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Lawmaker: Puppy Mill Bill Long Overdue For Minn.

By Lindsey Seavert, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL (WCCO) -- A new bill just introduced in the Minnesota House will once again attempt to regulate Minnesota puppy mills after several failed efforts in past years.

Backers say Minnesota has an estimated 300 puppy mills, and say our state has become a magnet for the puppy mill industry.

"The ones I have visited, virtually none of them are in compliance with state law now," said Mike Fry, the executive director of the Animal Ark, a no-kill animal welfare organization based in the Twin Cities.

Fry says his organization has been pushing for a puppy mill bill for five years in a row, only to be met by agricultural opponents at the State Capitol.

"The inhumane conditions are enough to cause you to have nightmares," said Fry, who cites a loophole between federal and state law. "A breeder can have a USDA license but be violating Minnesota state cruelty laws and can continue operating."

Animal Ark is just one organization that's been rallying lawmakers for change when it comes to large commercial dog and cat breeders.

Fry cites Otter Tail County dog breeder Kathy Bauck as the poster child for the necessity of such regulation. Back in 2008, Bauck was sentenced to 20 days in jail and lost her license after being found guilty of animal abuse.

This year, advocates are holding hope in a new measure, House File 388, to which they've devoted a Facebook page.

DFL Representative John Benson, with District 43B, just introduced the bill, which he says is long overdue, with a lack of USDA authority when it comes to the lack of care in these operations.

"There is a huge loophole in this whole process. We check to see of cattle breeders their animals are healthy, but apparently not our pets," said Benson. "I think it solves a big program, the growth of puppy mills in the northern part of the state."

He says the bill is a consensus bill from many groups that would level the playing field for legitimate breeders.

The measure would ask breeders to register with the state and pay a small fee of two to three dollars per animal sold.

Under the proposal, the Animal Board of Health would be the regulating agency, conducting yearly inspections, mandating vet checks as well as adequate housing, staffing and food.

Backers of the puppy mill bill say historically the measure has been opposed by groups worried about big government. In the past that's included farm unions, agricultural groups like the Minnesota Hog Producers, and even the NRA.

Benson says the same opposition is surfacing once again, with pressure on rural legislators.

"I grew up on a dairy farm, so I understand rural concerns," said Benson. "This is nothing anyone should fear. The only way this is going to have a chance the public get involved, people who have adopted rescues, they understand this ought to be done."

Supporters also say the money to start up the regulation at the Board of Animal Health would be offered solely from private companies, adding that the measure would generate revenue by bringing commercial breeders into compliance with Minnesota sales tax laws.

"We're asking they come up to the minimum standards of Minnesota animal cruelty laws, and if they can't comply with those, they shouldn't be operating business is the state of Minnesota," said Fry, who adds that his organization is licensed and inspected by the state when large breeders are not.

A companion bill to House File 388 is expected to be introduced in the Minnesota Senate. Rep. Benson will request a hearing before the House agricultural committee.

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