by ZACH KAYSER
A proposed dog breeding operation near Utica may mean that Winona County will see an influx of fluffy Yorkshire terriers.
In March, applicant Henry Yoder asked the Winona County Planning Commission to permit a new dog breeding facility on his father Elmer’s land, in addition to an existing one on Yoder’s property. In April, the commission recommended approval, and the permit application will go before the County Board on Tuesday.
In 2015, Yoder, as well as several other Amish dog breeders, were the subject of a social media and email protest campaign from animal rights activists as they sought (and received) permits for their breeding operations.
Since then, Yoder has received clean annual inspection reports from the USDA, with the exception of one “teachable moment” in 2016 and one “non-critical” violation in 2017 where no adult was present to go with the USDA staffer on their surprise inspection. The most recent inspection was in January.
On the proposed new farm, Yoder plans to breed Yorkshire Terriers or “Yorkies” (toy-size dogs that generally range from 4-10 pounds), and sell them to a single animal broker for resale. To house the dogs, Yoder plans to convert an existing 58-foot-by-40-foot pole barn on his father’s land, currently used for storing machines and hay, sometime before the end of the year. According to Yoder’s application, the only employees of his breeding farm are himself and his family, that is, two adults and nine children.
Although the Planning Commission said the breeding farm was fine in itself, they said in the Findings of Fact that the Yoders had not demonstrated there was a need or demand for the project in Winona County. Some of the conditions the commission placed on the permit include having no more than 50 adult dogs onsite, allowing random inspections of the property by county workers, maintaining a yard for socialization of the animals, and having an adequate system to dispose of dog waste.
As Zoning Administrator Eric Johnson noted during the meeting in April, Henry Yoder already has a permit for a different dog breeding farm on County Road 33, about a mile or so from the one he is seeking a permit for currently.
A neighbor complained about Yoder’s existing facility, regarding noise nuisance from barking as well as animal welfare, Johnson said. Johnson did get a response from Yoder on the complaint in the form of a verbal conversation with Yoder.
There were no members of the public who spoke for or against the project during the public hearing.
Planning Commission member Patrick Byron brought up the earlier controversy and asked whether there had been further issues based on county inspections of the dog farms or complaints from residents. Johnson said the county did regular inspections in months following 2015, which found everything mostly in order from the standpoint of Planning Commission permitting. However, Johnson pointed out that animal health and welfare is the concern of the USDA and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. Johnson added the county had not received “actionable complaints” regarding the existing dog breeding facility.
Yoder attended the meeting and said he planned to sell the old farm. He did not give any remarks at length, but limited his comments to brief responses to questions from commissioners. Several asked about the neighbor’s complaint, and Yoder said he had not spoken to the neighbor directly.
According to Yoder’s statement on the application, his family wishes to continue in the dog breeding business because of his children.
“[T]hey can all help with the work in our kennel,” Yoder said. “Playing with puppies helps to keep our dogs [socialized], and people that purchase a puppy from us get a happier and healthier puppy; that keeps us and our customers happy, and we love what we do.”
The distributor will pick the puppies up in a van when they are roughly 8-10 weeks old, Yoder said.
The dogs on the farm will produce about 10 gallons of feces daily, which will be collected by the family and then spread as manure by a team of horses pulling a manure spreader, Yoder said.
At their existing dog farm, the family takes a number of measures for the well-being and safety of the animals, Yoder said, including a battery-powered light cycle to provide lighting, replacement of pine shavings twice daily, exercise yard access twice daily, and constant access to fresh water nipples.