Nannette Thode used to make weekly visits to Puffy Paws Kitty Haven; sitting on the sofa and patting the cats was a form of therapy for the woman who lost her husband in June.
But that was before Sarasota County told Puffy Paws owner Rick Kingston that he was in violation of a code forbidding home-based businesses in his area.
“Now they’ve denied me that,” said Thode.
Kingston and his wife have been running Puffy Paws Kitty Haven out of their home on Lakeview Lane for years. Approximately100 cats reside in the no-kill shelter, which was registered and licensed with the Florida Department Of Agriculture & Consumer Services in 2006 and granted 501c3 (non-profit, tax-deductible) status in March. Kingston has adopted out 125 cats since early 2007 from his home on Lakeview Lane, but he can’t do that anymore.
“Only family and friends can come and go,” said Kingston. “There will be no open houses, no surrenders, no volunteers, no signs. We’re OK with that. It puts a strain on me and my wife, but we’re willing to operate in that manner.”
Sarasota County Code Enforcement Officer Bob Lepley informed the Kingstons of an anonymous complaint in late October. The couple was given 30 days to comply with the regulations, which include not having customers coming and going from the house. If they don’t comply, the property owner – Kingston’s mother – will face fines.
“I don’t anticipate it ever getting that far,” Lepley said. “They were very agreeable. … I think it will be resolved 100 percent.”
Although he immediately discontinued having visitors at his home, Kingston has been concerned about the the large trash bin sitting in his driveway, which he said might be the cause of the complaint. The bin was placed there several months ago to make the disposal of 2,100 pounds of cat litter every week easier on Waste Management personnel.
“The code guy talked to my mom, told her that’s what did us in, that Dumpster,” said Kingston.
“That’s not my issue,” said Lepley, who said he told Kingston that the bin gives the appearance that his home isn’t an ordinary one, that it’s a business.
“If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, generally it’s a duck,” Lepley said.
Kingston is looking for a $500 donation to cover the expense of hiding the bin.
He is still taking in cats. Surrenders are done at Loving Care Animal Hospital, 2011 Englewood Road. Donations can be made seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Puffy Paws Kitty Haven Donation and Storage Center located off San Case Drive on Woodgate Court. Kingston said that it’s to the right of Walmart, and is identifiable by its strobe light and Free Stuff sign.
It costs $150 a day to meet the basic needs of the cats, he said. That includes 50 pounds of wet food, two 18-pound bags of dry food and 350 pounds of cat litter.
One donation he can count on is $50 a week from Thode.
“They weren’t harming anybody,” she said. “They keep the house neat and clean. … It’s the only charity I’ve heard of where all the donations go to the animals. It’s two people who have devoted themselves to saving cats.”
While the change has made life more difficult for the Kingstons, their primary concern is keeping the cats safe.
“It’s their haven, not The Haven now,” said Kingston.
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