by CHRIS ROGERS
Yesterday, the Winona County Board permitted a new commercial dog-breeding kennel and agreed to reconsider and possibly tighten the county’s rules for future kennels.
Menno Yoder was one of several men who received permits for dog kennels from the County Board in 2016. He recently sold the Utica Township property where he was breeding around 50 adult dogs, and purchased a new property in Saratoga Township, where he wants to continue his kennel operation. Yoder needed a new permit to run a kennel on the new property. County rules would allow the buyer of the former kennel site to continue the dog-breeding operation, but the new owner has no intention to do so, according to Menno Yoder’s representative, Will Yoder. On Tuesday, the County Board approved a permit that will allow Menno Yoder to keep up to 75 adult dogs plus puppies.
“We certainly know there’s a lot of opinions or concerns about dog breeding as a whole, and we appreciate those concerns, as well. We just want to make sure we follow the regulations and we do the right thing for the dogs,” Will Yoder said at a Planning Commission meeting last month.
In 2016, Winona County officials were inundated with emails, public hearing comments, social media posts, and protests denouncing Winona County as “The puppy mill capital of Minnesota.” At last month’s public hearing before the Planning Commission, there was no crowd of animal-welfare supporters, but plenty of neighbors concerned about the noise of barking dogs they said is nearly constant from other dog kennels.
“The dogs bark all day — day and night,” rural St. Charles resident Paula Wegman said of the kennel she lives near. “You can’t even sit outside and have a conversation like this, they’re so loud,” she added.
Rural Utica resident Dan Nelson asked how far the required setback between dog kennels and neighboring homes was. When county staff explained there is no setback, Nelson said, “Sounds ridiculous. Should be 10 miles if you ask me.” There are setback requirements for livestock feedlots.
Planning Commission members Vince Ready and Eugene Hansen were sympathetic. “It’s not separated by enough distance,” Ready stated, adding that, in his opinion, the kennel would worsen the quality of life for neighbors. “Some nights you get the coyotes going, and one dog will drive you crazy, much less 50,” Hansen said.
Planning Commission member Lynn Carlson cast some doubt on the conditions of dogs at local kennels. “What would make a dog bark constantly if it has adequate space and food and socialization?” she asked.
“Anytime you feed, yes, you’re going to have barking,” Will Yoder said. “I would tell you, you know we live at one of the [kennels] and our experience is, yes, they bark and then they quiet down.” Will Yoder offered to keep the dogs inside a kennel building overnight to try to minimize the noise. Dogs typically have free access to outdoor yards at any time. “If there’s something like that we could do — we’d be more than happy,” he stated.
Planning Commission member Mark Clark noted that the county does have an nuisance ordinance prohibiting excessive barking by dogs and the kennels would be subject to it.
Planning Commission member and Winona County Board member Steve Jacob defended the condition of dogs at the proposed kennel and similar kennels. “I’ve been in a lot of houses that are not nearly as nice as these are. Seriously — in-floor heating, all tile,” he said.
Jacob and Clark voted with the majority of the Planning Commission to recommend approval of Menno Yoder’s permit.
At yesterday’s meeting, Jacob stressed that the County Board had permitted similar kennels in the past and that approving Menno Yoder’s request would only be fair. “They’ve certainly gone through all the steps to do the right thing and go through the proper procedure,” Jacob said.
People talk about wanting to help small farms survive; well, this is a great example of small farms trying to diversify their income streams so they can afford county property taxes, County Board member Marcia Ward said.
County Board members Marie Kovecsi and Chris Meyer explained that because the county’s current zoning ordinance allows dog kennels, they did not feel they could vote against Menno Yoder’s petition. However, they voted to schedule a future discussion about changing the zoning ordinance and possibly passing stricter rules for future kennels. That might include requiring noise abatement steps or limiting the density of dog kennels in a given geographic area, Meyer said.
County Board member Greg Olson cast the only vote against Menno Yoder’s permit. “I don’t think dogs should be considered an agricultural product,” Olson stated. Olson cast a minority vote against another kennel in 2016 for animal-welfare reasons. He explained his position in an interview yesterday. “I recognize that the zoning ordinance allows that. I just don’t think dogs should be treated like livestock … They’re housed and bred for sale as a product. On the one hand, taxpayers support the Winona Area Humane Society and it takes care of unwanted animals. On the other hand, we allow dog kennels,” he stated.
The County Board’s upcoming discussion of kennel rules has yet to be scheduled. If the County Board wants to the change the zoning ordinance, it will require multiple rounds of approvals and public hearings.