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Feathers still flying in Pasco residents' exotic bird dispute

After her daughter was murdered 18 years ago, Connie Kloss found some salvation in, of all things, exotic birds.

They made her laugh in a way she hadn't since losing Seanna, 23, in such a horrible way.

Gradually, her pet birds became a hobby and her hobby became a business, and now Kloss is a breeder with about 75 exotic birds — several varieties of macaws, as well as conures, African Greys, Quaker parrots and others.

The birds live in roomy cages housed in two large structures at her home on Porsche Place, an out-of-the-way dead-end road in Shady Hills. They have names like Ruby and Petie and Roz and Sebastian.

To be blunt, the neighbors do not like Ruby and friends. Since Kloss and her husband, Mike Lentz, moved in three months ago, there has been no harmony on Porsche Place.

The simmering dispute boiled into a confrontation on Wednesday at a meeting of the Pasco County Planning Commission in New Port Richey. Kloss was there seeking an exception to the zoning that would permit her bird operation. The neighbors turned out to oppose it.

But when not enough planning commissioners showed up to have a quorum, the meeting was adjourned with nobody getting any satisfaction, just further delay. After some shouting from both sides, everyone went home unhappy.

• • •

These are some of the issues at the heart of the fight:

The neighbors say the birds are not kept in humane conditions. Kloss says they are.

The neighbors say there's a serious fly problem on their street when there never was before. Kloss, 62, says people don't dispose of their trash properly.

But perhaps most contentious of all, there is the noise. This Kloss does not dispute. The birds shriek and squawk when a stranger walks on her property, and even when an unfamiliar car drives by. She says they are loud in the morning when the doors are opened for feeding time. They get loud again when the sun begins to set.

"In the wild they do the same thing," Lentz said.

A county animal inspector who visited the property in March noted the noise, writing that "upon entering the housing areas for birds, the level of noise went up to the point of having to leave the area due to the noise."

Documents from a visit in May again note the high level of noise and state that it dissipated as visitors walked away from the bird houses.

Officials told Kloss she has to comply with the county's noise ordinance, which bans any nuisance animal that "unreasonably annoys human beings." The definition of that: "making frequent or continued sound or noise for periods of 10 minutes or more, at any time."

To Elizabeth Phillips, who lives next door: "It sounds like birds being murdered."

• • •

Phillips acknowledges that she's the one who called PETA, the animal rights group known for its feisty public relations style.

"Nobody else wanted to help," said Phillips.

PETA posted photos of Kloss' bird house, along with text claiming that her birds are kept "in a dark, windowless metal shed with no air conditioning, which could result in heatstroke and death for the birds as summer temperatures rise."

"Connie Kloss' windowless breeding warehouse is a prison and a death trap for these magnificent birds," PETA vice president Daphna Nachminovitch said in a news release. "We urge Pasco County officials to spare these complex, intelligent animals from suffering more misery in what is essentially a breeding mill."

PETA supporters around the world flooded county officials with e-mails opposing Kloss' request. Many of them quoted PETA's claims verbatim.

"Totally untrue," is what Kloss says in response.

She allowed a reporter to visit her property Wednesday. One of the bird houses is a two-car garage holding cages of smaller birds. The other is a tall metal building where the large macaws live. Both are brightly lit and ventilated with fans blowing outside air in and sucking hot air out. Lentz set up a sprinkler system atop the bigger building that can be turned on to cool the hot metal.

"The living conditions are near excellent," said Kloss, who works nights as a registered nurse.

County documents say she has a license from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to sell and exhibit wildlife. The commission does inspections to ensure humane, sanitary conditions.

• • •

County officials are recommending approval of Kloss' zoning request, with some conditions. She'll have to move the birds in the garage because it's too close to the Phillips' property. She also won't be allowed to grow her breeding business.

Kloss hasn't bought a new bird in three years, she said, and has no plans to expand. She sells babies — some fetch more than $1,000 — to pet stores and individuals, but says she doesn't make any profit. Feeding the birds costs $600 a month, she says, plus she pays someone to come for several hours a day to tend the flock and sweep out the cages.

"I want to continue doing this because I enjoy doing this," Kloss said.

Also among the conditions: compliance with the noise ordinance.

The planning commission is now scheduled to address her request at its July meeting.

That's no consolation to neighbors like Angel Hatch, who says she can't open her windows or sit on her porch without hearing a near-constant cacophony.

"We don't have a home anymore," she said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Feathers still flying in Pasco residents' exotic bird dispute 06/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 8:09pm]
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