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Puppy love: New rules for pet breeders

Good news for puppies and kittens in Minnesota: New state rules will for the first time require that breeders provide a healthy and safe environment.

They will prevent animals from being isolated and require they be socialized and spend time with humans and other (friendly) animals of their own species.

Most dog and cat breeders in Minnesota are already doing a good job with their animals.

The new regulations will allow state authorities to inspect all facilities and educate the vast majority that run humane operations, while clamping down on any bad actors, said Paul Anderson, a veterinarian and assistant director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, which will oversee the new program.

The regulations took effect July 1, and will impact an estimated 400 to 500 breeders, Anderson said. The number is an estimate, based on information from veterinarians around the state, because breeders have not been required to register with the state until now.

By comparison, only 35 breeders in Minnesota are now licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The new state rules will apply to those breeders as well, Anderson said.

“The USDA is more for wholesalers,” he said. “The Minnesota program is designed to pick up everyone who’s a breeder, to equalize standards of care.”

The law is designed to regulate people who raise dogs and cats for a living.

“A family who has a couple of (litters of) dogs and a couple of kittens a year is not affected by this,” he said.

The law considers a commercial breeder to be someone who owns at least 10 animals that produce more than five litters of puppies or kittens per year.

The law includes requirements on record keeping and facility maintenance, standards of care and an annual licensing fee.

Before June 30, 2015, commercial dog or cat breeders must register with the Board of Animal Health for each facility they own or operate in Minnesota.

During this time, licensing is optional. Beginning July 1, 2015, licensure becomes mandatory and a commercial dog or cat breeder must obtain an annual license for each facility in Minnesota.

“So we have a year to do the education part and get everybody up to speed,” Anderson said. “There’s a whole checklist we would go through with these folks.”

 One key improvement over the USDA regulations is a state requirement for “daily enrichment and positive physical contact several times each day,” Anderson said.

“We want these animals to be accustomed to being handled by people, so they’re not afraid of people, and to have positive contact with other dogs and cats … They can’t just be in a cage by themselves. If it’s a dog, it should be with other dogs that are compatible and that it can get along with, not just isolated.”

All animals “should always be treated in a kind way – that’s true of livestock, too,” he said.

There will not be any surprise inspections, however.

The Board of Animal Health “will do announced inspection and we’ll talk to these folks. People in Minnesota for the most part do a nice job with their animals. It’s mostly a trust issue, but it’s fairly easy to tell if animals are used to being handled by people and around other animals.”

The new law includes corrective remedies, civil penalties and “criminal penalties if need be,” Anderson said. “Our main mission is to help people comply with the law, we’re very good teachers and happy to work with producers.”

If all other measures fail, there is enough teeth in the law “to get the job done,” he said.

Most infractions are misdemeanors, but felony charges are possible if animal cruelty is involved, he added.

The Board of Animal Health already has a field staff of about 30 people stationed around the state in key areas.

“We may have to add more,” Anderson said, “but we can certainly get started with the people we have.”

The Legislature provided an additional $310,000 to the Board of Animal Health, and breeders will pay annual fees up to $250, which will also help pay for the new program, Anderson said.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who owns two German Shepherds (Itasca and Wanamingo) advocated strongly for the bill.

“The humane and decent treatment of these innocent creatures is no longer an unwritten expectation – it is the law,” Dayton said.

“I am pleased that the Board of Animal Health is leading this program,” he added. “I am confident the board will implement this new law effectively, working with breeders to protect the health of these animals and the public.”

The Board of Animal Health offers several tools to guide commercial breeders through the new requirements and become licensed. Visit the board’s website to read more about the program and to download a registration form.

The Board of Animal Health was established in 1903 and exists to safeguard domestic animal health in Minnesota.