Code complaint endangers Dunwoody’s beloved ‘Dino House’

Family that displayed inflatable dinosaurs with encouraging messages during pandemic to take down beloved beasts under threat of city action

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

First came the asteroid, now code enforcement.

Millions of years ago, it’s believed a cataclysmic cosmic strike wiped out the dinosaurs. But in Dunwoody, city codes are the latest threat to the Tyrannosaurus rex and other plastic and inflatable reptiles outside Lisa Torres’ home.

For nearly three years, Torres and her family have decorated their yard on Dunwoody Club Drive with a collection of inflatable dinosaurs, including a 22-foot-tall T. rex named Leo. The dinosaurs are often accompanied with encouraging messages, like: “Your life matters” and “Smile.” Torres’ most recent message reads: “Do good.”

Neighbors call the brick home “the Dino House.”

Credit: Courtesy of Lisa Torres

Credit: Courtesy of Lisa Torres

But following a complaint, city code enforcers have determined the dinosaurs violate Dunwoody’s rules against signs. They gave the family until Sept. 20 to take them down, though they hope to be able to renew the display during the holidays.

“I don’t understand how something that doesn’t personally affect you in any kind of way would prompt you to complain,” Torres said.

She was crushed when she learned of the complaint. No one had ever complained to her about the dinosaurs, which first made an appearance in October 2020 during the first full year of the pandemic. It had been a hard year: Coby, her oldest son, was 3 when the pandemic hit, and her second son arrived during the lockdowns. Dinosaurs always brought a smile to Coby’s face and Torres thought the giant inflatables and inspirational messages would be a way to bring joy to others, too.

Torres has amassed an army of dinosaurs in the years since. Too many to count, though she estimates the herd is between 60 and 80.

Most of them are T. rexes but she also has triceratops, velociraptors, ankylosauruses and brachiosauruses. Many were ordered from Amazon but she’s also commissioned custom-made dinosaurs like Leo from sellers on Etsy. At 22-feet, Leo is taller than even a real T. rex. It can take an hour or more to inflate him.

After the call with code enforcement, Torres and her husband talked it over. Ultimately, they decided not to fight the city. She didn’t want to be given an exception and said she teaches her sons, now ages 6 and 3, to follow the rules. That means following Dunwoody’s.

She worried about how the dinosaurs’ fans would react, though. Last year, when they were a few days late putting up the December dinosaur display, Torres got a note from a neighbor checking in. They were worried something had happened to the family.

In a Facebook post this week, Torres shared that the dinosaur era was coming to an end in order to give people a chance to see the dinosaurs before they’re deflated and packed away.

“A plain front yard is going to take some getting used to,” she wrote.

Credit: Cathy Cobbs

Credit: Cathy Cobbs

The outcry was immediate. Someone started a petition on and within a day there were more than 1,000 signatures on a petition calling for Dunwoody to specifically exempt dinosaur inflatables from its sign ordinance. Someone else started organizing a dino day and is calling for residents to “turn Dunwoody into Dinowoody” with dinosaur inflatables of their own, for one day.

A Dunwoody spokeswoman said city leaders have asked staff to look into possible modifications to the sign code. Torres said she’s grateful the city is taking a second look at their rules.

“I don’t think I should be treated differently from anyone,” Torres said. “But if this is the community asking for it, then I’m not being treated any differently.”

For now, the dinosaurs will be a holiday treat. Torres said code enforcement staff told her they’d be allowed for Halloween and Christmas, so she plans to make the most of those two holidays.

“We hope they go by really slow so we can enjoy them a little longer,” Torres said.