On a warm September day, Humane Investigator Wade Hanson arrives at the Sheriff’s station in New York Mills, MN. He meets up with Sheriff’s Detective Keith Van Dyke and two deputies to investigate a nearby farm, where there are reports of abuse and neglect of several hundred dogs. Detective Van Dyke has obtained a warrant to go onto the property.
This is how many of the humane investigation cases come about. Local law enforcement receives a complaint and brings in the Animal Humane Society to assist and investigate.
“She’s been cited before,” Wade says of Katherine Jo (Kathy Jo) Bauck, the owner of what most would call a “puppy mill.” In fact, Bauck has been charged and through a plea bargain was convicted of practicing veterinary medicine without a license in the past.
“We believe she’s back at it,” says Wade. He arrives at the farm to find hundreds of dogs lined up in small runs in more than a dozen kennels. Detective Van Dyke walks over to talk to Bauck, while Wade waits to inspect the dogs.
Wade eyes a few horses at the far end of the pasture, and takes note to ask about their welfare.
As we walk along the dirt driveway, there are signs of everyday life – a rusting swing set, a satellite dish, an angel statue in the garden. Wade begins taking pictures of one of the kennels.
“What right do you have to take pictures on my place?” comes a harsh voice from behind. Bauck is furious. She is not happy to have a visit from the Animal Humane Society. While she has been civil to the Van Dyke and his deputies, she knows that the presence of a Humane Investigator means that they are serious about checking on the welfare of her dogs.
Wade tries to calm her down.
“We’re just going to take a look around,” he says. “We just want to make sure the dogs are okay.” The kennels consist of an elevated outdoor run with a grated floor (to allow excrement to fall to the ground). The smell is overpowering as the ground is covered with excrement, patches of dog hair, and shells from the eggs that are part of the dogs’ daily diet. Behind the runs there are small indoor cages that provide shelter from the weather.
Grudgingly, Bauck pulls out her cell phone, and after a moment thrusts the phone forward. “My lawyer wants to speak with you,” she tells Wade. He declines, and she turns her back to continue her phone conversation.
Wade begins walking past the kennels, taking in the number of dogs (2-3 to a run), the dirtiness of the runs themselves, and any signs of ill health – among the dogs. He makes sure the flooring of the outdoor runs have a small enough grate so that they won’t injure the dogs’ paws. “We power wash the kennels every day,” claims Bauck’s husband, and it is true that the kennels are cleaner than Wade had expected. He leans in toward the kennels, making little kissing noises and calling the dogs forward. He checks their nails, their ears, and their coats for signs of neglect.
Most of the dogs are in good shape, and will be sold to a broker or directly to a pet store. Yet there are still problems with the kennels, as Wade points out. He takes pictures of the drinking water system, which is not up to standards, and a few other violations. He inspects the whelping barns, and then walks the perimeter and the interior of every kennel. Although the dogs are living in distressingly crowded and questionable conditions, there are not enough outright violations to seize the dogs at this point. According to Wade, “These conditions are not what you or I would want for our pets but often they meet the USDA regulations and the Minnesota state statutes.”
Bauck follows behind Wade, making sure she takes pictures wherever he does. She seems certain that Wade will try to take her dogs on unfounded evidence. But Wade knows he does not have to exaggerate to find proof of Bauck’s mishandling of her animals.
The Sheriff’s warrant is specific to the removal of a “killing box,” a wooden box that is hooked up to the tailpipe of a 4-wheeler for the euthanasia of dogs that don’t meet the owners’ standards. This is a cruel method, where the dog suffers for several minutes before succumbing. The Sheriff and his deputies load the box onto a truck to be hauled away. Bauck demands a receipt for the box, expecting to get it back eventually.
She remains uncooperative and defiant throughout the inspection, maintaining that the visit is an intrusion into a valid business venture. She will not let Wade inspect the horses, as they are not mentioned on the warrant.
Wade is gratified that the dogs are healthy, but he’s certain other needs are not being met. “I doubt these dogs are exercised or receive any affection,” he says. “There are nearly 600 dogs here and we’ve seen only one dog toy.”
Bauck has been charged with nine counts of animal cruelty. Despite investigations by AHS and Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), the dogs still remain at Bauck's property, according to Wade.
“Unfortunately, this is a case where there is not enough cause to remove them. It is our hope that as the trial progresses evidence will show that Kathy Jo Bauck is guilty of animal neglect and cruelty which could result in the court ordering that the animals must be removed.”