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House panel puts debate on hold over creation of new state board regulating companion animals

Creation of a Companion Animal Board led to some very diverse discussions Thursday.

And they could continue.

As amended, HF208 would create a 13-member board to “protect and promote the welfare, social well-being, and physical and mental health of companion efforts.” That includes having primary authority to regulate companion animals, which, per statute, “includes any animal owned, possessed by, cared for, or controlled by a person for the present or future enjoyment of that person or another as a pet or companion, or any stray pet or stray companion animal.”

With other amendments yet to be offered, the bill was laid over by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee.

“Currently there’s no state board, council or department with specific focus and expertise relative to companion animals. We have state agencies dedicated to livestock and wildlife,” said Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley), the bill sponsor.

Among the board’s focus would be enforcing laws related to regulations, licensing and welfare of companion animals; communication and education; and collaboration with private, public and nonprofit organizations for service and resource promotion. The change would do nothing, Freiberg said, to the Board of Animal Health’s authority to regulate zoonotic diseases, rather it would help the board focus on that core mission of prevention and control.  

“Companion animals are not agricultural products. Companion animals are about companionship with people, and that requires different skills and expertise in the people conducting outreach and regulations related to them,” he said.

At what cost? No fiscal note was provided.

Ann Olson, executive director of Animal Folks Minnesota, is a bill supporter. “The Companion Animal Board will provide the necessary expertise and focus for companion animal issues and those who care for these animals. It’s a people and animal issue,” she said.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) questions the need, saying, “This board will help people determine how to make decisions around their pets and will make decisions for them is what it sounded like to me. I don’t think that’s where we want to go.”

Graham Brayshaw, director of veterinary medicine at the Animal Humane Society, said 70% of families have a pet and 95% of those consider a pet to be part of the family.

“The Board of Animal Health, they exist to deal with dangerous and zoonotic disease concerns in the state, but the issues we see daily with companion animals, their caregivers, their communities go well beyond this disease concern,” he said. As examples, he cited access to proper veterinary medicine and managing the number of unowned, outdoor cats.

“Misguided” is how the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association views the bill.

Among the reasons put forth by Association President Nancy Peterson are diverting money from “already frequently under-funded agencies,” interagency conflict, and confusion as to which agency a veterinarian should contact when assistance is needed.

“Our current Board of Animal Health is well-respected nationally for its handling of animal health and welfare,” she said.

Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) expressed concern that board members would not be certified by the Senate, yet would have rulemaking authority.

The board would be given authority to regulate kennels, including licensing requirements size regulations and the care and conditions, something the American Kennel Club believes is “appropriately” covered in state code. The club also dislikes the lack of animal breeder representatives proposed to be on the board.

“The American Kennel Club (AKC) is concerned that, as introduced, HF208 does not provide adequate representation to those who will be most impacted by the Board’s policy. The AKC believes greater representation of licensed entities will better ensure that reasonable policies may be set. Moreover, instead of creating a new board, AKC believes that the state should continue to focus on enforcement of the state’s current substantive animal welfare and public health laws and regulations,” wrote Phil Guidry, the club’s director of policy analysis.

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