WHEAT RIDGE, Colo.— A couple dozen massive wooden stakes stand tall in a fenced in area behind Zen Doggy Den in Wheat Ridge. The earth around them dug in, with even more wood stacked in nearby corners. The plan was to build a number of fences to allow dogs to play in the back of the business, but the owner has been told that’s against the law.
“We got everything we could together to get this place open and it literally is everything,” said owner Julie McLean. “If we can’t do this, we have nothing left.”
McLean opened up the business on Wadsworth Boulevard last week, but a zoning issue throws a wrench at her business model.
“They said no you can’t keep the dogs outside,” McLean said.
Wheat Ridge sent McLean a letter in July that approved her business license under the condition she can’t have any outdoor pens or runs, because the business is zoned as a commercial space. In Wheat Ridge, city zoning only allows kennels with outdoor runs in agricultural and industrial zoning districts, according to a city spokesperson. But McLean’s vision is more of a backyard, and doesn’t think it’s the same concept as a traditional dog run.
“This is supervised, very structured play yard where we’re gonna have people out with them the whole time,” McLean said. “They never said, you can’t bring the dogs outside, they never said you can’t walk them outside, and all of the sudden there’s all these extra rules we had no idea about.”
The letter doesn’t mention that the dogs are not allowed to go outside for a bathroom break, but McLean says she’s been told the dogs have to go to the bathroom inside, otherwise it violates the ordinance.
“We could be un-house breaking people’s dogs,” McLean said. “I just can’t stomach allowing that.”
A spokesperson from the city says City Council would need to approve a code amendment to allow outdoor runs in this type of commercial or mixed use district, and the City Manager has reached out to council about seeing if they need to make an exemption, or change the rule altogether.
Meanwhile, McLean has already spent more than $20,000 on materials to build a fence and infrastructure for a backyard, but doesn’t know what to do if the rules don’t change in the near future.
“It’s really scary actually because we could potentially have to wait months and we have employees to pay and we have bills and rent,” McLean said.