Animal protection officials on Friday detailed the filthy conditions and released photos taken at a northern Minnesota breeding operation where more than 130 dogs were seized and one carcass was recovered as part of a cruelty investigation.
Authorities removed 29 puppies and 104 grown dogs Tuesday from the property on the eastern edge of Pine River operated by Deborah and Richard Rowell, who also run the Pine River Riding Stable on the other side of town in Cass County, according to the Animal Humane Society.
Humane Society investigator Wade Hanson arrived at the property Tuesday and said there were dogs “living in mud, water, green algae. Some dog houses had standing water in them, a mud-manure mixture.”
One dog was found dead in a doghouse, apparently having been there for sometime, he said, adding, “I had to dig it out of there.”
Hanson said he has been to the operation twice previously, about eight years ago, because of complaints from people who bought dogs from the Rowells that they “were not taken care [of], were sick when they bought them.”
A longtime neighbor down the street from the breeding operation said he and many others in the community are relieved that authorities have acted, adding that he has seen the dogs malnourished and has had the animals come onto his property and not be reclaimed for extended periods of time.
“Their dogs keep disappearing over into our yard,” said Mike Baker, who has lived near the breeding facility since he moved in eight years ago.
“They were starving and hungry,” Baker added. “We fed them and they just ate, ate, ate. You can tell they weren’t very well taken care of.”
Among the photos taken during the seizures and released by the Animal Humane Society: a puppy next to containers of dirty drinking water, and another of a structure thick with feces on the floor.
Baker said there have been troubling noises coming from the property for years, such as incidents of “gunshots over there and dogs yelping.”
He said there is “not a tree around” to offer the dogs shade. “In the wintertime, they are just in the wide open,” he added.
Mike Baker’s wife, Sue, said the noise from the dogs had been so loud, “we couldn’t keep our windows open at night. All those dogs do is howl all night long.”
Speaking on behalf of the Rowells, attorney Stephen Grigsby vigorously defended his client on several fronts, contending that the investigation is part of a politicized effort to bring about state regulation of the dog-breeding industry. Operations such as the Rowells’ is federally inspected and licensed.
“Dogs get dirty in real time,” Grigsby said, explaining the conditions that were present during the seizure of the dogs. “Taking a snapshot out of this woman’s life ... gives a false impression of the woman that she is.”
The dog that died, the attorney said, was 14 years old and succumbed to natural causes and not at the hands of any neglect or abuse.
Grigsby said he spoke with investigator Hanson but found him “extremely hostile, and he refused to give me any information.”
He said he’s challenging the taking of the dogs in court because the authorities who took the dogs stayed beyond the time spelled out in the search warrant. He added that the animals were mistreated as they were being removed, with some of them left in the sun too long.
Tuesday’s action was limited to the kennel, and Grigsby said there are no problems of this nature involving the horses at the Rowells’ stable.
Deborah Rowell posted on the stable’s website, on a page that is dedicated to the dog-breeding operation, that “I take much pride in my dogs and puppies. They are raised with much love and lots of care.”
She said she raises and sells many breeds, among them Labrador and golden retrievers, Shelties, Siberian huskies, German shepherds, Rottweilers “and several designer breeds.”
Among the kennel’s disappointed customers is Jen Keil, who bought a newborn Sheltie six years ago from what she said the Rowells called Country Pride kennel. Minnie was euthanized about 10 days later from what a veterinarian said was a tumor on an aorta and other afflictions.
“I called [Deborah Rowell] every day for a week, and when she finally answered, she said, ‘At least you had her for the time you did,’ ” said Keil, who bought Minnie for her daughter as a high school graduation gift.
Keil, of Superior, Wis., said she ran up a $3,000 veterinarian’s bill trying to save the puppy, and “it financially devastated me.”