Escaped horses led Bristol Police to unpermitted kennel-breeding operation at site of firesBy JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent
December 18. 2017 9:29PM
BRISTOL — Police say escaped horses led them to an unpermitted breeding kennel at a residence where 36 German shepherds, most of them puppies, have perished in two separate fires.
Both fires occurred at 90 Chestnut St. which, according to Bristol Police Lt. Kristopher Bean, is owned by Jennifer “Bobbi Jo” Choate. The first fire, which took place on Nov. 22 in the main house on the property, killed nine dogs, three adults and six puppies; the second, on Dec. 13 in a cottage on the property, killed 27 dogs, most of which, said Bean on Monday, were puppies that were “maybe a week old.”
The investigation of what happened on those dates is ongoing, said Bean, and no charges have been filed against Choate. If charges are brought, however, Bean said they could include animal cruelty, a misdemeanor.
Choate was not immediately available for comment; calls to her at Tarawood Kennels in Plymouth, Mass., were met with a message stating “That mailbox is full.”
Under Bristol’s zoning ordinance, a kennel is permitted by special exception in the Rural Zone and by variance in all others, like the Rural Village District that includes Chestnut Street. The Bristol Land Use Office said there was no permit for a kennel at 90 Chestnut St.
In response to many complaints about barking dogs, police first went to that property about a year ago, said Bean, and encountered a tenant with multiple German shepherds. The man left the property the day after the encounter with police, said Bean, reportedly moving out of state.
More recently, police responded to Chestnut Street this past Oct. 5 for a report of two horses roaming the area. The call concerned police, Bean explained, because it was in the early morning, when students were outside waiting for school buses.
Officers went to Choate’s residence, confirmed that the horses belonged to her and while there, he said, “We located a large amount of dogs on the property.”
Concerned about the welfare of those dogs, about 20 in all, as well as that of another 30 dogs at a property in Alexandria, the Bristol and Alexandria police departments subsequently executed search warrants for both, said Bean, but while conditions were not ideal, they also were not actionable.
Authorities gave Choate “a list of things to fix, but it was nothing major,” said Bean, adding that the next contact his agency had with Choate was at the Nov. 22 fire. That fire is believed to have been started by a knocked-over heat lamp, said Bean, although the New Hampshire Fire Marshal’s Office, which investigated, “did not make a ruling on the exact cause.”
After the fire, electricity and water to the main house were shut off and, with the approach of winter, Choate was told that neither she nor the surviving dogs could stay there, Bean said.
Bristol police were unaware, however, that the dogs had been moved into the cottage until after the Dec. 13 fire at which time the department obtained a search warrant and found 29 deceased dogs and nine that were still alive.
Deeming the conditions unacceptable, the nine surviving dogs were taken into custody by Bristol police and transferred to the NHSPCA.
Those dogs have been evaluated and some of them were “in generally good shape,” said Bean, while some needed medical attention.
On the Tarawood Kennels website, Choate, whom Bean said grew up in Bristol, professes her love of horses and dogs, adding that she had spent “over twenty years raising what I believe are the perfect German shepherds for any family.”
In March 2017, Choate, according to published accounts in Massachusetts, reported an outbreak of the parvovirus at Tarawood Kennels which claimed the lives of 10 dogs and led to the kennel being quarantined.
Choate has also had problems at Tarawood with Halifax, Mass., neighbors complaining about excessive noise caused by barking dogs.
On Sept. 27, 2016, in response to those complaints, the Halifax Board of Selectmen, according to meetings minutes, ordered Choate to reduce the number of adult dogs at Tarawood to 25 and to have no more than 12 litters per year.
In July 2010, the Halifax Board of Appeals gave Choate permission to have 15 adult dogs and two litters per year per breed; at the time she was breeding German shepherds and Pomeranians. The ZBA also ordered her to install soundproofing.
In February 2012, the ZBA granted Choate’s request to have 23 adult dogs at Tarawood Kennels and to increase the number of litters to three per breed, while in 2013, the ZBA granted her request for 50 adults and 26 litters.