A disagreement over Civil War allegiances prompted the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys in the West Virginia-Kentucky area, a vendetta that stretched for decades and resulted in at least a dozen deaths.
It was barking dogs that prompted the feud between the Mortons and Connellys. So far, nobody’s died, but nerves and trust have been shattered on both sides.
“Something about barking dogs puts you on edge,” said Jamie Connelly, who lives in a small house with his wife Stephanie on a lovely, shaded property of 1.3 acres on Works Street in East Fort Worth.
Over their back fence is Family PetCare, a large and still-growing veterinary hospital near the southeast corner of I-30 and East Loop 820. The clinic, owned by Tim and Becky Morton, has been operating there since 2001. Jamie Connelly bought the house next door a few years later.
The two camps got along fine for years, until late 2012, when the Mortons expanded their clinic by adding a separate building to board more dogs. That project included outdoor kennels where the dogs could get fresh air, exercise, and potty breaks.
The dogs are boarded inside at night, but are let outside at 7 each morning and at intervals throughout the day. Barking inevitably ensues. The Connellys are blasted out of bed by the furor, and with each passing month the noisy intrusions have driven them to take more drastic measures.
They’ve catalogued the invasion of their privacy by using their cell phones to videotape barking dogs, posting them on YouTube, and identifying Family PetCare as the source. In response, the Mortons mounted outdoor cameras that pointed at the Connellys, who mounted their own cameras pointing at the clinic.
In an odd clash that resulted in a call to 911, Becky Morton faced off with Jamie while both were standing on ladders and looking over the wooden privacy fence that separates the properties. Connelly was hanging security cameras in his trees, pointed at the clinic’s employees doing their jobs. Morton’s teenage daughter was among them. A frantic Morton called police to report her neighbor filming her minor daughter.
The dispatcher asked her for contact information, but Morton wasn’t listening. She can be heard on the 911 call yelling at Connelly instead.
“You are absolutely ridiculous and I am tired of you,” she said. “ You are creeping out everybody.”
Later, Connelly found recordings of barking dogs and piped them through speakers that he pointed toward the clinic.
“I reached my limit,” he said. “I was like, ‘OK, we’re going to have to listen to barking dogs all day? Here’s what it sounds like.’ ”
The Connellys sat in their yard under a shade tree last week, basking in a cool morning breeze that was frequently pierced by the sound of barking. It was 10 a.m. and all the dogs were inside the facility, but the muffled sounds were clearly audible.
The couple enjoys sitting outside, and they prefer sleeping at night with windows open. They maintain several raised gardens and catch rain in large barrels for watering. They dream of opening a farmer’s market one day on the property. The sounds of cars and trucks passing by on the nearby highways don’t bother them.
“That’s white noise,” Jamie said. “It blends into the background. Barking dogs are different.”
Stephanie works from home but often becomes so frazzled by the noise that she has to go to a library to be able to focus on her work.
“Both of us have had to seek medical help for stress disorders directly related to the situation,” she said.
The couple filed a complaint with the city’s Code Compliance office in November after discovering Family PetCare wasn’t properly zoned for outdoor kennels. The Mortons applied for a zoning change. The Connellys pleaded their case, but felt that zoning commissioners and city council members were rooting for the Mortons.
The Zoning Commission recommended approval of the zoning change in March. The Fort Worth City Council approved it on April 1. Both groups acted with bias in favor of the pet clinic, the Connellys said.
“They made up their minds before we got there,” Jamie said. “They’re friends of his. They hang out. They go to picnics at his house. They were going to grant it no matter what we said.”
Morton agreed that he is friendly with commissioners, council members, and others at city hall and has worked with many of them on community programs over the years. He is a past president of the East Fort Worth Business Association and a business law attorney as well as a veterinarian.
“We work hard in this community,” he said.
Code compliance workers checked out the Connellys’ complaint about the dog kennels but also noted infractions on the Connelly side of the fence. The couple was temporarily staying in a recreational vehicle parked in their yard while they were renovating the house. Code compliance workers told them they could no longer stay in the RV and that they must build a privacy barrier around it.
“The city council and zoning commission don’t really care about the individual person,” Jamie said. “He [Morton] pays more taxes than me so he gets his way.”
A couple of days after the council approved the zoning change for outdoor kennels, the Connellys discovered an ordinance that restricts outdoor kennels from being built within 300 feet of a residence. The Connelly home is about half that distance from the kennels. Jocelyn Murphy, a zoning manager in the Planning and Development Department, told the couple that “the decision had already been made, and it was too late to do anything about it,” Stephanie said.
Looking back, the Connellys realized they hurt themselves by not uncovering the ordinance sooner. “It is up to you to do all the research and get all the facts before you show up,” Stephanie said. “The zoning commission won’t do it for you.”
Murphy said the distance between the kennels and the Connelly house was discussed during zoning commission meetings, although nobody pointed out the ordinance requiring a 300-foot setback. Asked if someone with the city should have pointed out the statute before the decision was made, she referred the question to the city’s legal department.
“Because the request was a PD [planned development], the council has the authority to grant this use,” city spokesman Bill Begley said. “That PD designation and the fact that council voted for approval supersedes the 300-foot restriction and allows the kennels in this location.”
The Connellys, who have two dogs of their own, had no problem when the clinic kept its dogs inside the main building. The barking rarely penetrated the brick walls. The new building is made of metal. Morton tried to accommodate his neighbors by adding more than the required insulation and by erecting a $10,000 privacy fence that incorporates a thick noise-muffling mat. He keeps the dogs inside the new building most of the day, even though under the new zoning he could leave them in the outdoor kennels all day.
“We’re counting our blessings,” Jamie said. “This is manageable. But if it goes back to nine dogs outside barking 12 hours a day nonstop, we’ll have to move. That’s intolerable.”
The Mortons offered to buy the Connelly homestead for $90,000, even though it’s valued for tax purposes at only $60,000. Connelly paid $60,000 for the property 10 years ago and believes it’s worth $150,000 now due to its rural feel despite sitting in the shadow of I-30.
“I don’t know of any place in Fort Worth where you can get over an acre of land with the shade and trees and the space to grow gardens and no homeowners association,” Jamie said.
The Connellys feel they’re at the mercy of the Mortons. The clinic owners say their neighbors can rest easy. They want to coexist peacefully.
“We could have outdoor kennels and leave the dogs out there, but we’re not going to,” Morton said. “That’s never been our intent.”
The Connellys are counting on that.