Kansas Senate bill would bolster inspections of dog breeders, animal shelters

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A Kansas Senate bill could bolster the state’s efforts to inspect dog and cat breeders, shelters and kennels after an audit found the lacking program.

The bill — supported by animal shelters and the Humane Society of the United States, and opposed by the Kansas Livestock Association and dog breeders — would establish a division of the Kansas Department of Agriculture to deal with pet animal facility inspections.

That oversight, proponents of the bill say, is overshadowed in a division primarily focused on livestock.

“Pet animal health will be improved and suffering will dramatically (decrease),” said Crystal Swann Blackdeer, executive director of the Leavenworth County Humane Society. “Not only pet animal health will improve, but it will give the focus to the livestock segment of agriculture that it deserves.”

Until a decade ago, Kansas had an independent agency for animal health, which was relocated into the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Now, the pet animal inspection program falls under the same division tasked with managing the health of livestock around the state. Since the merger, one proponent of the bill said, enforcement of the state’s pet animal rules has been insufficient.

Senate Bill 551 would establish a new inspection division solely dedicated to pet animal facilities that would still cooperate with the existing animal health commissioner in controlling diseases among dogs, cats and livestock.

The bill would address shortcomings of the programs and “support the work of shelters and rescues,” said Jasmine Kyle, director of the SEK Humane Society, in written testimony.

But representatives from the state’s commission advising on pet animal health disagreed on the bill. The board, which favors breeders over shelters, adopted a resolution opposing the bill.

Swann Blackdeer, the only representative of a shelter on the Pet Animal Advisory Commission, said some members didn’t want Kansas’ pet animal laws amended at all.

Lorilee Thomas, a member of the board and breeder with Puppies Extraordinaire LLC, said that was true but that the board had not yet received a copy of the bill when it voted.

Thomas said the commission did support Gov. Laura Kelly’s recommendation to include more funding for the inspection program.

Breeders and the Kansas Livestock Association saw the bill as unnecessary and a “solution in search of a problem.” Aaron Popelka, a lobbyist for KLA, called it “political.”

A scathing audit completed in late 2018 found the department’s animal inspection program lacking. Inspectors had no policy to rely on for ensuring animals were properly sheltered, protected from pests, fed and exercised. There was no policy governing cleaning of their food and water containers or planning for natural disasters.

The audit found inspectors enforced animal welfare rules inconsistently across facilities.

In recent years, the percentage of failed inspections by animal breeders has declined precipitously.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture requested the bill. It proposed similar legislation last year.

Agriculture secretary Mike Beam said the dramatic rise in the number of households owning pets and the demand on officials who work to control disease outbreaks among livestock mean both missions take considerable time for department staff.

The legislation, he said, would allow animal health officials “to focus on the rapidly changing livestock health challenges and elevate the pet animal regulatory efforts with the creation of a new division.”