by CHRIS ROGERS

 

The Winona County Board is eyeing tougher regulations for commercial dog breeding kennels, possibly including a temporary moratorium on any new kennels. At the same time, board members seemed to agree on a solution to one of their primary concerns: verifying that dog breeders receive the required state and federal licenses.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are charged with regulating commercial pet breeders. Breeders over a certain size must be licensed and regularly inspected and are subject to numerous rules on the care, treatment, and housing of dogs. County staff have been adamant that the county should leave animal welfare regulations up to the state. Verifying that dogs are getting enough time outside, for example, requires in-person inspections, something BAH and USDA are already doing and that the county simply does not have the staff to handle, county officials 

say. 

However, citizens protesting a series of commercial dog breeding kennel permits approved in 2016 and 2017 labeled Winona County “the puppy mill capital of Minnesota,” raised concerns about violations of state and federal rules, and put pressure on the board to prohibit kennels or enact tougher, local animal welfare regulations. Years passed without any new breeding operations, but a recent permit application renewed the debate.

In August, the County Board voted 3-2 to deny a permit for an up-to-20-dog kennel outside Lewiston. County Board members Chris Meyer, Greg Olson, and Marie Kovecsi questioned whether an existing kennel on the same property needed a state license; the owners said it was under the threshold for state licensure. Regardless, the episode prompted some County Board members to urge the county to verify that BAH and USDA license requirements are met and raise the prospect of a moratorium and new, local regulations on kennels.

“Even though [complying with state and federal law] is a condition, we never check the conditions,” Olson said at the time. “I think what we saw today showed a lot of shortfalls in the CUP process for dog breeding,” he continued. “Maybe while we’re having the discussion, we could have a moratorium, just to iron it out.”

The County Board picked up the discussion again on September 14, when Kovecsi argued for the county to get involved in regulating animal welfare at kennels, not merely land use and zoning issues. “I do think it comes into our realm to be concerned about their welfare, while they’re being raised, before they’re being sold, because they’re being sold as pets, and they’re expected to be pets, with a pet temperament, a pet socialization,” she said. “If they’re not being raised to have those qualities, that’s on us, in addition to our land use,” Kovecsi continued. She and Olson said they would support a moratorium on new kennels while new rules were developed.

“To get into the gritty details of animal health and welfare … I would respectfully request that we not do that because it’s already being done,” Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Kay Qualley responded, referring to BAH and USDA.

County Board member Marcia Ward agreed, saying “micromanaging” kennels, on top of state regulations, was not worth spending the county’s limited resources. “You can probably take any one particular city block in the city of Winona, and it’ll have more [pets] by city block than some of these dog breeders are raising,” she argued.

Olson argued for a more modest approach: Verifying that BAH and USDA licenses are received. The county already requires kennels comply with state and federal law, but it doesn’t do anything to check whether they get BAH and USDA licenses. “I think if we issue a permit, we have a responsibility to verify that those conditions have been met,” Olson said.

Qualley noted that such verification would have to come after a permit is issued because county permits are needed to construct a kennel, while breeders must have their kennel built and inspected before they can receive a state license. However, the county could require kennel operators to send the county a copy of state and federal licenses when they receive them, she said. The full County Board seemed to support the idea.

While they reached agreement on that point, the County Board plans to discuss dog kennels again in October, and Olson said a moratorium is still a possibility. Olson and Meyer asked county staff to present information on how other counties regulate kennels and whether Winona County is more lax than its neighbors.

Wabasha, Olmsted, Houston, and Fillmore counties do not have any rules specifically pertaining to dog kennels in their zoning ordinances, and in Fillmore County, dog kennels do not require any special permit.

Chris@winonapost.com