A bi-paw-tisan effort? Lawmakers pitch pet-specific animal board

An orange cat stands on a podium
Rep. Mike Freiberg, Sen. Karin Housley and Sen. Scott Dibble introduced a proposal Thursday to create a companion animal board that would deal with pet issues. An orange cat named Franklin joined the conversation.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

A bipartisan group of lawmakers at the Minnesota Capitol is aiming to create a new board aimed at focusing on policies involving household pets.

Right now, issues pertaining to cats and dogs fall under the Board of Animal Health, which was set up to deal with illnesses with herds and flocks in the state.

Lawmakers supporting the bill, along with the Animal Humane Society and several animal welfare groups, on Thursday said issues specific to cats and dogs should fall to a panel that doesn’t spend as much time on agricultural issues.

“The existing board that we have has done all it can do to deal with chronic wasting disease, with avian flu, with all the issues that are present in agriculture and animal husbandry,” said one of the bill’s authors Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “So we really need a group that's really, really focused on this particular sector. These animals have a very unique set of needs, as well as their families who need a lot of support, a lot of help in this area.”

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Co-sponsor Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said it should be a proposal that can bring people together no matter their partisan affiliation.

An orange cat stands next to a microphone
MPR News Senior Politics Reporter Dana Ferguson interviews a cat, Franklin, at the Capitol on Thursday, March 2, 2023.
Courtesy of Russ Weseman

“Minnesotans love their pets. And that's something both Republicans and Democrats can agree on,” she said.

Under the bill, the state would spend about $3 million to set up the new board. It would take over authority for enforcing laws around breeding, kennels and managing feral cat colonies. It would also promote positive pet ownership and coordinate services for pets.

“Companion animals are not agricultural products, we don't eat or wear them,” Anna Olson, founder and executive director of Animal Folks, said. “These animals are about companionship with people. And this requires different expertise, and different focus and different oversight.”

Some raised concerns about the board impacting the role of service animals.

If approved, the board would include 13 members appointed from different sections of the animal and human welfare sectors. The measure has come up in previous legislative sessions and hasn’t passed.

It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in either the House or the Senate.