Bill aims to stamp out Minnesota puppy mills

Sen. John Marty
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, shown in a May 2012 file photo, is the chief Senate sponsor of a bill aimed at rooting out puppy mills in Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

By PATRICK CONDON, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Minnesota dog and cat breeders would be subject to a new state regulatory process under legislation backers say is aimed at rooting out puppy mills that occasionally make headlines with horrific stories of animal mistreatment.

Identical bills that DFL lawmakers from the Twin Cities recently introduced in the state House and Senate would subject dog and cat breeding operations to yearly state inspections and a $250 annual license fee.

They're the latest moves in a longtime, but so far unsuccessful, effort by animal advocates to implement oversight they say is much needed.

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"What we're seeing over the last several years is more and more animals coming out of breeding facilities in just horrible shape," said Nancy Minion, co-founder of the Twin Cities-based Second Chance Animal Rescue. "I'm talking rotted teeth, eye and ear infections, sores and lesions, and of course they're in terrible shape emotionally -- they don't know how to do anything but sit in a cage 24/7. Many other rescues and shelters all over Minnesota are dealing with it, too."

Minion and her allies said most dog and cat breeders in Minnesota run reputable operations and would have little to fear from yearly inspections by the state's Board of Animal Health.

Under the legislation, anyone who has at least 10 dogs or cats and whose animals produce at least five litters a year would be defined as a "commercial breeder" and subject to the licensing requirement and inspection.

Dog breeder Steve Bannie said new state regulations would make his work more difficult.

"We already have animal cruelty laws on the books," said Bannie, a retired information technology worker who has 15 springer spaniels at his home in Scandia. "This would be complicating things for folks who are doing it right."

He does not consider his operation a business, referring to himself instead as a hobby breeder. He said most years, his dogs only produce one to two litters so he's not sure if he would meet that threshold or not.

But since his dogs live in the basement of his house and not a kennel, he said he would fear running afoul of state regulators.

"To me, it should be more of a cause and effect -- is there a problem?" Bannie said. "If people complaining about loud noise, then the police shouldn't be knocking on your door asking what you're doing at night. But that's sort of what's being mulled here."

That's a close description of how problems with breeders are policed under current law. Authorities typically investigate animal cruelty only if they get a complaint, and Minion said that's allowed breeders with questionable treatment standards to slip through the cracks as long as they are discreet.

Jeff Moravec, spokesman for the Animal Humane Society of Minnesota, said: "Without legislation, our ability to rescue animals from inhumane breeding situations is very limited."

Animal advocates in Minnesota have been pushing for regulation and licensing of dog and cat breeders for a number of years. A state Senate committee voted down a similar proposal in 2010; Minion said the most effective opponent has been agribusiness interests who express worry that the regulations would be a "slippery slope" that would lead to more state oversight of large livestock operations.

"We keep stressing over and over that this is about dogs and cats only," Minion said. She is working with an alliance of humane societies and other animal-advocacy groups to push the legislation; the group plans a state Capitol rally on Feb. 19.

Minion said advocates are hopeful that new DFL majorities at the Capitol would be more receptive to the changes. Sen. John Marty of Roseville, the chief Senate sponsor of the bill, said he thinks the change would get wide support from the public.

"We just want to shut down the puppy mills," Marty said. "The changes we're talking about are certainly not onerous."