The Cass County Attorney’s Office on Monday, July 29, filed a nine-count criminal complaint against Deborah Beatrice Rowell of Pine River for violations of Minnesota animal cruelty laws.
The complaint follows an investigation into the conditions at Rowell’s kennel on County Road 1 East, which resulted in the July 16 seizure of 133 dogs, 29 of them puppies. During the seizure, officers observed what a county attorney’s office news release described as “neglect, deprivation of appropriate shelter, improper enclosures, inadequate ventilation, improper dog houses, inadequate shade and deprivation of adequate and necessary water.”
The release said dogs were overcrowded, housed in enclosures that didn’t meet state standards, and didn’t have access to clean water.
“It’s been an ongoing investigation,” said Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch. “It wasn’t like we were getting a complaint every day. We got complaints in the past, but we knew we had to deal with it somehow. The more complaints we got, the more that enabled us to get a search warrant.”
The criminal complaint said some of the shelters were found to be from 91 to 97 degrees, and one of the dog water dishes had a dead mouse in it. The complaint said that shelters were not sufficiently raised above the ground to prevent accumulation of water and waste, and were not able to be opened for inspection or cleaning.
Rowell, 60, was charged seven misdemeanor and two petty misdemeanor counts: animal neglect, deprivation of necessary shelter, improper enclosure, failure to provide dogs with adequate ventilation, improper dog house, failure to provide dogs with adequate shade, lack of shade for dogs kept outdoors, deprivation of necessary water, and failure to provide dogs with adequate water.
Charges of providing improper dog houses and lack of shade for dogs kept outdoors are petty misdemeanors and have a maximum penalty of $300 each. All other charges are misdemeanors and each has a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
These recent allegations resemble allegations from 2004. A March 25, 2004, Pine River Journal story detailed an investigation into the conditions at Country Pride Kennels, owned by Rowell, which said the kennels had insufficient lighting, empty or unsanitary water receptacles, kennels that were too small, and overall inadequate housing for the animals.
Accusations then included a complaint submitted to the Heartland Animal Rescue Team (HART) that alleged that a puppy purchased from the kennel had coccidia, a potentially fatal parasite that comes from fecal contaminated ground.
In an April 8, 2004, rebuttal, Rowell said coccidia infections are not proof of mistreatment as they occur in completely sanitary conditions as well. She said she was U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified for sales of her animals and had her kennel inspected only a week before the 2004 investigation and passed. Pine River City Council minutes from April 13, 2004, said all kennel deficiencies had been taken care of and the matter was put to rest.
USDA records of noncompliance are discarded after three years unless there is an investigation. There is no record of investigation by the USDA in 2004.
USDA inspection records showed past noncompliance notices following inspections and repeat notices about violations, including shelters not meeting impervious surface requirements that can’t be cleaned, outdoor facilities that didn’t include clean, dry bedding material or sufficient insulation in low temperatures, and shelters that did not sufficiently provide protection from wind and rain.
Since Nov. 6, 2011, Rowell had not received an official violation warning. Tanya Espanosa, public affairs specialist with the USDA, said this was because she had made changes according to the results of USDA inspections.
Espanosa explained that official warnings are issued when licensees have continuous noncompliance, or noncompliance that is serious enough to require immediate resolution. If a licensee does not comply following such a notice, he or she will be investigated federally.
“An official warning is letting the facility know that they need to make corrections because the next step is for us to go ahead and start an investigation which can result in stipulation, civil penalties, and possible revocation of their license,” Espanosa said.
The USDA issued a warning for violations of federal regulations Dec. 15, 2010, for failure to “design and construct primary enclosure of suitable materials so they are structurally sound. Maintain primary enclosure so no sharp points or edges could injure the dogs and cats, and protects them from injury.” Rowell complied, and there was no further investigation at that time. The most recent USDA inspection record available for Country Pride Kennels is dated Oct. 2, 2012.
Rowell is scheduled for an initial court appearance at 1 p.m. Aug. 19. If she is found guilty of animal cruelty crimes, Espanosa said Rowell would have her USDA license revoked.
“Once they are convicted of a city, county or state animal crime, then the USDA can go ahead and revoke their license, but just being charged with something, we can’t do anything with that,” Espanosa said. “USDA requires our licensees to follow not only federal AWA but also state, county and city regulations as well. Federal regulations don’t supersede local regulations.”
Jeff Moravec, director of communications for the Animal Humane Society, said there will be a legal review of the seizure of the 133 dogs from Rowell’s business. Moravec said the animals are being boarded, currently in quarantine, in various metro area shelters, at least until the future of these animals has been decided.
“The seizure issue is separate from the criminal case. The owner has to make an affirmative motion to the court to have the seizure reviewed. A judge ultimately determines whether and under what conditions the animals are returned or kept. While the criminal case deals with conditions that existed at the time the search warrant was executed, the seizure portion will look at present conditions and whether they comply with the law,” said Cass County Attorney Chris Strandlie.