It didn't take long for word to spread when the Morrison County board of commissioners voted to approve plans for a 600-dog kennel in central Minnesota. Within weeks of the decision, animal rights groups across the country were calling on their supporters to oppose the project.
Then an internet petition drive began. A Web page entitled "Stop the puppy mill in Morrison County, MN" has so far collected 20,000 signatures.
I don't consider dogs to be agricultural type animals. That type of breeding is so different...Vicki Davis, Tri-County Humane Society
The level of outrage caught Morrison County administrator Tim Houle off guard. Houle wonders how a facility that has yet to be built can be called a puppy mill. And he wonders what people opposed to the kennel would call the hundreds of farms already established in the county.
"Is somebody who produces eggs in a large scale hatching operation is that an egg mill? Or somebody who produces pigs in a large scale hog confinement operation is that a little pig mill? We need to call these things by what they technically are and that is a commercial dog breeding kennel," Houle said.
According to Houle, the majority of people opposed to the kennel live outside Morrison County. He assumes that's because people who live in the area don't see much of a difference between a 600-dog kennel and a 600 cow dairy farm.
"I think for a lot of the people engaged in animal agriculture out here raising chickens or cows or pigs in confinement animal agriculture, I don't know that those folks draw such a distinction that dogs would necessarily be different when all of them are raising all of those different types of of animals for a commercial purpose," Houle said.
But those opposed to the kennel say there is a difference between traditional agriculture, and raising dogs. Twin Cities attorney Marshall Tanick represents a group of rural residents who live near the site of the proposed kennel. They're suing the county in an effort to stop the project. Tanick says the county didn't adequately investigate the kennel's potential environmental effects on a nearby wetland. He says because of dogs' protein-rich diets, their waste isn't comparable to that of livestock.
"Dog waste is a different caliber, quality and much more than degradating to the environment than waste from cattle," Tanick said.
Another lawsuit filed by the Minnesota Federated Humane Societies sites concerns with the dogs' treatment. The group says a plan to quiet the dogs using shock collars is inhumane. A earlier proposal to surgically debark the dogs has been dropped by the kennel's owner.
Other opponents express their concerns by pointing to reports that show Gary McDuffee, the individual who wants to open the kennel, has run afoul of the USDA. In 2003, at a kennel co-owned by McDuffee, a USDA inspector found dogs kept in cages that were considered too small and were in need of a cleaning. McDuffee did not return calls for this story.
And there are others who don't like the idea of comparing a dog kennel to a farm. Vicki Davis, executive director of the Tri-County Humane Society in St. Cloud, says it's hard for her to see dogs in the same light as cows or chickens. "I don't consider dogs to be agricultural type animals. That type of breeding is so different, because one seems like a personal pet, and one is agricultural," Davis said.
Davis says the proposed dog kennel in Morrison County isn't illegal. She says if large commercial kennels are something the public is opposed to, there are other options for people looking for a pet. Davis says there are plenty of dogs waiting to be adopted at shelters across the region.