Voters in the village of Spring Green will weigh in on more than the state Supreme Court race and local offices in April. They’ll also decide whether the village should ban the breeding of dogs and cats for medical research.
The referendum comes on the heels of a recent battle involving local dog breeders, the town and village of Spring Green and the Sauk County Board over such research facilities. It also is happening as a lawsuit by the breeders against the village works its way through court.
The referendum specifically addresses raising cats and dogs in the village to sell them for research or experimentation, or doing that research within the village, a practice that currently doesn’t exist there. Voters will decide if this kind of animal testing within village limits should be considered a public nuisance “offending public morals and decency,” according to the referendum.
Rebekah Klemm, founder of Dane4Dogs, the organization that helped get the referendum on the ballot at the request of a village resident, said the vote on animal testing will make it clear that “residents don’t want this.”
“We want to absolutely clarify for the village that it’s not wanted anywhere in the village,” Klemm said.
Klemm said that although this proposed change in village ordinances won’t affect similar breeding operations that exist in the town of Spring Green, it is important to know how village residents feel on the topic.
“Giving residents the opportunity to express their opinion is incredibly important in democracy,” she said.
Clinton and Jill Kane, a town of Spring Green couple, are the owners of a kennel where they raise mixed-breed hound dogs and sell them to facilities that conduct medical research on dogs. The Kanes’ primary location is in the town, and they hoped to use their home, which is also in the town, as a secondary facility, but it falls within the extraterritorial zone of the village of Spring Green. Under state law, cities and villages can exercise some control over land outside their borders.
The village’s Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals denied the Kanes’ application for a conditional use permit in July to operate part of their commercial kennel from their home.
In November, the couple filed a lawsuit in Sauk County Circuit Court against the Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, alleging the decision to deny the conditional use permit was “fundamentally a product of bias and prejudgment.” Several people spoke at a public meeting against the use of animals for research, which the lawsuit states “infected the process” leading up to the decision.
Spring Green village president Eugene Hausner, who also sits on the village Plan Commission, did not respond to requests for comment.
Michael Curran, lawyer for the Kanes, said the lawsuit is also premised in part on figuring out the definition of a commercial kennel.
“The fact that the village is being sued over this very issue tells you that the law might be gray in this area,” Klemm said. “If residents want to be sure this can’t happen, they need to take action.”
Curran said the Kanes do not plan to operate their business within the village.
“The referendum isn’t going to affect anything because it only affects the village limits, and they don’t have any business in the village,” he said.
Mount Horeb voters faced a very similar referendum in 2018 largely motivated by Ridglan Farms, a dog breeding facility in the nearby town of Blue Mounds. The referendum failed after a little over 40% of residents voted to ban selling or using cats and dogs for animal testing.
Klemm said Dane4Dogs worked with Mount Horeb residents at the time to get the issue on the ballot.
Rick Van Domelen, staff veterinarian and facility manager at Ridglan Farms, said the referendum in Mount Horeb wouldn’t have affected them in any way, just like the upcoming referendum will not affect the Kanes’ kennel.
“Both cases are unnecessary questions because it has no effect on breeding facilities that aren’t even in the area,” he said. “You wouldn’t build a facility that raises dogs for research in any kind of populated area.”
Van Domelen said he understands animal research is a complex and emotional issue but feels it serves a “vital role” in human and pet health.
“It’s misunderstood by most and misrepresented by many,” he said. “It’s not a partisan issue, it’s an education issue.”