Shannon Oliver faces a regulatory maze after a lawyer hired by her neighbors found part of her dog day care is in the wrong zone.
Shannon Oliver, owner of Hello, Doggie Daycare in Casco, with her Labradoodle, named Yankee Doodle. The business received a town permit, but Oliver is being asked to cease operations after one year because a neighbor's lawyer discovered part of her property is in the wrong zone. Credit: Lori Valigra / BDN

CASCO, Maine — Shannon Oliver threw up her hands as she recounted how she took the right steps to get a permit for her dog day care here but now faces a regulatory maze after a lawyer hired by her neighbors found part of her property is in the wrong zone.

The 29-year-old is worried she will lose her business amid a noise complaint lawsuit and mounting expenses as she attempts to get a zoning variance for the property. It’s a situation she worries could ripple down to other businesses already in or planning to open in the town.

“I am still stumped as to the legality and ethics of this entire situation,” she said.

Oliver’s dilemma calls into question who should pay the consequences if a permit is issued to a business in error. Oliver contends she and her landlord invested thousands of dollars into the property to set up the business, and she questions why she should be held responsible for what she said is a mistake made by the town in granting the permit.

Oliver, who moved the 5-year-old business to Casco from nearby Raymond in 2021, is also concerned it might set a precedent for other area businesses retroactively found to be violating town ordinances.

Peg Dilly, owner of Peg’s Pals & Pets in Casco and a longtime town resident, agreed.

“I am worried it could have a snowball effect, and I’m concerned about other small businesses,” she said. “She did everything she needed to do. It’s not her mistake.”

Oliver’s problems started in early 2022, just before the town approved a permit for the business. Neighbors across the street complained to the property’s owners and the town about barking by Oliver’s own dogs. The complaints became more frequent when Oliver opened Hello, Doggie Daycare in February 2022.

By that fall, the neighbors had hired a lawyer who discovered that part of the property, which had been advertised as commercial, was actually in a residential zone, where the business was not allowed. The neighbors complained to the town, which agreed the business violated ordinances. The town issued a notice of violation on Oct. 24, 2022, to the property’s owners saying Hello, Doggie Daycare must cease operations within 14 days.

Oliver is facing a lawsuit initiated by the neighbors in December 2022 after she continued her business and made various appeals to the town. The town’s attorney declined to comment on the matter.

The complaint asserts that the operation is prohibited under the town’s zoning ordinance and the noise generated by its operation has interfered with the neighbors’ enjoyment of their property, their attorney Cameron Ferrante said. They are asking the court to lessen the business’ nuisance or stop it from operating. The lawsuit is a civil nuisance complaint filed in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Oliver’s lawyer filed a counterclaim this February saying, among other things, that no excessive noise from the dogs has been proven. Ferrante filed a motion shortly afterward to dismiss the counterclaim.

Meanwhile, the neighbors have continued to complain to the town and animal control, according to Oliver, and she has continued to run her business, for which she has a license from the state. A friend started a GoFundMe campaign to help defray Oliver’s legal expenses. Oliver is a part-time animal control officer for Casco, Naples and Raymond and runs an animal rescue.

The neighbors are located across from the dog day care on a side road off Route 302. The day care has a fenced area where the dogs can be outside during the day. There is a street and a parking lot between the home and the day care.

Shannon Oliver faces a regulatory maze after a lawyer hired by her neighbors found part of her dog day care is in the wrong zone.
The view from the edge of the parking lot at Hello, Doggie Daycare across the street to the closest neighbor (white home), who has complained of dog barking. The day care is on Route 302 in Casco, while the house is on a side road off of the highway. Credit: Lori Valigra / BDN

Oliver said she completed the proper steps for the day care, including filing for the permit, which the town approved. She said the town’s code enforcement officer walked through the property with the owners and said it was OK to use for dog day care, boarding and training, along with her residence there, so she signed a five-year lease.

The town seemed supportive early on, Oliver said. According to emails exchanged between Oliver and the town’s code enforcement office that were obtained by the Bangor Daily News, the code enforcement officer went to the day care to listen for noise in February 2022.

“John [Wisemann] went down there and it was quiet and did not seem to think the house was that close to be bothered by any barking that may occur,” the code enforcement officer’s assistant, Mary Tremblay, wrote to Oliver in an email in February 2022. “We will just be aware of the situation and try our best to avoid any further issues.”

The town referred calls about the noise dispute to its lawyer, who declined to comment.

Oliver said the ordinance, which does not allow kennels in a residential zone, is applied unevenly. It says anyone who possesses three or more dogs and six or more cats for any purpose, including as pets, is considered to own a kennel and must operate in a commercial zone.

The town enforced the ordinance in 2017 after several noise complaints about a rescue operation. It caused an uproar from pet owners who worried it would limit the number of dogs they could have. The town’s code defining a kennel went into effect in March 1988, and was amended in June 2013. Dilly said concerns about hoarding and unlicensed breeding heightened in the community in 2005.

In 2017, Stephanie Green, who ran a rescue called Homes for Happy Dogs, was told to cease operations because she had seven dogs in a residential zone and neighbors were complaining of noise. The animal control officer at the time said the noise complaints were unfounded, according to a Bridgton News story. She rehomed several of them, but ultimately shut down the business.

Oliver said she understands the town is in a tough spot, but she doesn’t want to suffer the same fate as Green. She already has thousands of dollars invested into the day care on the line, and ongoing fees are mounting. She would like to be able to keep her business and is considering options including adding noise filters. Oliver said she would consider moving If the town offers to pay for her expenses.

“The town is in a corner and is acting out of self-preservation,” she said. “But the laws and ordinances have not changed in the last year, and thus it was an error on the code enforcement team, not myself.”

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Lori Valigra

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...