Kern County's code compliance officer says a Tehachapi woman with 168 dogs is running an unpermitted animal shelter. The woman says she's just an animal lover with a lot of pets.
A code compliance complaint charges Kimi Peck is running an animal shelter that is improperly zoned, which could result in fines and harsher penalties.
The complaint stemmed from a years-long Animal Control investigation that found Peck's animals appeared to be well cared-for and healthy but housing violations could be present.
"We're going to ... ask the Board of Supervisors to make a determination there is a zoning violation there,'' said County Building Inspection Division Director Charles Lackey. He will ask supervisors to fine Peck and order changes.
Peck's three-story home, nestled in the rolling hills of Tehachapi, has been converted to a large doghouse.
A string of fences and pens cordon off the entryway leading up to the home. Pit bulls that Peck says are too vicious to adopt out are grouped in a front pen. Other mixed sheppard breeds are grouped together in another pen near the front door.
Visitors must enter through a series of gates and a holding area that prevents the dogs from escaping.
Peck says the animals at her house are society's throwaways: dogs deemed too vicious to be adopted out or otherwise facing certain euthanasia at Southern California animal shelters.
"I think this little dog deserves to live in a house," Peck said, holding up a 22-year-old chihuahua named Johnny who is blind in one eye and needs help swallowing his food. "Call me crazy, but I think people who think these animals should live in cement runs are crazy."
Peck faces county code violations that could see her fined or in a legal battle over the fate of her dogs.
"It's beyond what somebody would typically have as a primary use as a residence,'' Lackey said. ''It's primary use has become that of a shelter or a kennel.''
There is no clear law that defines how many dogs comprise a kennel, Lackey said, noting in Peck's case it would be up to Supervisors to decide.
Peck ran a shelter in Burbank but moved to the hills of Tehachapi three years ago amid charges she was hoarding chihuahuas in filthy conditions at her sanctuary.
Neighbors in Kern County say she's still doing much the same.
A letter signed by 23 neighbors and area residents cites drifting pet hair, offensive smells, and the yelps of dogs in distress coming from Peck's property.
"We have done our best to be good neighbors and to be tolerant of Ms. Peck's rights," the neighbors wrote in the letter bearing their signature. "However, it is now clear that she is, and will continue to be, the source of an escalating public nuisance. We also have rights that must be respected."
"What do I say to them?'' Peck asked. ''Get a life. Get a life, you poor pathetic people."
"These are lies,'' Peck said. ''And these people better be prepared for a lawsuit."
The letter was sent to Lackey, Shaw, and Second District Supervisor Don Maben. Maben said he was aware of the pending code compliance complaint but didn't have specific knowledge about the case.
Peck says the letter is part of a conspiracy of disgruntled people who worked with or were associated with her Burbank facility. The dogs, she said, are now her own because they're not fit for adoption. But on her Website
, Peck solicits donations as a rescue and sanctuary out of the Los angeles area. Peck insists all rescue work is done out of Beverly Hills and her home in Tehachapi is not a business. But Lackey at code compliance says that's exactly what she's running in Tehachapi.
Eventually Peck might be forced to give up the dogs or go through a series of public hearings to petition to build a formal kennel. Such hearings would allow her neighbors to give input on the number of dogs on the property and how they are housed.
Peck says she never applied for special zoning or a permit because she was told by Animal Control she didn't need one.
"I would never have come up here if it weren't for the laws that stated it's OK to have as many dogs as you want as long as they are individually licensed and have rabies vaccinations," Peck said.
Outside of the metropolitan Bakersfield area, Kern County does not have a law that limits how many dogs a person can own. Critics say it makes the county a magnet for people who have too many animals.
The lack of a law also makes his department's job at enforcing building codes more difficult, Lackey said.