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Fate of Foxy's Cradle kitten nursery in North Whitehall still undecided

Brian Myszkowski
Foxy’s Cradle owner Kandice Reinert, second from right, speaks about her neonatal kitten nursery at a North Whitehall Township Zoning Hearing Board meeting held Nov. 21, 2023. The fate of the nursery, which the township's zoning restricts in that particular zone, has been pushed to December.

NORTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa — More than 100 people packed the Schnecksville Fire Department enclosed pavilion Monday to support cat nursery Foxy’s Cradle in North Whitehall.

Following a five-hour hearing, the township’s Zoning Hearing Board opted to continue the special meeting to discuss an appeal allowing for the survival of the beloved neonatal kitten care center.

Foxy’s Cradle owner Kandice Reinert is seeking a special exception to restrictions on kennels within the township’s residential zoning district.

The nonprofit, run from Reinert’s home at 5260 Overlook Road, received an environmental notice from the township code official in July for unpermitted operation of an animal rescue.

A previous hearing had been scheduled for October, but was rescheduled after anticipated attendance exceeded the township meeting room capacity.

Though Reinert was in communication with Code Enforcement Officer Aubrie Miller and Zoning Officer Jeff Mouer, she claimed she received no notice to cease operations after an on-site evaluation.

The township, represented by attorney Anthony M. Brichta of Norris McLaughlin, argued Reinert’s neonatal kitten support organization was not permitted to operate in her home due to zoning restrictions which limit the property to a single principal use.

Brichta emphasized that while “there's never been animosity on behalf of the township as to what this group is doing, or what they're trying to do,” the rules are unambiguous for all.

“But the argument that just because there's support for it, and just because it's good, means we can effectively disregard that zoning ordinance, not only is wrong, and this is, but it's just untenable for any township to operate that way. If there's a specific concern, the remedy is to change the zoning,” Brichta said.

In addition, Brichta said the township’s zoning code delineates that as the animals under the care of Foxy’s Cradle are not Reinert’s pets, and as Reinert stated the organization was a nonprofit animal shelter, “there’s just no wiggle room there.”

“We're done. If we can't continue to run it in the residence as we are, we're done. There's no option like us."
Foxy’s Cradle owner Kandice Reinert

Attorney Erich J. Schock of Fitzpatrick, Lentz and Bubba, argued certain nuances of the zoning code did not necessarily apply to Foxy’s Cradle, particularly when it came to the definition of a kennel.

According to Schock and at least one expert witness, referring to Foxy’s Cradle as a kennel was incorrect, as statewide, a kennel is largely particular to dogs. Even if the township’s definition took precedence, Schock noted there was an exception for animals three months of age or younger – which includes the neonatal kittens of Foxy’s Cradle.

But the cornerstone of Schock’s defense was the consideration of the principal use of the residence.

“In all due respect, the determining factor, I think, is you're still using your house principally as your house, and this is secondary,” Schock said.

“These animals are in a state where they need more attention than adult animals. And that's what results – not because it's anything different than ‘it's my house and my passion is helping neonatal patients.’ But, I mean, I think you could look at any home occupation, and if you worked enough hours, it would be the secondary use of your house, hour-wise, right?”

When asked if another location in a zone which allowed for mixed-use facilities could be found and used for Foxy’s Cradle, Reinert explained that the nature of the operation itself required frequent access to the kittens – some require feeding every hour, depending on age – which was untenable for her.

Reinert provides the overnight care for all the kittens herself, and claimed she could accommodate about three dozen at maximum within six operating incubators. She said it would be practically impossible to continue the shelter at another site.

“That's the main problem, is to have the people able and willing to do the overnight feeds and 24/7 care. So if you have a shelter that closes at six and they wanted to start up a neonate nursery, they would have to turn to 24 hours,” Reinert said.

“It's very difficult to find evening volunteers, much less night shift volunteers, so the chances of finding night shift volunteer coverage ... they would probably more likely than not have to hire somebody to do the overnight shifts.”

She went on to note that shelters and rescues across the country are struggling to fund their operations, and said raising enough to pay for an employee is extremely unlikely under most circumstances.

When asked what would happen if she could not continue the shelter within her home, Reinert was blunt.

“We're done. If we can't continue to run it in the residence as we are, we're done. There's no option like us,” Reinert said.

Brichta reiterated that the case before the officials was clear, and not an instance of personal enmity, but of established zoning law which, under its current standing, prevented Reinert from operating Foxy’s Cradle as it currently stands.

“Based on the clear language of the zoning ordinance, and, you know, we certainly feel for the applicant and don't have a problem with necessarily what they're doing, but they can't do it under the zoning board. It's at their home,” Brichta said.

The board stated the new meeting will tentatively be held Dec. 20. Details on the location will be announced at a future date as officials look for a site that has enough room to accommodate all attendees.