by ZACH KAYSER
Perhaps a lingering aftermath of controversy from years ago, a vote on Tuesday to authorize a new dog-breeding operation sparked a 3-2 split vote at Winona County Council.
There was no debate by the commissioners over whether to grant the permit to Henry Yoder for his proposed farm near Utica. But in an unusual event, Commissioner Chris Meyer parted ways with fellow commissioners Greg Olson and Marie Kovecsi and sided with commissioner Steve Jacob and council chair Marcia Ward to approve the permit.
In 2015, the normally mundane permitting process was the scene of intense contention as a group of Amish farmers sought — and eventually received — county approval for their ranching operations. Concerned activists across the state have flooded the county board with correspondence opposing kennels on animal welfare grounds.
On Tuesday, it was Olson who decided to remove the kennel issue from the consent agenda and give it his own vote. When asked after the meeting, Olson recalled that during the 2015 debate, animal rights group Animal Folks MN met with the board and convinced them of the downsides surrounding dog breeding facilities.
“They weren’t necessarily activists pounding the table, but they were interested in education about puppy mills and dog farms,” Olson said. “They really had an impact on me. Since that time, I have voted against any expansion or new dog breeding operations in Winona County.
Olson said Animal Folks MN’s characterization of dogs as sentient beings was especially meaningful to him because he’s been around adopted dogs his entire life.
In a pragmatic sense, Olson said it didn’t make sense for the county to fund the local Humane Society while allowing the spread of businesses that would increase the number of stray and abandoned animals.
Also interviewed after the meeting, Meyer recalled her time on the Planning Commission before coming to County Council. In his view, if the zoning law permits a certain land use, that should be a key factor when the county decides whether or not to grant a permit. Meyer pointed out that the Commission performs a quasi-judicial function – that is, it is expected to act impartially, like a judge – when deciding whether or not to grant use permits. Also, the state of Minnesota is the authority on dog welfare, not the county, she said.
“People are concerned about the health and welfare of dogs,” Meyer said. “It is really the responsibility of the state. And people are afraid to bark. To that end, the last time we approached a kennel, Commissioner Kovecsi and I asked for the zoning ordinance regarding [kennels] to give us more options in terms of [a] noise ordinance, barking ordinance, some possible changes. And of course, those things are backed up, so that hasn’t happened yet.
In his permit application, Yoder said he aims to have the Yorkshire Terrier breeding facility operational by the end of the year.