Last month, someone bought a puppy from a breeder selling dogs out of a house in rural Carlton County. When it was found to be in ill health, the buyer complained to the sheriff.

The sheriff reported it to the Animal Humane Society, which found 49 dogs, including 13 puppies, in the breeder’s house. All were turned over to the Humane Society.

That’s how it has always worked in Minnesota — irresponsible commercial breeders haven’t faced consequences unless someone reports them.

Now that has changed. As of Tuesday, Minnesota cat and dog breeders are required to register with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. And starting next year, they will have to be licensed.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” said state Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

It marks the first time Minnesota will have specific regulations for commercial cat and dog breeders. Most states have some degree of regulation in place, though about a dozen states have none, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In the past, commercial breeders were regulated by an assortment of state statutes governing animal treatment, said Keith Streff of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley.

“[The statutes are] very vague, and they’re very arbitrary,” Streff said. “And it was difficult to apply them effectively, because we were always after-the-fact.”

Laws applied to commercial breeders could be as general as requiring them to provide food and water to animals, Streff said — a need that is very different for a Yorkie than for a St. Bernard.

The new law establishes specific standards. The checklist for Board of Animal Health inspections has 31 requirements, including clean water and good ventilation, separation of sick animals from healthy ones, and collars that are well-fitted and comfortable.

The law comes with strong support from Gov. Mark Dayton, who is a dog owner.

“The humane and decent treatment of these innocent creatures is no longer an unwritten expectation — it is the law,” Dayton said.

Law faced opposition

The bill that became this law spent years on the legislative agenda.

There was a lot of opposition, Marty said. Some came from people who worried that passage would affect animal agriculture; some came from commercial dog and cat breeders whom the law would directly affect.

“They were just flying under the radar, and they liked it that way,” he said. “And they were vocal.”

Negotiations brought the bill to its current form and got stakeholders such as the Minnesota Farmers Union and the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association on board, Marty said. The law regulates only cat and dog breeders with 10 or more adult animals that produce more than five litters each year.

Steve Bannie, 66, breeds one or two litters of springer spaniels annually out of his home in Scandia, so the law won’t apply to him. Still, he’s opposed to it.

“Truly, I think it’s a waste of time and money,” he said.

There are already laws on the books that weed out problem breeders, Bannie said. He’s concerned that the breeders who will be affected by this law are the ones who are already following the rules.

“It’s kind of like a lot of other laws,” he said. “The criminals don’t care, and the good people are the only ones affected.”

‘Goal is not to punish people’

Now that the law has taken effect, it’s time to figure out how to implement it.

For Streff, who responds to complaints about everything from animal hoarding and neglect to dog fighting and cult rituals using animals, more regulation could mean reallocating his time to meet other needs.

“It’s not like there’s a lack of work in this industry,” he said.

Streff also will be working with the Board of Animal Health to regulate commercial breeders under the new law, he said.

Paul Anderson, a veterinarian who’s heading up the board’s inspection program, said board staff members will spend this year seeking out commercial breeders around the state and providing education about what the law requires.

To implement the license and inspection program, the board will get $310,000 in fiscal year 2015 from the state’s general fund, as well as $426,000 added to its base budget.

“We just want to make sure that people know that we want to help them meet these requirements,” Anderson said.

Breeders who don’t obey the law will have an opportunity to come into compliance. If they don’t, they could face fines or lose their license.

“The goal is not to punish people,” Marty said. “It’s to make sure animals are treated humanely.”