Kennel Owner of 3 Dozen Dogs Who Burned in Fires Has History of 'Problematic Behavior'
Photos — Tarawood Kennels Facebook page
BRISTOL — The woman who operated the kennel where more than two dozen German Shepherds died in a fire Wednesday in Bristol had had a history of questionable care for her canines.
Jennifer "Bobbi" Choate operated Tarawood Kennels in Halifax, Massachusetts, until August when she announced on her Facebook page she was moving her kennel to New Hampshire.
Media reports from her Halifax location show at least 10 dogs had to be euthanized for parvovirus in March of this year.
“In Massachusetts she ran into some trouble," said Shiela Ryan, Director of Development and Marketing at New Hampshire SPCA. "(She) has a history of problematic behavior.”
Problems in the Bay State
Choate also went by the name Jennifer R. Harmon when she operated Tarawood Kennels in Halifax. A neighbor in Halifax, Scott Clawson, sued her and the town in 2016, saying abutters were not notified of a plan to change the allowable number of dogs on her property. Clawson had a long-standing fued with the kennel owner over noise. At one point he created berms separating his property from hers. The berms themselves, created with soil, tree stumps and manure, became a concern of the town.
She had originally been allowed to breed dogs under certain conditions at the 7 Plymouth St., location. According to the Plympton Halifax Express, the number of allowable dogs on the property soared over several years from 15 adult dogs and two litters of puppies each year to 50 adult dogs and and 26 litters of puppies. At one point, she had petitioned the town to allow 100 adult dogs and an unlimited number of litters, but that request was pulled.
During a selectmen's meeting, Choate was told to reduce the number of dogs to 25.
Noise complaints from Tarawood Kennels continued this year. Selectmen also addressed a complaint of a woman being attacked by one of the German Shepherds in February.
Additionally, the town's animal control officer Noreen Callahan was not able to get access to the property for a required inspection due to a locked gate.
Breeding in Bristol
In August, Choate moved the dogs to a two structure property at 90 Chestnut St. in Bristol but her problems didn't end. Three weeks ago, a fire started in the makeshift kennel by a knocked-over heat lamp which killed two adult dogs and five puppies.
The Bristol property was once owned by her late stepfather, Oley Firth. Firth died in June of 2012. It is now listed in town assessing records as being owned by Choate under the name Jennifer R. Harlfinger.
According to Ryan, Choate moved to a separate cottage on the property with 29 dogs — three adults and 26 puppies. Nine dogs were housed at the burned-out home.
Wednesday's fire killed the 29 dogs in the cottage, but spared the other 9. Ryan says two NHSPCA staff members drove to the home Wednesday to take the bodies of the 29 dogs to be cremated as well as the nine dogs who survived.
Ryan says the nine have been medically evaluated and some have minor issues. One dog had a significant foot wound.
Ryan says the owner of the facility was not a licensed breeder. Cases like this, "reinforce the need for stronger laws in New Hampshire for backyard breeders," she said.
When contacted by phone Thursday, Choate declined to comment beyond saying, "I'm devastated. I'm numb. I'm sick."
Choate directed questions to her attorney, Nicholas Brodich, who said through a representative answering his phone at the law firm of Tarbell & Brodich that he had no comment at the moment, but may speak about Choate's situation at a later date.
Ryan says the New Hampshire Federation of Humane Organizations (NH FED) is working to change laws in the state to create stiffer penalities for animal abusers as well as tougher restitution laws. She says because Choate has not surrendered the nine dogs, they will remain in protective custody at the shelter until a judge rules on the case.
Bristol Police also confirmed on Facebook that the owner had another facility in Alexandria.
No word yet if Choate will face charges.