Saturday, August 29, 2015
Local Dog Breeder Listed Among Worst Puppy Mills Nationwide / Morrison County Records
USDA filed a formal complaint against Clearwater Kennel in March after years of repeat violations
By Gabby Landsverk, Staff Writer
Along a certain stretch of Highway 10 near Cushing, just past the railroad tracks, a large steel barn is barely visible through a line of trees. The building would be unremarkable in a county full of turkey and poultry farmers, if not for the faint sounds of many dogs barking, clearly audible from the road.
This is Clearwater Kennel, Inc. Owned by Wanda Kretzman, the business was recently identified by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) as one of the worst puppy mills in the nation on the2015 Horrible 100 list.
Most recent available data listed 1,050 dogs on-site at the facility, which advertises itself on its website as “nestled in the beautiful open countryside of rural Minnesota,” accompanied by pictures of happy puppies and children frolicking in green fields.
What the images don’t include, however, is that the business was recently cited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which inspects and licenses commercial breeders. After a series of inspections dating back to 2010, the USDA found multiple and repeated instances of Clearwater Kennel’s failure to comply with regulations to ensure the safety, health and well-being of the dogs.
The website also declares the facility has been “breeding top quality for more than 25 years” — 2015 marks Kretzman’s third time on the HSUS list of offenders, with additional listings in 2013 and 2012.
Kretzman’s legacy as a commercial dog breeder can be traced back as far as 2001 when she ran a business known as Happy Tails Kennel with then-husband Gary McDuffee.
The St. Cloud Times reported in 2007 that multiple USDA violations were found at Happy Tails between 2004 and 2006.
The Record reported that McDuffee closed the business and cancelled his USDA in 2010, three years after obtaining a controversial conditional use permit (CUP) from the county.
Morrison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Amy Kowalzek said the CUP is connected to the property and so still applies and will apply indefinitely to Clearwater Kennel, located on the same property in Cushing as the former Happy Tails Kennel.
Kretzman’s CUP, established in when the business was still known as Happy Tails, allows for up to 800 adult animals. It does not specify the number of puppies.
The original application for the CUP states that the breeding facility will “raise, sell and broker puppies to pet stores nationwide.”
Kretzman’s breeding operation is still listed as Happy Tails through the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, with records showing the business was originally registered in 1996.
Complaint filed with USDA
The USDA announced in a press release in July that a formal complaint against Kretzman had been filed in March for “willful violation of the animal rights act.”
Details from the inspection reports show more than a dozen violations of requirements in multiple categories such as sanitation, proper veterinary care and adequate housing facilities.
The inspection report from Jan. 11, 2011, found dogs with obvious medical issues, such as non-weight bearing legs or sore eyes that staff were unaware of.
The floor of one enclosure, containing 505 dogs, was found to be “almost entirely covered with feces, leaving little to no clean area for dogs to walk. Others reportedly had “a huge pile of feces” in the middle of the animals’ outdoor space.
During the same inspection, the facility was found to have a total of 1,391 dogs under the care of 10 employees which USDA inspector Melissa Radel wrote was an “insufficient” number of staff “given the degree of noncompliance present in this facility.”
An inspection from July of the same year again found at least one animal with untreated sores on its paws as well as accumulated feces and hair near enclosures, water buckets and food receptacles in multiple enclosures and “a layer of grime along the rusted surface” of a feeding trough.
The same report noted standing water, “mixed with urine and feces and algae” in the enclosures. The inspector observed “a strong smell coming from the standing water.” Broken wires and sharp edges were found along the edges of several enclosures.
These violations were corrected in a follow-up inspection conducted the following day and the operation listed as compliant.
While no problems were found by a veterinary medical officer in April 2012, the inspection report from October lists multiple violations, including veterinary and sanitation problems. Multiple dogs were found to have swollen and enlarged areas between their toes, some with “bloody discharge.” The inspector notes that staff seemed to be aware of the issues, but no written instructions were documented by the facility for addressing it.
The same inspection found inadequate ventilation, citing “a strong ammonia odor and the inspector could feel the ammonia burn the eyes.” Also noted were further instances of poor sanitization: the report details beetles found crawling in the food supply and “two to three tall mounds of feces in enclosures … (which) left limited areas for the dogs to walk or stand without coming into contact with the waste.”
A June 13, 2013, inspection again found standing water “stagnant and mixed with excreta” which left a black residue. “A strong, foul odor was present prominent in this area,” Radel wrote.
In February 2014, the inspector found rodent droppings near food supplies The report also details several rooms with a “strong ammonia odor present” noting that a “ slight burning sensation could be felt in the throats of the inspectors”
Again, lack of daily feces removal, “left limited area for dogs to walk or stand without coming into contact with the waste.”
The most recent available inspection report, from September 2014, found no violations or instances of noncompliance.
Kretzman declined repeated requests for comment on her breeding facility, directing questions to Dr. Paul Anderson at the Minnesota State Board of Animal Health (BAH).
State Board of Animal Health
“Wanda is fully licensed, inspected and has met all the requirements,” Anderson said.
