Lawmakers look into pet mills, consider licensing and inspection

Diane Dunker and Gert

By Danielle Killey

Animals rescued from so-called puppy mills often are sick, starving and dirty. But groups like the Animal Humane Society cannot enter those sites until a complaint is lodged about the conditions.

“By that time, it’s typically too late,” Keith Streff, Animal Humane Society humane agent, told the Minnesota House civil law committee Wednesday.

He said inspections could curb issues before the situation gets worse.

That is the aim of a bill by state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, that would require breeders to get state licenses and be subject to inspections.

The state does not license breeders.

Streff said seizing animals after discovering a dangerous site can be costly and time-consuming. He added those going into problem facilities have sometimes had to wear hazardous material suits because of the conditions, such as high amounts of built-up urine and feces.

Veterinarian Lisa McCargar said the animals that come from those areas often are afraid or aggressive, starving and carrying diseases.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who often talks about his three dogs, did not know about specific bills, but said he supports doing away with puppy mills.

“As a dog lover, I just find that abhorrent,” Dayton said. “It takes its toll on dogs as it does humans. It shouldn’t happen, it just shouldn’t happen.”

“Our intent is not to ban the breeding of cats and dogs,” Streff said, but ensure safer conditions for puppies and kittens, as well as the adult dogs.

Minnesota Pet Breeders Association representative Julie Gerdes said there already are local regulations on breeders in some cities and counties. Many allow inspections, she said.

She said most breeders want to raise good animals and find them appropriate homes. Adding another layer of regulation would make it difficult for professional breeders to stay in business, she said.

“The process was lengthy, expensive and stressful,” she said of getting her own permits.

Rep. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, questioned the logistics of inspections. He also wondered how another aim of the bill, to better ensure the collection of the existing tax on animal sales, would be achieved.

“I think that’s going to be extremely difficult to track,” he said.

A number of committee members also had issues with a provision that would require hobby breeders to register with the state. The definition in the bill was too broad and unclear, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said.

Lesch agreed to remove the hobby farm piece and continue discussions in other committees before finalizing what that would mean.

Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, said the bill unintentionally could encourage people to give animals away for free.

A cost “keeps (people) from picking up an animal on a whim,” he said, but if people worry they have to get a license or notify the state it might prevent them from selling unplanned litters or other kittens or puppies.

Lesch said the bill has been in the works for six years, but still is not necessarily in its final form.

“It’s really, really difficult to find compromise on animal issues,” he said, and added he is open to changes.

Time ran down on Wednesday’s meeting with members of the public waiting to speak, but Lesch said many of the concerns will continue to be addressed as the bill moves through the Legislature. It was approved by the committee and its next stop is the House public safety committee.

A similar bill in the Senate has not yet been discussed in committees this year.

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