Animal welfare advocates, veterinarians differ on proposed board for pets
Rachel Mairose, executive director of Secondhand Hounds, brought one of the organization's adoptable puppies to the Minnesota Capitol on Tuesday, as lawmakers called for a new state board to address companion animal welfare, separate from the state's Board of Animal Health. Tim Nelson | MPR News
Some animal welfare organizations argue it's time for a new strategy to keep pets healthier and safer, given the rise in pet ownership during the COVID outbreak. A new companion animal board, however, would only confuse attempts to safeguard dogs, cats, and other pets in the state, according to the state's largest veterinarian group.
We know the [Minnesota] Board of Animal Health performs an excellent job, state Senator Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said.
But we don't think they are cattle, Ruud added at a press conference on Tuesday, complete with squealing puppies. And [the Board of Animal Health's] main concentration is livestock, and their objective is to keep Minnesota's food supply healthy.
Ruud is pushing a bill that would create a new government agency dedicated to animal welfare, with the goal of preventing animal cruelty and neglect in addition to keeping them from becoming sick or transmitting illness.
Supporters argue that a companion animal board might help with anything from obtaining spay and neuter services to developing respite care for pets of people with critical illnesses.
The bill's sponsor, Golden Valley DFL Rep. Mike Freiberg, said the sheer quantity of the pet population and changing views toward animals necessitate a fresh approach by the state government.
There is no facility in the state to deal with companion animal concerns or the special link that exists between humans and animals, Freiberg added.
However, other veterinarians are opposed to the creation of a new board.
Veterinary expertise, as represented by the long-standing Board of Animal Health, provides the cornerstone for animal care, according to the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association.
We can always do better in welfare circumstances.However, this further complicates and muddys the waters, said Eric Ruhland, a veterinarian in St. Paul.
According to Ruhland, dogs imported into Minnesota for adoption, which is a frequent practice, represent a major danger of disease transmission. He goes on to say that simply keeping an eye on their transportation or distribution is insufficient to keep dogs healthy and safe.
Ruhland is concerned that, despite the bill's exclusion of farm animals, one neighbor's concern for a backyard chicken flock may lead to the family across the alley being accused of killing and eating their own chickens.
Members of the Veterinary Medical Association are concerned that the companion animal board may eventually have to deal with agricultural legislation in order to oversee animals such as cows and pigs.
We've heard a lot from our large animal veterinarians about their concerns for their producers and profession,said Kelly Andrews, the association's executive director.
The bill has had only sporadic support thus far: it passed the House State Government Committee but lacks a Republican author. The Senate version has the support of the DFL, the GOP, and independents, but it has yet to be heard.
Veterinarians, as well as representatives from breeders, rescue organizations, and animal shelters, would make up the governor's 13-member board.
Advocates argue that the current focus on clinical animal health ignores matters such as safe transport of adoptable pets from out of state, among other concerns about animal welfare.
Communities are unable to cope with too many strays and feral cats, according to Janelle Dixon, CEO of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley.
At the state level, there are no tools to help understand the problem and how to best solve it, Dixon added. Feeding prohibitions are being considered in several cities. Some people are considering mass euthanasia of stray animals. Others want to figure out how to catch and sterilize such creatures.