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Sonsini Animal Shelter still seeks its new home, after dropping move to Lenox space

Decision related to nonprofit's decision to avoid ties with Lee Kohlenberger Jr., who faces larceny charge; report released on cause of July fire at Kohlenberger's home in Becket that killed four dogs

439 Pittsfield Road, Lenox Street View

The Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter decided not to lease space at a Lenox building most recently used by Berkshire Dogs Unleashed.

PITTSFIELD — The Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter continues to look for a new home, after deciding in September not to lease space at a Lenox building used by Berkshire Dogs Unleashed.

The nonprofit this fall announced a plan to shift operations into the space, pending approvals from the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals and a successful site plan review. The shelter was going to bring on Lee Kohlenberger Jr., who owned Berkshire Dogs Unleashed, as an independently contracted interim manager to facilitate the move. 

But the shelter halted that plan after deciding not to be associated with Kohlenberger, according to a member of the nonprofit's board.

Instead, it is seeking an alternative location for a new home, after moving in 2018 out of a city-space and into a former warehouse at 875 Crane Ave. in Pittsfield.

"Sonsini is not moving into the commercial space in Lenox. It is also correct that we will not be bringing on Mr. Kohlenberger in any capacity. We continue our endeavors to find a permanent home for Sonsini," said board member Andrea Wilson.

She did not elaborate on the decision. But Kohlenberger told The Eagle the shelter decided not to pursue the plan in the wake of news reports about customers who filed civil claims against him. One customer filed a criminal charge against him in Central Berkshire District Court alleging larceny. Kohlenberger has pleaded not guilty.

"They decided with all the public backlash that they weren't going to move in there. Other than that I can't comment on Sonsini," Kohlenberger said in an interview.

He said his attorney plans to file a motion to dismiss the larceny charge. The case is scheduled for a hearing Dec. 14. 

Kohlenberger said the space Berkshire Dogs Unleashed had occupied at the rear of the commercial building at 439 Pittsfield Road is vacant.

Kohlenberger closed his boarding and grooming business, Berkshire Dogs Unleashed, as well as Berkshire Comfort Dogs, the nonprofit through which he donated poodles to area police departments. 

Fire investigation

Meantime, the state fire marshal has released to The Eagle the results of a state police investigation into a fire that broke out in the Becket home Kohlenberger was renting in July, killing four dogs. 

It happened after Kohlenberger returned to the 254 Benton Hill Road property from the grocery store after shopping for a Fourth of July party he'd been set to host the coming weekend, he said. 

He unpacked groceries and left them on and around a gas stove, according to a state police report. Kohlenberger said he then left to go get lunch with a friend.  

"About an hour and forty-five minutes after we had left, I got a call at the restaurant. The house was on fire. It was awful," he said.

Neighbors had called to report smoke coming from residence about 4:15 p.m., according to a Massachusetts State Police fire investigation report obtained by The Eagle. When firefighters arrived, there were flames coming from the area of the kitchen. When they entered the home, they saw "heavy fire ... on and around the kitchen stove."

Fire investigators saw that one of the burners on the stove was in the "on" position, according to the report from a fire investigator, who concluded that the fire originated on the stove top.

The Massachusetts State Police Division of Investigative Services has classified the case as "undetermined," according to a spokesperson for the state fire marshal.

Kohlenberger said the insurance company listed the fire as accidental.

"The fire appears to be the result of flammable materials being placed on the cooktop (open flame)," the fire investigation report said.

Crews fought the fire and eventually put down the flames. No one was injured in the fire at the home that Kohlenberger had been renting.

Kohlenberger told The Eagle the stove was an older model that lacked a safety feature found on newer models that requires users to depress burner knobs to trigger ignition.

Kohlenberger said he believes one of the several dogs who were at home at the time jumped up on the stove where the groceries were, turning on one of the burners.

"We think that maybe a dog in the house possibly hit a burner," he said.

The state police report said that Kohlenberger had taken a picture of the items stacked on the stove and sent it to his wife before leaving the house, and he passed along the photo to the investigator.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6296.

Cops and Courts Reporter

Amanda Burke is Cops and Courts Reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.

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