|issue > overview
beliefs & attitudes
KEY MESSAGE: How people view and treat animals varies widely in Minnesota, which can influence business and what laws are passed and enforced. Views vary based on political or philosophical beliefs, or may be due to ignorance, fear or greed.
In 2007, a large commercial dog breeding kennel in Morrison County, Minnesota, applied for a permit to house up to 600 adult dogs with the intent to produce unlimited puppies.
Minnesotans opposed to this kennel were concerned, among other factors, with staffing levels. Animal care is labor intensive. Would there be enough employees to properly feed, groom, vet, socialize, exercise and give basic human contact and affection to the animals, as well as making certain facilities were sanitized and cages were kept clean?
At the time, this particular breeding facility was already operating with 295 adult dogs and 80-130 puppies, and the owner revealed he had two full-time and four part-time employees. Legal documents state: “At those [staffing] levels, if the staff did nothing other than care for dogs, each dog would have available to it between 7 minutes and 30 seconds and 8 minutes and 30 seconds of staff time per day. [These] calculations do not take into account employee meal and rest breaks, or time spent on business matters, building maintenance, cage building and paperwork.”
Morrison County Commissioners assessed the issue based on their Conditional Use Permit (CUP) criteria, and, in December 2007, granted the breeder a permit to operate with 500 dogs and unlimited puppy production.
NOTE: The owner of this particular breeding facility stated, in public hearings, that he had been in the business of breeding for 24 years and had owned previous dog-breeding kennels. These kennels had been cited repeatedly, by the USDA, for violations to the Animal Welfare Act standards. (Confirmed by USDA inspection reports.) This fact and reports were submitted to the County for review. In his application to the county, this breeder also referenced his previous kennel income and potential tax revenue for the County by stating: “The kennel in Cushing averaged 1 million gross sales per year from out of the county sales” … “I increased the county real estate tax base because the kennel building was assessed at a commercial rate which generated $3,000-$5,000 additional real estate tax.” …”[With the proposed new kennel] I anticipate paying $2,000 to $3,000 real estate tax on the new kennel building and will be paying $1,000 property tax on the homestead.”
UPDATE: The breeding facility described above operated for years, but is now closed. McDuffee's former wife was owner of another kennel named Clearwater Kennels, the largest dog breeding kennel in Minnesota with over 1,000 dogs and puppes. In 2016, ownership of this kennel was switched to their daughter-in-law Angeline McDuffee; kennel is now called A.J. Angels.
DECADES LATER: The above discussion is still occuring almost a decade later. In 2016, Winona County granted conditional use permits to multiple commercial dog breeders. A key concern of citizens was the fact that "adequate staffing" for daily observation and care of the animals was not addressed. Some of the breeders on their permit applications stated they and their spouse were the only employees, even though animal counts were over 300 dogs and puppies in one of the kennels.
Family members or mass-produced products?
This debate illustrates a divide in how Minnesotans view dogs and cats and what constitutes acceptable business practices.
Some commercial breeders define themselves as ‘dog farmers’. Dogs or cats are their crop or inventory; breeding is a business and their source of income. Some counties and government officials agree, assessing the viability of the business based on land use terms — not animal welfare.
Animal cruelty statutes define and prohibit unnecessary and unjustifiable animal pain and suffering (MN Chapter 343: "Torture or cruelty means every act, omission, or neglect which causes or permits unnecessary or unjustifiable pain, suffering or death"); however, it's been argued that cases are not pursued and animals continue to suffer because the law has been more concerned with human suffering than animal suffering:
Others within Minnesota contend that dogs and cats are bred for human companionship, not food or fiber — and that breeding practices and conditions which could result in animal suffering should be a part of any inspections, evaluations or permit approvals. Many Minnesotans believe that dogs and cats are not objects and should not be treated as inanimate products, even though they are legally defined as property.
“One hundred years ago, nearly all dogs were kept for herding, pulling power, hunting, tracking, or protection and were seldom allowed in the house, almost never in the bedroom,” wrote Robert K. Anderson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota. “Today most dogs in the U.S. are kept in the house for companionship and only occasionally kept for work. Current studies also show that 60-80% of dogs sleep with their owners at night in the bedroom, either in or on the bed. This indicates the closeness of a relationship and is a major change in our attitudes towards treating pets as family.” (The Changing Status of Animals and Human-Animal-Bonds; CENSHARE; University of Minnesota)
A shared understanding that animals feel pain and can suffer
A deeper, cultural reason for why animal protection laws are met with opposition goes to a basic question of pain. Can animals feel pain and suffer?
A statement made centuries ago still shapes opinions today. In the 1600s, Rene Descartes, a famous French mathematician, scientist and philosopher, declared that animals could not feel pain. Descartes “incorrectly believed that only humans have pineal glands, just as, in his view, only humans have minds. This led him to the belief that animals cannot feel pain, and Descartes's practice of vivisection (the dissection of live animals) became widely practiced throughout Europe until the Enlightenment.” (Wikipedia) His belief and declaration stuck in the minds of humans, and, even today, in the 21st century, explains why some people treat animals inhumanely — as if pain, due to neglect or abuse, is not a factor to consider.
Descartes’ view has been proven false, scientifically. In 2007, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) stated in the AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs & Cats: “Historically it was thought that animals did not feel pain or that they perceived pain differently than humans.… It is now well established that animals and humans have similar neural pathways for the development, conduction and modulation of pain. According to the principle of analogy, because cats and dogs have neural pathways and neurotransmitters that are similar, if not identical, to those of humans, it is highly likely animals experience pain similarly.”
The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) supports this: “Many years prior to the establishment of the IVAPM, the control of pain was entirely secondary to the control of disease in both human and veterinary medicine. The obvious consequence, of course, was a great deal of unnecessary discomfort and suffering. The good news is that there has been a clear shift in philosophy toward recognizing pain as both a symptom and, in some cases, a disease entity in its own right. As a result, patient comfort, i.e. timely, appropriate and effective management of pain, is included among the primary goals in compassionate health care.” (IVAPM, 2005, Treating Pain in Companion Animals)
This debate of animal pain and suffering and whether the law is involved is not new. In the 18th century, philosopher Jeremy Betham framed the issue about animals and law in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Betham stated: “The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but, "Can they suffer?"
A moral question
The question Minnesotans must face when deciding whether to regulate the dog and cat breeding industry is not just one of commerce, but of ethics and morality, where morality is defined as the goodness and badness of human behavior.
It may be legal to grant a conditional use permit for a breeder to house over 1,000 dogs in high-density caging with limited exercise, socialization and human contact and breed bitches continuously at each heat, but is it just? Is it ethical to allow a business to make money even if that business creates pain and suffering to animals in the process?
Two-thirds of Americans polled by the Associated Press agree with the following statement: "An animal's right to live free of suffering should be just as important as a person's right to live free of suffering".
Should our laws match our beliefs?
NOTE: The word “morality,” used above, is intentional. Minn. States 394.21 gives counties the authority "to protect the health, safety, morals and general welfare of the community." While land use and zoning may typically focus on the impact to human occupants, how animals are treated does impact humans. Changing how animals are viewed and treated by private businesses, individuals or government requires a discussion of morals and values; how we behave (morals) is a part of law.