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Coalition sues Minnesota Board of Animal Health for violation of commercial breeder law

On June 27, 2017, Animal Humane Society (AHS), in conjunction with Animal Folks and Steve and Denise Sterling (property owners in and taxpayers of Cass County), sued the Minnesota Board of Animal Health for violation of the Commercial Breeders Licensing and Enforcement Law by granting a state license to a commercial dog breeder convicted of cruelty against animals.

According to the lawsuit, the Commercial Breeders Licensing and Enforcement Law states that the board must refuse to issue an initial license when a commercial breeder “has been convicted, other than a petty misdemeanor conviction, of cruelty to animals under Minnesota law.” (Minn. Stat. § 347.58)

The complaint seeks an order compelling the Board to annul the commercial breeder license of this dog breeder, Deborah Rowell of Cass County, and to prevent the Board from issuing a license in the future to any breeder convicted of cruelty to animals under Minnesota law.

Animal Humane Society (AHS) works with individuals and organizations across Minnesota to create a more humane world for animals. As part of this mission, AHS operates a Humane Investigations program dedicated to seeking justice for animals throughout Minnesota by responding to reports of animal abuse and neglect and collaborating with local law enforcement to protect animals.

In 2013 AHS investigators worked with the Cass County Sheriff to seize 133 dogs, including 29 puppies, from Deborah Rowell's property. The sheriff's office had issued a search warrant as the result of an ongoing investigation into complaints of animal cruelty at the breeding facility. Rowell was charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty and convicted of Minn. Stat. §346.39, subd. 4.

Pine River Rescue: The Long Journey Home tells the emotional story of the dogs rescued from Rowell’s property.

Animal Humane Society also worked for several years with a large coalition of animal welfare organizations and Minnesota residents to get the breeder bill passed into law to provide greater protections for dogs and cats within commercial breeding facilities.

In 2014, the Minnesota legislature enacted and the governor signed the Commercial Breeder Law. Soon after the law became effective, Animal Humane Society and its partners were distressed to learn that the Board of Animal Health granted Rowell a state commercial breeding license, which has allowed her to once again breed and sell dogs.

The purpose of this lawsuit is to hold the Board of Animal Health accountable so the intent of the breeder law is followed and animals are protected. The Sterlings are also party to this suit because they, like others in the county, were dismayed by the Board’s actions.

The complaint was filed in Ramsey County District Court. The plaintiffs are represented pro bono by Robins Kaplan LLP.