TOPEKA — The secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture urged legislators Tuesday to relieve state livestock regulators of responsibility for oversight of pet animal facilities under a plan to improve the budget, staffing and responsiveness of the unit devoted to monitoring dog and cat breeders and small-animal care operations.
Secretary Mike Beam renewed a campaign to build support for the proposal during a meeting at the Capitol of the joint House and Senate agriculture committees.
Late in the 2021 legislative session, Gov. Laura Kelly submitted a reorganization plan to accomplish what was outlined by Beam for the committee members. Lawmakers in both chambers decided there wasn’t enough time to adequately vet the idea in the spring, kicking it to the interim joint committee and ultimately the 2022 Legislature.
Beam said the Animal Facilities Inspection Program was established to require animal facilities, including dog and cat breeders, pet shops and boarding facilities, to be licensed and inspected under rules established by state law. The laws were developed in response to emergence of a puppy-mill industry in Kansas.
The pet animal inspection program has experienced persistent budget challenges and proved to be a magnet for time-consuming Kansas Open Records Act requests. The program has struggled to fill its staff positions, including an investigator recommended by a legislative audit.
These factors have drawn agriculture department officials away from regulation of the cattle, hog and poultry industries with much greater significance to the state’s economy.
“If you have a separate division these types of delineations are much easier to keep track of,” Beam said. “I think time has come to separate this as a division within the Department of Agriculture.”
He said the proposed new division would continue to receive about $300,000 in fees paid by licensees, but the governor’s recommendation would add $500,000 in state funding.
Greg Smith, who chairs the state’s animal advisory board and owns a retail pet store in Shawnee County, said he was convinced the Legislature should invest tax dollars in the inspection program. The state’s dog and cat breeders and marketers, as well as consumers who purchase animals, benefit from a properly staffed and financed program in the Department of Agriculture, he said.
“The animal facility inspection program is very important to our industry in the state of Kansas,” Smith said. “It assures Kansans that if they buy an animal from a licensed facility — a shelter, a store, a kennel — that they’re getting an animal that has been kept by standards enacted by Kansas.”
He said health standards, regular inspections and a system of sanctions made the industry stronger because it would “eliminate bad businesses.”
There are more than 850 licensed animal facilities in the state, the agriculture department said. The cycle of inspections depends on previous history of compliance, which means about 70 are inspected every three to 12 months and nearly 600 undergo inspection every 15 months to 24 months.
Members of the House and Senate agriculture committees appeared to have an affinity for the pet animal issue. A poll instigated by Sen. Dan Kerschen, the Garden Plain Republican and chairman of the Senate agriculture committee, revealed members of the panel owned 14 dogs, 14 cats and three chickens.
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