by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political editor
The current session of the Minnesota Legislature marks the sixth year an animal bill has been introduced to regulate dog and cat breeders.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is chief author of Senate File 36 and Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, is chief author of House File 84. The bill is named The Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation Bill. The bills are companion bills with the language being identical.
This bill and past bills have been introduced to help eliminate dog and cat breeding practices and conditions in Minnesota that cause inhumane treatment and abuse to dogs and cats.
Regulation is supported in the bill language and would involve registration and licensing, annual inspections and enforcement and penalties.
The bill defines a commercial dog/cat breeder as: “a person, other than a hobby breeder, who possesses or has an ownership interest in animals and is engaged in the business of breeding animals for sale or for exchange in return for consideration, and who possesses 10 or more adult animals and whose animals produce more than five total litters of puppies or kittens per year.” The animals are defined as dogs and cats.
This legislation is also aimed at preventing the propagation of puppy and kitty mills.
Marty says there are “sad illustrations” of dogs and cats being abused in less-than-favorable surroundings. “Lots of breeders are very good breeders, love pets and animals and make a living raising and selling them,” Marty said. Other breeders “cram things more tightly together” and pay less attention to the welfare of animals and are more concerned about making money with their business.
The legislation does not target small, hobby breeders that fall below the threshold of 10 or more adult animals and more than five total litters in a year, said Nancy Minion, who for 19 years has run a nonprofit rescue operation called Second Chance Animal Rescue. Animal bills “are tough to get passed,” Minion said. She has worked on animal legislation for 24 years as a citizen, she said.
Minion’s nonprofit organization is a member of the SPEAK UP for Dogs and Cats coalition working to pass legislation to regulate the dog and cat breeding industry and ensure dogs, cats, puppies and kittens are healthy and safe in breeding facilities.
It has been reported on the ANIMALFOLKSMN website that over 220 Minnesota veterinarians and vet techs have signed a petition in support of breeder regulation. More than 50 Minnesota animal organizations reportedly have joined in support. It is also reported that over 18,000 petitions signed by Minnesotans in support of commercial dog and cat breeder regulation were delivered to state legislators.
Marty and Minion both express optimism that the legislation will pass this session and reach Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk for a signature. Before that happens the legislation must go before many House and Senate committees. It will first be heard before the House Civil Law Committee at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday in Room 200 of the State Office Building. Rep. Lesch is chairman of the committee.
Other committees scheduled to hear the dog and cat breeders bill are judiciary, public safety, agriculture and finance, and local government operations in the House and agriculture policy, agriculture finance, judiciary and public safety in the Senate.
All breeders will be required to register, Marty said, but only the larger breeders will be required to be licensed and inspected. Dog and cat breeding is big business for some breeders, who have as many as 500 or more dogs or cats, Marty said. “In this case you are talking about a huge operation and a small licensing and inspection fee is not an onerous thing when other businesses have much more expensive fees and registration fees,” Marty, a nine-term legislator, continued.
Asked about writing the bill, Marty said he was doing it not because it sounds like a great idea, but doing it because there have been a lot of problems. Minion said she has rescued many animals that have been abused at breeding facilities.
Opposition to the dog and cat breeder legislation has held up passage in previous years, Minion said. It comes from a variety of areas, she said.
One of the opposition groups represents agricultural interests. Minion says they use a “slippery slope argument” that if you regulate dog and cat breeders, then you will come after the farms. “We are regulating the dog and cat breeding industry,” she said.
Other opposition comes from breeders. “They’ve never been regulated before and don’t want to be,” she said. There is one situation where breeders are regulated federally by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s when a breeder sells animals wholesale to pet shops or other brokers or breeders. The USDA is not an enforcement agency, however, and only a regulatory agency. When the USDA observes unfavorable situations, it issues a violation and asks the breeders to comply and fix the problems.
Three counties in Minnesota — Mille Lacs, Sherburne and Stearns — reportedly have ordinances regulating breeders. Sheriff’s departments may be called to situations of animal abuse at breeder locations and then must seize the animals, hold them and feed and care for them. The general public, Minion said, is becoming more aware of abuse of animals and when they notice something that is not quite right, they contact law enforcement more freely.
The current legislation introduced by Marty and Lesch is nine pages in length compared to the 18 pages when introduced six years ago, Minion said. The modification of the legislation came after many compromising meetings with various interest groups, Minion said. “We had breeders at the table who were large and small,” she said.
Former Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, worked on the dog and cat breeder bill and also was instrumental in gaining passage of the felony cruelty laws and passage of the dangerous exotic animal law.
Minion believes that breeders represent a multi-million-dollar industry and they should be regulated like other businesses. Nonprofit animal organizations are even regulated, she said.
“There are many good breeders in Minnesota,” Minion said. “This is a bill to address a problem, this is a bill not to put anyone out of business, or not a bill to hurt anybody,” she added.
The legislation will “bring us up to speed with other states and to make sure there are not situations where animals are suffering and are hidden from the public,” Minion said. “It is a community issue,” she believes. Thirty-two states currently have dog and cat breeder regulation. Minnesota reportedly is one of the top puppy producing states with some of the largest kennels in the United States.
This legislation also hopes to solve a concern where some breeders are paying sales tax on the sale of animals and others are not. Cost of the legislation is not known and may likely be covered by licensing fees, Marty said.” The stars might be lined up for passage” this time, Marty said.
A rally supporting the dog and cat breeder bill is planned from 3-4 p.m. in the State Capitol Rotunda Tuesday, Feb. 19. Hundreds are expected to attend.