome two alpacas and cleaning up after the remaining duo on a daily basis. However, in a Jan. 29 email, Mackin told Westberg,“Your neighbor does not agree that the issues regarding the odor and sanitary conditions have been resolved” and gave Westberg roughly three weeks to find them new homes.
Westberg claims the alpacas — milk chocolate-colored mom Loratta and her vanilla offspring Scooby — provide emotional support to address health conditions identified by medical professionals for both his fiancee, Sigridur “Sigga” Jackson, and their 12-year-old son, Magnus “Max.” The alpacas are indoor-outdoor pets which Westberg has described as quieter than a dog, with droppings that smell less than their canine counterpart. But, in a Jan. 3 letter to Stow Planning Director Rob Kurtz and city officials, the neighbor disputes those claims, saying they “have turned their backyard into a pasture.”
A violation of the nuisance ordinance is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of a $150 fine. Westberg questions what kind of nuisance — odor, noise or unsanitary conditions — he is accused of allowing presently and says, to his knowledge, city officials have not verified his neighbor’s continuing allegations against him. “Do you feel it would be too much to ask for someone from the law department to verify (the) claims,” Westberg wrote in a Jan. 29 email to Mackin.
Last year, when the original complaint was registered, Westberg told the Stow Sentry, “Embarrassingly, I did get busy at work and allowed too many days to go by without picking up after my pets in the back yard, so I did get a letter (from the city regarding the odor). I immediately put a plan in place to have my pets picked up after on a daily basis and emailed Rob to apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused him or anyone. I take pride in the way I take care of my family, property, employees and pets and felt horrible I dropped the ball on that one.”
While Kurtz told the Stow Sentry in August 2018 he was not aware of anything in the zoning code which specifically prohibits the keeping of alpacas in the city, Kurtz told the newspaper on Sept. 5, “After additional review of the code, it is my position that keeping alpacas is an agricultural activity and not permitted in the R-1 Residential district.”
Westburg has been involved with llamas and alpacas for more than 20 years; he and his family moved into Stow in March 2018.
Westberg contends Loratta and Scooby are therapy pets without any agricultural use. After having addressed the odor problem raised in July, Westberg says he thought the alpacas could remain. Scooby is registered as an Emotional Support Animal, Westberg says, while the family is in the process of registering Loratta as a therapy animal through Pet Partners.
Sigga Jackson says the alpacas ease mental and emotional issues for both she and Max. “I had been diagnosed with depression in the past,” Sigga says, “and the love and comfort that I get from them, especially during stressful times, helps me more than any medications I have been prescribed ... and they (the alpacas) provide no negative side effects.”
Max was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in the second grade and with Other Health Impairment the next year. “Sometimes he (Max) has a hard time getting past emotional things, such as getting really down and upset thinking about my mom passing away over a year ago, or thinking about his friend, Keith Burkett, passing away late last year,” Sigga says. “When he gets to those points, he’ll have tears in his eye and feel so sad that it’s like Scooby is the only thing that will help him get past his emotional moments. He’ll go out to Scooby, spend time with him and hug on him and then he feels better and the tears are gone.”
By providing documentation to city officials that the alpacas are therapy pets without an agricultural use and addressing the odor issue, Westberg says he hopes the alpacas can remain. Westberg orginally faced an Oct. 1, 2018, deadline to remove the alpacas; that deadline has been extended several times and at press time, he was asking for 40 days past the Feb. 17 deadline if the animals must be rehomed.
“We want to and are willing to do anything within reason to make peace with (our neighbor), such as planting tall evergreen trees or extending our privacy fence into the woods,” Westberg says.