Manchester woman who raises rabbits to sell to hospitals and labs for research has asked the county for permission to continue operating her farm.
Andrea W. Kellert, of the 3800 block of Maple Grove Road, told the Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday that she has been raising white rabbits for six years.
Kellert should have gotten county permission before starting the operation, Zoning Administrator Solveig Smith said. Raising animals for research is allowed as a special use on Kellert's industrially zoned land, she said.
The county learned of Kellert's operation on the 3-acre farm after receiving an inquiry asking whether cats were being raised, Smith said.
"I love animals," Kellert testified. "The only animal I even considered raising for lab purposes is rabbits."
Sinai Hospital in Baltimore is one of her customers, she testified.
Hospital spokesman Paul Umansky said the hospital uses fewer than 100 rabbits a year for research. Lasers are used on rabbits' eyes in glaucoma research, he said. In other studies, rabbits are used to test new surgical pads.
"The work is aimed at protecting humans and curing disease," he said.
In some cases, rabbits are returned to the person who sold them to the hospital, Umansky said.
Last year, Kellert testified, she raised 600 rabbits. She also bought 600 rabbits from other breeders and sold them to labs in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. She said she usually has 85 does on her farm.
Kellert would not comment about her operation to a reporter after the hearing.
Kellert is licensed to raise the rabbits through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Regulatory Enforcement and Animal Care division, a spokeswoman at the Baltimore office said.
USDA supervisor Valencia Colleton said rabbit breeders must meet requirements for feeding, watering, housing and transporting the animals. The government makes at least one unannounced inspection to each licensed facility a year, she said.
At most farms, rabbits are raised in cages inside buildings, she said. Space requirements depend on the rabbit's weight.
For operations established before Aug. 15, 1990, 3- to 5-pound rabbits must have 180 square inches of space, Colleton said. A nursing female rabbit must have 576 square inches, she said.
The county issued Kellert a zoning violation notice April 21, but it was set aside after she applied for county permission to continue her operation, Smith said.
The Board of Zoning Appeals will issue a written decision on Kellert's application within "a reasonable time," Chairman John Totura said.
No one opposed Kellert's operation at the hearing.
Smith said she believes there are at least two other operations similar to Kellert's in the county.
Eugenia V. Eckhardt, a Realtor with O'Conor, Piper and Flynn in Baltimore, testified that she sold Kellert the land and is a close friend.
"She bought [the land] to start life all over again and get herself on her feet," Eckhardt testified. "She turned it into her entire livelihood."