County commissioners narrowly approved a conditional use application for a longtime dog breeding kennel on…
The Winona County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved six kennel permits despite furious opposition from those who claim the operations are “puppy mills” that abuse animals.
However, the council has imposed limits on how dogs are housed and how many dogs they can keep.
A permit for Utica breeder LeRoy Yoder, who was previously cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was narrowly approved by a 3-2 vote. The rest was approved by a 4-1 vote.
Opponents protested outside the meeting. They collected over 1,600 signatures with an online petition ahead of the hearing.
The six Amish ranchers recently registered with the Minnesota Department of Animal Health to comply with laws passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2014. conditional use with Winona County.
Four of the breeders share the Yoder surname and live near each other in Utica – LeRoy, Menno, David and Henry – while the other two live near each other in St. Charles – Toby Detweiler and Menno Bontrager.
Will Yoder, an Amish farmer from Iowa, acted as spokesperson for the ranchers during Tuesday’s hearing. Records obtained by Animal Folks MN, an animal rights group, show that LeRoy Yoder sold his dogs to Will Yoder for several years. County officials also said he could be the buyer for other ranchers.
LeRoy Yoder started operating in 2006, and the rest of the Yoders started in 2012 or 2013. Toby Detweiler started in December 2014, and Menno Bontrager is working towards licensing.
David Yoder told the Winona Post ahead of the hearing that the kennels are a family business that supplements their farming income. During the meeting, Will Yoder said the animals were treated humanely at the facilities despite the criticism directed at them.
LeRoy’s application requested permission to house an average of 150 adult dogs at his facility. Menno, David and Henry estimate an average of 45 dogs. Toby Detweiler estimated 40-50 dogs and Menno Bontrager estimated 75 dogs.
The council has imposed restrictions on breeders’ permits:
• LeRoy was limited to a maximum of 85 dogs and given an extended period to reduce his inventory to that level. Other breeders are limited to a maximum of 50 dogs.
• All breeders were required to maintain or create enough space for dogs to socialize during the day.
• LeRoy, due to past USDA violations, is required to create more natural light for dogs and submit to quarterly county inspections for the first year of his license. This requirement is in addition to surprise inspections conducted by the USDA and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.
Tuesday’s vote was the final step in the authorization process. In the event of a violation, the council could review the permits and decide whether to maintain them at the end of the year.
Previous USDA Citations
LeRoy Yoder was cited 11 times in 2013 by the USDA for a range of issues, such as some dogs not receiving necessary veterinary treatments for mold and feces on dog dishes to shredded parts on cages. David Yoder has been cited eight times since 2013 for several similar incidents.
The other four breeders had no USDA citations except for minor paperwork violations.
Winona County Board Member Steve Jacob said he visited all six facilities and found them to be clean and the animals well cared for.
“I was repeatedly told to visit the facilities (by naysayers). I looked for the objectionable conditions they said I would find, and I haven’t found them yet,” Jacob said.
Cindy Neumann of Winona attended the protest at the meeting and plans to hold another at LeRoy Yoder’s property next Saturday.
“I don’t think there should be dog breeders given the number of animals that have to be euthanized every day because they can’t find homes,” Neumann said. “We need someone to stand up to them. … I believe what they’re doing is just plain wrong.”