Questions surface about local inspections for dog breeders
Posted: 03/04/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Angelle Barbazon
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$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$Matthew Troyer, 4, holds a 7-month-old Yorkshire Terrier puppy in the breeding nursery on his family’s farm. The Troyers have five children who are all encouraged to play with the animals on a regular basis to help socialize the puppies for future owners.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$
Truth Photos By Delayna Earley
A photo of the breeding nursery for the puppies on Devon and Marietta Troyer's farm. (Truth Photo By Delayna Earley)
Lisa, and AKC registered English bulldog, nurses her four puppies in the breeding nursery on Devon and Marietta Troyer's farm on Friday, March 2, 2012. The Troyer's breed several different breeds of dogs including the English Bulldog and the Yorkshire Terrier. (Truth Photo By Delayna Earley)
The puppy’s eyes opened wide as it took in its surroundings, Pine Creek Kennels owned by Troyer and his wife at their home in Middlebury. The couple breeds about 90 small dogs and raises puppies for sale.
Troyer said he realizes that not everyone sees eye to eye on dog breeding, but for him, the kennel is more than just a business.
“It’s about family,” he said. “My wife takes care of the finances, the kids play with the puppies and work on socializing them and I deal with the breeding part of it.”
SOMETHING TO BARK ABOUT
On the heels of a heated debate about the expansion of a dog breeding business in Nappanee, questions began to surface about Elkhart County’s animal ordinance and how it’s enforced.
A group that crafted the ordinance, which went into effect in 2010, may reconvene this summer to review the 14-page document. The ordinance covers general care guidelines, dangerous animal requirements and penalties, among other things. County Commissioner Mike Yoder said he wants to find out how state laws regarding animal welfare, federal standards and the ordinance intersect.
Concerns about the welfare of dogs at breeding kennels came into question most recently when Nappanee breeder David Chupp requested to add 41 animals to his operation. The Board of Zoning Appeals granted Chupp a special use permit in 2009 that allowed him to keep up to 64 adult dogs. When he came back to the board on Feb. 16, Chupp’s request to bring his total of adult dogs up to 105 was unanimously denied.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Among the group of people who helped develop the county’s animal ordinance a couple of years ago was Humane Society of Elkhart County Executive Director Anne Reel. Like Yoder, she is interested to see how local, state and federal guidelines connect when it comes to overseeing dog breeding kennels.
Reel said that a gap develops when a breeder doesn’t meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.
“Who is responsible to say, ‘You can’t do this anymore?’ How many times can a person violate USDA standards and continue to carry a kennel license?” Reel asked.
Reel said she realizes that “there are good breeders out there.”
Still, she said, “We also know there are those who probably shouldn’t be breeding. There needs to be a good, clear delineation of responsibility to make sure those who aren’t doing a proper job can no longer do that job.”
Reel said a lack of federal inspections may be the result of insufficient resources and a lack of manpower.
“I think that’s part of the problem with the USDA,” she said. “They’re very limited in terms of the number of staff versus the number of kennels they have to inspect. There are some gaps that we can’t really address on the federal level, but we can certainly look at what we can do locally.”
WATCHDOGS FOR BREEDERS
The Elkhart County Zoning Department has granted six special use permits to residents for kennels since July 2009, according to zoning administrator and code enforcement manager Ann Prough.
Kennels are defined by the county as properties with more than four dogs, cats or other household domestic animals older than 4 months. Also under that definition are properties where more than two domestic animals are offered for sale or kept for breeding, boarding or training for compensation.
The zoning department visits properties applying for permits to inspect the overall structures and study land use, not animal welfare. That falls under the jurisdiction of the USDA and the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, or BOAH.
The Indiana General Assembly approved a law three years ago that requires commercial dog brokers and breeders to register with BOAH. Commercial dog breeders have more than 20 unaltered female dogs 12 months or older, and brokers sell at least 500 dogs or puppies annually, according to BOAH. Failing to register can result in a misdemeanor with fines up to $1,000 among other civil penalties.
Elkhart County has nine active breeders registered with BOAH, but a lack of funds have forced routine inspections to be done “on an as-needed basis,” BOAH spokeswoman Janelle Thompson said in an email. When inspectors visit breeding operations, they assess housing, safety, space, exercise areas and the availability of food and water, she said.
“Inspectors are also looking at the overall condition of the animals,” Thompson said. “They want to make sure they are free of injury and illness, that the animals have a good body condition. If they are living in a wire cage, an area where they can get off the wire. Also, we look at records such as rabies vaccinations.”
The Animal Welfare Act requires people who breed dogs and cats and sell them at the wholesale level to be licensed through the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The same goes for wholesale dealers who supply these animals to pet stores, brokers or research facilities. The USDA applies a “risk-based inspection system.” This allows “more frequent and in-depth inspections at problem facilities and fewer at those that are consistently in compliance and making better use of inspection resources,” according to the USDA.
A BREEDER’S POINT OF VIEW
Nine years have gone by since Troyer began breeding dogs, and each year, he said, is a learning experience.
Indiana House Bill 1468, which passed and became law in 2009, gave dog breeders a reason to take closer look at their operations. It strengthened laws against animal cruelty and required commercial dog breeders to register with the state.
“With that law, we promised the legislators that we would police ourselves,” Troyer said.
Troyer said his kennel is inspected twice a year by the USDA and annually by the American Kennel Club and the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare. Many of the visits are announced, he said. The kennel is also registered with BOAH.
LaGrange Veterinary Clinic veterinarian Hilary Reinhold, who works closely with Troyer, said inspectors check for cleanliness, safety of the housing, exercise plans, dental records and proof of veterinary care, including vaccinations. If inspectors find violations, she said the Troyers are quick to correct them. Reinhold, who works with 30 to 40 breeders, said she visits Troyer’s kennel at least once a month for regular checkups and meets with the couple a few times a month at her clinic.
“We get inspected more than some restaurants,” added Marietta Troyer, Devon Troyer’s wife.
Troyer said he doesn’t believe Elkhart County needs to be more involved with inspections. Local inspections would be redundant, he explained, if the county was checking for the same things that the USDA and other regulatory groups are already checking for.
If the county got involved with inspections, Troyer said the county should focus its efforts on unlicensed kennels that are not already inspected by another organization.
Indiana Council for Animal Welfare president Lonnie Burkholder agreed, adding that he worries responsible, licensed breeders would be the only ones affected while substandard breeders would continue to slide under the radar.
“This is a financial foundation, and no one will be more critical of their operations than the breeders themselves,” he said.
For now, Yoder said he is in “listening mode” as he gathers information on the issue.
“I would like to learn more about the state standards and how that interfaces with USDA standards,” he said.
The next step, Yoder said, will be talking with his fellow county commissioners in the next couple of weeks.
“It’s a huge issue that we need to talk about,” he said. “And I’m willing to listen.”