When Zana White and Michael Wagner moved to the quiet 8100 block of Pontiac Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia 10 years ago, they asked their neighbors whether they could keep a horse in their backyard. Everyone said it was OK.
Now the count is up to five: three ponies and two horses: Amir, Redman, Dolly, Sunrise, and Isaiah.
Neighbors have complained about the smell and questioned whether it's legal to keep the animals in an approximately quarter-acre backyard.
After about two years of correspondence between the neighbors and various city and other local agencies, the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections issued White and Wagner two violations for not having the proper zoning permits. The city maintains that White and Wagner are violating zoning regulations in their neighborhood that prohibit a stable and horses.
White said she was confident the violations would be dismissed in court.
"You can have horses in the city," she said. "These are my private pets. They're for my enjoyment."
The neighborhood grievances began in 2009, when Tom and Tina Brown, who live down the street, filed a complaint to five agencies because they had concerns about sanitation and the smell of manure and urine.
"It's been really horrible living one way and having to change your whole lifestyle for the sake of some horses and the smell," said Tom Brown, who has lived on the block for 25 years. "My wife used to hang clothes in the backward. I can't have anyone over for a barbecue because the smell is so bad. It's like being a prisoner in our own house."
Over the next year, the Browns continued to write letters, seeking action from the city. L&I issued its first violation notice against White and Wagner in February, for operating a horse stable without a zoning permit and for engaging in a business without a business-privilege license. White owns a business, It's My Pony Party, which rents out horses for special occasions. Neighbors say she runs it out of her home, but White says it operates out of space in Chester County.
L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy said the matter was resolved because the couple removed the horses from the property before a scheduled inspection date. The case was dismissed in Municipal Court.
But the five horses soon returned to the backyard of the twin on Pontiac Avenue.
On July 20, L&I issued a second violation notice for the same infractions. Kennedy said the city was focusing on the main violation, that White and Wagner "need proper zoning to have horses in that residence."
White and Wagner will now go to Common Pleas Court. A judge can issue a fine and require the horses removed from the property, Kennedy said. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.
Kenneth Young, White and Wagner's lawyer, said having horses on Pontiac Avenue was "100 percent legal."
"Because it's not a business, you're allowed to have those horses there," he said. "Any violation we have, we're going to fight, we're going to court about it. There's nothing illegal about having horses there."
White is an officer with the Large Animal Protection Society. She makes sure those who have horses obey anticruelty laws. White's neighbors on Pontiac Avenue said her horses were healthy and kept very well. They are concerned mainly about odor.
In April, eight homeowners on the block signed a petition, later given to city agencies, complaining about the smell of manure. Tom Brown said piles of manure in the yard and around the block have made the area stink.
White said the smell comes from street sewers. She said she works hard to clean up the excrement and takes about 20 10-gallon buckets to the Fairmount Park recycling center twice a week. The recycling center charges $10 per ton of waste, according to a spokesperson.
"I keep it clean because it's not healthy for them to stand around in manure, as it's not healthy for us, either. I stay on top of it," White said. "I walk around the block, I drive around the block when it's hot, to see if I can smell anything. I'm very conscientious of everybody. I smell nothing."
Tom Bazis occupies the other side of the twin, sharing a common wall with White and Wagner. He said he didn't become involved with the complaints until he put his house up for sale this year and started getting comments from potential buyers about the odor.
In July, Realtor Tony Alicea told Bazis he had clients who chose not to buy the house because of the smell.
"This property is very attractive because there's a big backyard and it's secluded to the city," Alicea said. "Once you step outside, the smell from the horses is just unbearable. If you have a horse stable, it's always going to smell like horses."
White said that although neighbors on her block complained about the horses, people in the area welcomed them. She said she had taken the horses to nearby schools to teach youngsters to connect with nature.
"We're just trying to be an example, not poke people in the eye, but we're trying to show how we live, and maybe it'll influence somebody," White said. "That there's another way of living besides locked in front of your TV every day."
Bazis said there was a neighborhood consensus that the horses were a problem. He wants the city to take action.
"Hopefully, order will be enforced," Bazis said. "The horses need to go. We're at the end of our rope."