However, Anderson said the BAH is unable to provide details of the inspections, including the number of animals at the facility and the kennel’s records and documentation.
“It’s a data privacy issue,” Anderson said. “We’re not at liberty to share specific information.”
Requirements for commercial breeders also include other standards of care such as periodic exercise, daily enrichment and positive physical contact with humans at least twice daily.
“We talk to the breeders about that and ask if that’s what they do … we’ve not had any trouble with people agreeing they do handle their dogs in a positive way two times a day,” Anderson said.
When asked how inspectors can confirm that each animal is given daily care, Anderson said that it’s difficult to verify a facility’s daily operations through a single annual inspection.
“Part of that we have to take on their word,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty easy to tell if they’re telling the truth.”
He added the BAH will conduct reinspections if necessary to follow up on noncompliance issues or complaints about particular breeders.
Anderson said they’ve not yet had any problems with complaints or persistent noncompliance, although a few breeders have dropped out of the application process after learning the requirements, opting instead to remain under the minimum number of dogs and litters per year that qualify an operation as a commercial breeder.
For anything less than five dogs or five litters per year, the rules are not applied and inspection is not required.
Unlike USDA inspections, which are unannounced, the BAH must notify breeders in advance of upcoming inspections, Anderson said, according to state law.
Also included on the BAH list of licensed commercial breeders for 2015 is Country Pride Kennel, out of Pine River, Minnesota.
The USDA license for Country Pride Kennel and owner Deborah Rowell was cancelled in 2014 after Rowell was charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty.
The Star Tribune reported in 2013 that more than 100 animals were seized from Country Pride as part of the investigation.
Rowell was convicted of only one charge, a misdemeanor violation of proper shelter size regulations, and so does not violate the BAH standard of denying licenses to breeders with previous convictions for animal cruelty.
It’s unclear whether Rowell’s business is the same Country Pride Kennel currently certified, as the BAH lists no identifying information of besides the name of licenses commercial breeding operations.
Anderson specified that the language of the Minnesota commercial breeder law does not address puppy mills.
Five Star Breeder with ACA
Kretzman also referred inquiries about Clearwater Kennel to the Star Breeder Program of the American Canine Association, out of Clemont, Fla., through which she is certified as a Five Star Breeder for 2015-16.
A representative from the ACA described the Star Breeder Program as “a service provided for our customers” and confirmed that Kretzman had submitted documentation and completed requirements to be a Five Star Breeder.
After numerous queries to the ACA about what information it could disclose about Kretzman, ACA President Bob Yarnall, Jr. contacted the Record.
Yarnall emphasized that information about the ACA’s Star Breeders is public and confirmed that Kretzman had completed the following requirements: having an attending veterinarian for the kennel, being inspected at least annually by the USDA or equivalent state organization, having an exercise and socialization program approved by the kennel’s veterinarian, attending at least six hours of educational courses sanctioned by the ACA and participating in at least two ACA-sanctioned dog shows per year.
In addition, all breeding dogs are required to have points toward champion or working dog titles and be certified free of at least one congenital defect by a licensed veterinarian, which Yarnall confirmed Kretzman had met by providing required documentation.
“If you were to say that we don’t disclose that information, that would be dishonest,” Yarnall said.
Complete documentation proving that Kretzman has met the requirements is kept on file by the ACA, Yarnall said.
When asked to provide the above documentation that Kretzman had met the requirements, Yarnall said he was unsure what the ACA’s policy was.
“I’ve never had anyone ask me that,” Yarnall said.
In a follow-up interview, Yarnall said that the ACA’s policy was not to provide that information without the written consent of the breeder. He added that he had since contacted Kretzman and she had requested that the ACA not release the documentation about her Star Breeder status or her business to the Record.
Yarnall said that when he contacted Kretzman about the Record’s request for information, Kretzman had expressed concerns that the information would be used in a biased manner.
Yarnall compared the ACA’s data privacy policies to HIPAA laws or those of universities regarding student transcripts.
Just as a university will verify that a student has graduated, but will not provide transcripts, Yarnall said the ACA will verify a breeder has met the listed criteria for a Five Star rating, but will not share the documents or information submitted by the breeder to confirm their eligibility.
Yarnall also said that the ACA had conducted two unannounced inspections of Clearwater Kennel, but that inspection reports were also protected by data privacy policies.
When asked to disclose ACA policies on releasing information, Yarnall responded by repeating the list of Star Breeder Program criteria and said medical transcripts of dogs could not be released without expressed written permission from the owner.
Yarnall said the ACA would not release additional details about Clearwater Kennel, such as the identity or contact information of the attending veterinarian, or the number of dogs Kretzman has registered.
It is unknown whether Kretzman currently sells her animals directly to the public or through animal brokers, as Kretzman refused to give any information about her customers, employees or business practices. The Clearwater Kennel website lists no puppies as currently available for purchase.
The USDA enforcement process against Kretzman and Clearwater Kennel Inc. is ongoing.