by Chris Rogers
In a split vote last week, Winona County Council agreed to pursue a moratorium blocking new commercial dog-breeding kennels for one year. The decision came after nearly 400 county residents signed a petition raising animal welfare concerns and calling for a moratorium and a ban on new kennels, which they described as “fat factories”. puppies”. The county council is expected to vote on the measure on September 27. The moratorium is meant to give the county time to consider possible regulations or a ban on new livestock facilities. County Council Member Greg Olson said he would support a ban.
There are several commercial dog breeders in Winona County with 50 to 200 adult animals. Elsewhere in Minnesota, some of the larger breeders own over 1,000 dogs. Most kennels must be licensed by both the USDA and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH), which conduct inspections to ensure dogs are healthy and in safe facilities. The Humane Society of the United States has called for requiring daily “positive human interaction,” among other USDA rule reforms. The county is involved in granting zoning permits to kennels which address land use and neighborhood issues, such as the distance between a kennel and a nearby residence.
In past kennel debates dating back to 2015, the county has largely avoided getting involved in animal welfare regulations, in part on the advice of county staff, who say they don’t have enough staff or resources. expertise and that state and federal governments are already managing this problem.
Last week’s vote marks a potential shift in that approach and signals the county council’s majority willingness to go beyond state and federal regulations on dog breeders. “I have spoken to several constituents and have been convinced that we need to do more…” said Chris Meyer, a member of the county’s board of directors.
Animal welfare advocates said the USDA and BAH were not doing enough to protect dogs, and they criticized the industry as a whole. “Dogs are companions. It’s not cattle,” Winona resident Gayle Goetzman-Stolpa told the county council earlier this spring. Frank McMillan, an Ohio veterinarian and researcher, said his studies found that even clean and seemingly well-managed kennels caused “psychological harm” to dogs. Conversely, veterinarian and BAH program director Veronica Bartsch said that when she inspected two local kennels, “I only saw happy, healthy dogs, to be perfectly honest.”
If people want stricter regulations on kennels, “Then contact the governor,” said county council member Marcia Ward, who opposed a moratorium. “He is the one who appoints people to [BAH]and he should be responsible if there are any problems.
But what are Winona County values? asked Greg Olson, a member of the county’s board of directors. “Dog breeding facilities for this number of animals – are we okay with that?” He asked.
In interviews, Olson and Meyer said the large number of citizens they heard from and some of the expert testimony convinced them to support a moratorium. “To listen [McMillian and another advocate], they seemed to have much more in-depth information, and they were very persuasive, the way they spoke,” Olson said. He added: “My concern is that even perfectly inspected and perfectly licensed kennels, the dogs are not getting the socialization they need.” Meyer said she was concerned about a story from the director of dogs at the Winona Area Humane Society Shanna Maus, who told the council that a local kennel had sold a dog to a man who had neglected him to such an extent that when the humane society picked up the dog he was eating blinds left near his enclosure. Referring to state and federal inspections, she added, “What I hear from these people is that even the animal welfare controls that exist are insufficient.
Several local kennel operators told the county that they regularly socialize their dogs. Referring to his young children playing with the dogs, one said in 2015, “Kids this size work with them all day.”
Olson, Meyer and county board member Marie Kovecsi voted 3-2 to call for a moratorium, while Ward and board member Steve Jacob dissented.
Referencing county bans on fracking sand mining and large feedlots, Jacob said another ban would be a bad move. “The more businesses we shut down, the greater the tax burden must be borne by the remaining citizens of the county,” he said. He added of the local kennels: “I have visited all of these facilities and frankly they are very well run. And they provide a valuable service.
On September 27, the county council plans to vote to enact a moratorium, which would prevent new kennels from being allowed for a year while the planning commission considers possible kennel regulations. Council members did not specify what type of regulation they would like to see. At a minimum, the county should verify that kennels receive required federal and state licenses, Olson and Meyer said. Beyond that, Meyer said she’s looking forward to “understanding the obstacles [to implementing regulations]the cost associated with barriers and, yes, what possible animal welfare measures are even available.
Olson said, “I think we have a moral obligation to at least look to see if we can do anything.” When asked if he would support a ban, he replied: “At the end of the day, I think it would be a good outcome, whether we are not increasing the existing or extending the existing or are not increasing more, but that we are allowing those that are established to continue to function. .” If the county banned new dog breeders, existing breeders would be grandfathered, meaning their businesses could continue but not expand.
The county council discussed asking the planning commission, a committee of volunteer citizens, to hold a public hearing and consider possible regulations while the moratorium is in effect. “I would like to see this presented to the Planning Commission and let them work on it,” Olson said.
However, Jacob noted that the Planning Commission – which has already discussed this issue – might not agree that new regulations are needed. “What if the Planning Commission sees no need for a moratorium or possible ban, but the County Council wants it to happen? … Are we just telling them what to do or are we asking them to participate in a process? He asked.
County staff members have also expressed some concerns about their ability to take on new regulatory duties or consider possible rule changes. Planning and environmental services director Kay Qualley said her department was three positions short and struggling to keep pace with septic inspections, which are essential to ensure new septic tanks do not contaminate vulnerable groundwater. “My ability to perform the required inspections of my office will be very limited until February,” she said.