Spring Green residents Jill Kane and Clint Kane set out to gain permits this spring for a dog kennel and whelping facility.
When Joel Marcus, chairman of the Village of Spring Green Plan Commission, read the permit paperwork, he assumed the Kanes were setting up a small business to sell dogs to families, similar to other existing kennels in the area.
But three hours before the Plan Commission was set to meet, he got a call telling him protesters were coming to the meeting.
The Kanes’ business will breed dogs for medical research, and that has caused an uproar among some Spring Green residents who object on ethical grounds, as well as some neighbors who worry about the potential noise and smell from the operation. The Kanes say their business is legal and has “rigorous” standards for animal care.
“At this point we are scrambling,” Marcus said. “We were really unprepared for this.”
The Kanes’ proposal includes an indoor kennel in a farm building on the corner of Big Hollow Road and Highway 14, about 45 miles west of Madison. The facility is expected to house an average of 135 dogs according to their conditional use application, along with a separate kennel in the applicants’ home garage for about six whelping dogs and their pre-weaned puppies. Both the village and town of Spring Green are involved in various aspects of the approval process.
The permit applications say the kennel will be “purpose-bred hound dogs,” which Jill Kane said in an email would be coonhounds. The dogs will be sold for medical research, the Kanes’ lawyer Mike Curran confirmed in an email.
“These innocent dogs are only bred to experience a life of horrific torment and torture in medical experimentation,” the petition reads. “This practice is not only outdated and unnecessary, but it's repugnant and nauseating.”
Dane4Dogs, an organization that opposes the use of dogs and cats for painful or distressing experimentation, is helping concerned residents organize around the issue, said Rebekah Klemm, founder of the group.
“We’re working really closely with the local residents there and they're doing a fantastic job self-organizing,” Klemm said. “The residents are determined to stop this.”
The Dane County Humane Society and Sauk County Humane Society have also signed on to the cause and provided social media support.
Sara Rath lives in the town of Spring Green and said there’s a “tremendous amount of anger and rage” around the issue.
Spring Green is known for its beautiful driftless region scenery, the American Players Theater and Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen architecture school. She said residents don't want to add “home of a puppy mill” to the list.
Opponents showed up for a June 19 meeting of the village’s Plan Commission and Joint Extraterritorial Zoning Committee, which was considering the permit for the whelping facility.
Marcus said neighbors of the proposed whelping kennel voiced concern about noise, smell and impact on property values, and a mix of local residents and people from outside Spring Green spoke in opposition to medical testing.
“There was a lot of comment at the hearing about concerns about barking, things like that,” said Fred Iausly, chair of the JEZC and the town Plan Commission. “At that point in time some of the committee members didn't feel they had enough information to make a vote.”
Instead of “rushing it through,” the committees deferred any action until July 17, Iausly said, and asked the Kanes to submit a more detailed site plan and a plan to deal with noise in the garage to address neighbors’ concerns.
THE CASE FOR A KENNEL
Kevin Lins, chairman for the Town of Spring Green, said he believes some opponents have mischaracterized some facts and may be attempting to intimidate through their rhetoric. He’s received emails asking why he is allowing the torture of animals. In a statement, the Kanes noted they’ve received threats and their car was vandalized.
Lins said the bigger issues about whether animal research is humane or a benefit to society is “way above what’s happening at the local level.”
While, opponents have referred to the operation as a “puppy mill,” the Kanes’ conditional use application describes the kennel as a humane and safe environment.
The Humane Society defines a puppy mill as “an inhumane, commercial dog breeding facility in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”
The Kanes’ conditional use application says the animal housing areas will be climate controlled to “maintain a comfortable environment for the animals” and have enough indoor space to meet exercise requirements in the Animal Welfare Act. The dogs will be provided with toys, treats and calming music.
The Kanes’ company, Tri Valley Resources, LLC, has a Class A dog breeder license through the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.
The Kanes’ statement said they have gone through all the proper legal channels for the permits, “maintain rigorous animal care practices and standards.” The statement linked to online resources on animal research.
“Discoveries such as antibiotics, anesthetics, surgical techniques, and diagnostic imaging developed through animal studies and have improved the lives of other animals by improving veterinary care,” the Americans for Medical Progress website says.
The Kanes will be scheduling a forum for the public to learn more, the statement said.
The proposed kennel facility on Big Hollow Road has already made it through the town’s approval process and is awaiting Sauk County approval. It’s located in the Resources Conservancy zoning district, which allows a kennel as a conditional use, Iausly said.
Setting aside any feelings about what happens to the dogs, “for a kennel operation, it met all the criteria,” Iausly said, like being 1,000 feet away from any residential structures.
“The emotional piece of that is outside of what we can evaluate,” he said. “It’s a legal business.”
Iausly said that due to a recent state law change, local municipalities must grant a conditional use permit if the applicant meets all requirements and conditions. Act 67 passed in 2017 “basically ties the hands of local governments with regards to conditional uses,” he said.
Marcus agreed, saying it’s frustrating to feel like elected officials can’t act based on public testimony.
“We have the state Legislature chipping away at our powers … those of us on the local level, we take the heat,” Marcus said.
Asked about the limited power of municipalities, Klemm conceded the matter is a “tough issue."
“(Breeding dogs for experimentation) is currently legal and that’s what we’re trying to change,” Klemm said.
Dane4Dogs and residents will be collecting signatures to support a local nuisance ordinance banning research puppy mills, this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in North Park on Daley Street.
The kennel and whelping facilities are a couple miles apart, and fall under different zoning jurisdictions and require separate conditional use permits.
The kennel at S12491 Big Hollow Road is in the Town of Spring Green and requires a conditional use permit. The Town Board has already voted to recommend approval of the permit, which will proceed to Sauk County’s Land Resources and Environment Committee for final approval on July 23.
The whelping facility property at S12904 Pearl Road falls in the Village of Spring Green’s extraterritorial zoning authority, giving the village jurisdiction. The conditional use permit will appear before the village’s Plan Commission and the Spring Green Joint Extraterritorial Zoning Committee on July 17.