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minnesota: contrasting beliefs
KEY MESSAGE: How people view and treat animals varies widely in Minnesota. Why people choose not to support animal protection measures also varies. Key reasons include a difference in 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 breeder 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 breeder was already operating with 295 adult dogs and 80-130 puppies, and 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: This particular breeder 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 breeder described above operated for years, but is now closed.
Family members or mass-produced products?
The (ongoing) debate in Morrison County illustrates a divide in how we, as Minnesotans, view dogs and cats and what constitutes acceptable business practices.
Commercial breeders define themselves as ‘dog farmers’. Dogs or cats are their crop or inventory; breeding is a business. Some counties and government officials agree, assessing the viability of the business based solely on land use terms — not animal welfare.
Traditionally, the law (which counties follow) have defined ‘suffering’ in terms of humans, not animals. For example, if a person’s pet gets stolen, the law is more concerned with the suffering of the human.
In assessing the effectiveness of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) which licenses certain commercial breeders, attorney Melanie Vanderau stated in Science at any Cost: “While the AWA provides for humane treatment of animals, none of its stated purposes involved alleviation of animal suffering. As a result, the law’s concern is only for animals that have a connection to a human. It is the human’s suffering — for example the pet owner whose dog is stolen for research purposes — that concerns the law. An animal that is not someone’s pet can suffer needlessly, and as long as there is no human being to care about it, the legislature and judiciary will sit idly by.”
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. It’s estimated that 49.7% of Americans view their pet as a family member. 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 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. In Morrison County, for example, their Criteria for Granting Conditional Use Permits (507.2a) states: “In granting a conditional use permit, the Planning Commission shall consider the effect of the proposed use upon the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of occupants of surrounding lands and water bodies.” While the criteria focuses on the impact to human occupants (not animal welfare), the statement includes “morals.” 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.