by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political editor
A rather contentious couple of hours of testimony took place in the first hearing of the Minnesota Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation bill before the House Civil Law Committee on Wednesday morning (Feb. 13).
After some heated debate from supporters and opponents, the committee, on a motion by committee member Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, moved the bill on to the House Public Safety Finance & Policy Committee on a voice vote.
Vice Chair Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, ruled the motion passed. Some in the committee room speculated that the motion passed by a slim margin of only one or two votes. Lesch is chairman of the Civil Law committee but relinquished the chair to Allen since he is authorof the bill.
The bill, sometimes referred to as the puppy mill and kitty mill bill, is being sent through legislative committees for the sixth consecutive year. If the legislation becomes law this session, licensing and inspections would begin in 2014.
Supporters of the bill argue that other businesses and industries are required to obtain state licenses to operate and there are no established inspections by the state to enforce standards of care. The bill, which started out six years ago as 18 pages, is now nine pages.
The goal of the bill is to ensure healthy and safe dogs and cats in breeding facilities by regulating the dog and cat breeding industry in Minnesota through licensing, inspections, enforcement and penalties.
The legislation supports registration of all breeders including hobby breeders. It requires licensing and inspections only for large commercial breeders.
A commercial breeder is defined in the bill 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 intact animals and whose animals produce more than five total litters of puppies or kittens per year. . .”
It was the mention of hobby breeders and the registration of them that bothered some committee members, including Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville; Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover; Rep. Jeff Howe, R-St. Cloud and Rep. Barb Yaruso, DFL-Shoreview. Scott suggested “laying over” the bill in committee to allow for more testimony at another date.
Seeing that the bill had opposition from committee members and from the general public, Lesch said he would remove Section 8 from the bill and also remove Subdivision 10 or Section 1 which speaks to the definition of a hobby breeder.
Section 8 speaks to hobby breeder annual registration. It read: “A hobby breeder must annually register each facility it owns or operates with the Board of Animal Health. There is no fee associated with a hobby breeder’s annual registration.”
The hobby breeder issue can be addressed in future committee meetings, Lesch suggested. “There are multiple stops at other committees,” Lesch said.
In introducing discussion on the dog and cat breeder regulation legislation, Lesch said it is difficult to find compromise on animal issues. He told the story about his 12-year-old daughter loving her Boston Terrier named Lillie. Lesch said he asked his daughter what she would say about the dog and cat bill. She replied, Lesch said, “You wouldn’t put a kid in a place like that, so you don’t put an animal in a place like that.”
Dog breeder Diane Dunker supports the bill and brought her adopted dog, “Gert,” with her to the witness stand. The dog was adopted from a USDA breeder.
Keith Streff, senior humane investigator for the Animal Humane Society, was in strong support of the bill and said he had testified many times, favoring this type of legislation.
Streff told of animal abuse cases he had investigated at some breeder facilities. He told of witnessing dogs being fed road kill and others being victims of amateur C-sections. He said regulation is needed.
Now, Minnesota is a complaint-based state where county and city laws may dictate procedures to be taken.
Committee member Howe questioned Lesch about regulating other animals, for example, horses, pot belly pigs and ferrets. Lesch replied, “Cats and dogs are the number one transactions in Minnesota; let someone else bring up these other issues.”
Howe also asked witness Bill Hartman, member of the Board of Animal Health, if he believed some counties and cities were doing a “good job” of monitoring the cat and dog breeder interest. Hartman answered “yes.” Sherburne, Mille Lacs and Stearns counties reportedly have regulation ordinances.
The sales tax question was brought up with Lesch saying someone has to pay sales tax on sale of animals. Holberg countered that 90 percent of the opposition “would go away” if the hobby breeder piece were eliminated.
Dog breeder Julie Gerdes of Nowthen testified in opposition to the bill, saying it is unnecessary since regulation is being handled by cities and counties.
Vet tech Andrea Piper, also a breeder, said she opposed inspectors walking through her home. She said the description of a hobby breeder bothered her.
Breeder Valorie Muggli of South Haven said it was difficult to regulate dogs and cats because there are so many breeds. “We are already over taxed and over regulated,” said fellow breeder Natasha Podratz, Sibley.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]