Advocates seek new laws after dog deaths

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2012 - 6:42 PM

Dayna Bell denies any wrongdoing with her dogs at a rural Northfield kennel.

Dayna Bell, charged with animal cruelty.

A Northfield, Minn., dog breeder charged with drowning more than a dozen dogs and puppies is under investigation by a federal animal inspection service, and animal activists say the case shows the need for state monitoring of commercial dog and cat breeders.

Dayna K. Bell, charged last week with 16 counts of felony animal cruelty in Dakota County, has been inspected three times since last September by federal inspectors who cited her for improperly euthanizing 10 dogs by drowning on Sept. 27.

Three of her employees called the Dakota County sheriff that day to report that she had drowned small dogs in buckets and in her swimming pool and had broken the neck of another, the complaint said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's animal and plant inspection service said it was likely the same 10 dogs were cited in both federal and Minnesota cases. The federal inspection report said Bell explained that eight of the 10 euthanized dogs had been attacking horses at her farm and two had been fighting each other.

Spokesman Dave Sacks said a federal investigation of Bell's practices began in November and could take up to a year. He said Bell's federal license to sell dogs and cats to animal wholesalers was granted in January 2011 and renewed this January. He said she has been inspected five times since November 2010 and was cited twice: in October 2011 for improper euthanization and in February for nine equipment, sanitary, record-keeping and other violations. The other three inspections found no violations.

Bell, 61, a breeder for decades, owns and operates Bell Kennels and Farm in Sciota Township northeast of Northfield. She said Tuesday that the cruelty charges are not true and referred a reporter to her attorney, Bob Miller.

"We believe when all the evidence comes in my client will be vindicated," Miller said. Asked about charges that deputies found 10 dead dogs in Bell's freezer, Miller said she had followed animal treatment protocols. He said typically when breeders put down animals they store them in a freezer until a disposal service removes the carcasses.

Need for regulation?

Minnesota has no licensing or regulation of commercial dog and cat breeders, said Keith Streff, senior humane agent for the Animal Humane Society, based in Golden Valley. He said he has testified over the past five years at legislative hearings on breeder regulation bills backed by a coalition of humane societies and animal rescue and activist groups.

Such a bill was introduced in both houses of the Legislature this year, said Nancy Minion, leader of the groups backing it. Minnesota has "nothing proactive, like licensing inspections of breeders" as do Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska, Minion said. She said enforcing state animal humane laws would result in healthier dogs and cats sold in pet stores or through the Internet, newspapers or other advertising.

State regulation is needed, advocates say, because the federal inspections aren't always enough. In the Bell case, the dead dogs came to light only after employees reported the situation to the Sheriff's Office.

Chief House author Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, said the bill faces "an uphill climb" to get approved before the Legislature adjourns. He said that in recent years the measure often has been mired in agriculture committees, usually led by rural legislators whose constituents fear that the bill would affect their small-scale pet sales, which Lesch said isn't the case.

Lesch cited the Dakota County case, if proven, as an example of why the law is needed. "Some people are irresponsible and need to be regulated to ensure they are following the same standards that everyone else follows," Lesch said.

Streff joined sheriff's deputies on a raid at Bell's kennels Sept. 29 and said he removed 10 frozen dogs in plastic bags from Bell's freezer that appeared to have had wet hair. Drowning is never a humane way to kill an animal, he said, because it takes several painful minutes and "the animals fight until they die."

He said that Bell has 160 to 300 dogs and that he has received unconfirmed complaints about her operation over the years. He tried to inspect her kennel farm about a year ago.

"She kicked me off and said don't come back without a search warrant," Streff said.

Streff said he doesn't know how often breeders kill their dogs, but "it is very rare we catch anyone because it is usually on private property without witnesses."

Bell posted a $50,000 bail bond and continues to run her kennel, the Sheriff's Office said.

Jim Adams • 952-746-3283

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