On his case

Randy Long hasn’t gotten the reaction he had anticipated after telling his story about his Akita Adoption and Rescue of Mid America in Williamsburg, Kan., to PitchWeekly (“Disposable Pets,” March 2-8).

“It really hasn’t done me any good as far as calls with offers to help the plight of these dogs. I have gotten more calls of people wanting to relinquish ownership, which is sad because I am full here, so I have had to find more homes than ever before,” Long says.

But what he says about sent him over the edge was an April 20 visit by two inspectors from the Kansas Animal Health Department. The state agency licenses animal rescues and shelters in Kansas under the Kansas Pet Animal Act.

“I was working on the computer that morning and I heard the dogs barking,” Long recalls. “I looked out and saw a truck with state tags with two people sitting in it. I was still in my robe but ran out and asked them where my letter was that I was to have received before this inspection.”

Long says the inspectors — Debbie Spezia, who normally visits his rescue facility, and her supervisor, Carmen Simon — presented him with a letter dated April 12, 2000, and signed by Debra S. Duncan, director of Kansas’ animal facilities program. It was the first time Long had seen the letter, and he wondered why it hadn’t been mailed before the on-site inspection. “I have given them my change of address at least a dozen times,” he says.

The letter listed violations Spezia had noted on the property since Jan. 11, 1999, and contained a new violation concerning cattle panel fencing for Long’s dog runs. Long says he had previously received an exemption on the cattle panel after a telephone conversation with Duncan in late 1999. Now the April 12 letter required Long to reinforce the panels with secondary fencing.

It stated: “Mr. Long, you will recall our telephone conversation after you received your official warning (dated Oct. 5, 1999). You were particularly adamant that the cattle panel was good for your dogs. You said they like to visit each other through the wire and that it is harmless. I said that I would give you an exemption on the cattle panel. At that time, I didn’t realize that your dogs could put their heads entirely through the wire. I immediately recognized your facility on the cover of PitchWeekly — and the dog was doing exactly that. I am sorry to go back on our agreement, but we are going to require you to use some type of secondary wire. We will allow you four months, until the end of August, to complete this correction.”

To Long, the letter was the state’s reacting to his animal rights activism. “This is nothing but pure and simple harassment of me by the state because I am an outspoken opponent to their sanctioning of puppy mill operations in this state,” he retorts. “They don’t like what I say because it hits too close to home when I tell them that they are part of perpetuating the problem of pet overpopulation — not just in this state, but in the country.”

After he got the letter, Long says, Simon called Duncan on her cell phone. When Long eventually got on the phone with Duncan, he admittedly was very upset. But he also says their conversation twisted off the issue of cattle panels to the PitchWeekly article and its mentioning of the Nielsen Farm puppy mill. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited that operation for violations of the Animal Welfare Act and was highlighted in an NBC Dateline exposé on the puppy mill industry.

“I told her I didn’t have anything to do with turning you (PitchWeekly) on to the Nielsens’; I hadn’t even heard of them until I read the story. But I did ask why a state agency such as hers, that was supposed to be protecting animals, was defending the Nielsens to me, when I am trying to save animals discarded by places like that,” Long says.

After the conversation with Duncan, Long says, he accompanied Spezia and Simon on a partial inspection of his property, but after several comments about the dogs, such as one’s being overweight, which Long says he interpreted as rude, he asked Spezia and Simon to leave his property. “They were just looking to antagonize me and looking for anything they could as far as what they consider violations,” he says.

Duncan refused to allow Spezia or Simon to be interviewed for this article.

Long has disagreed with the way officials have interpreted state animal welfare laws since January ’99, when he moved his rescue operation from Missouri to Kansas. He says that when he lived and operated in rural Missouri, the state required no licenses, and he was surprised to find that Kansas regulated people who tried to find homes for unwanted and abused animals.

Duncan says she first became aware of Long’s rescue operation when her agency received a complaint from a person who pointed out that Long was unlicensed. “We then conducted a courtesy inspection on Jan. 11, 1999, which gave him a heads up with the state requirements before he applied for his license,” Duncan says. Long applied for his license on Jan. 30, 1999, and although he has paid the required fees, the state hasn’t yet licensed him.

Since January 1999, Long has been cited for numerous violations dealing with fencing, providing shade and wind breaks in the kennel area, placing gravel in the pens for drainage, providing running water to the property, painting wood that comes in contact with dogs, and placing tethered dogs inside fencing.

Long and his wife spent their life savings to buy the property to provide homes for the unwanted Akitas, large husky-type dogs of Japanese origin. Some of the dogs were saved from puppy mills that were closing, others were adopted from shelters because they were going to be euthanized, and some have been relinquished by owners. The Longs lived in a pop-up camper for a year before someone donated a mobile home. Before electricity and water ran to the property, Long was trucking in water in for their needs. Long’s wife owns a hair shop in Westport and drives two hours each way, six days a week, to provide the only income for the couple and their dogs, two horses, and two potbelly pigs, which they also rescued. Long says he doesn’t leave the property, because he must stay with the dogs for their protection — someone previously came onto the property and shot two dogs in their runs. Recalling that incident causes Long, a huge man well over 6 feet, to get emotional.

Long says all of the perceived violations have been corrected except for painting the wood windbreakers in the runs, laying gravel, eliminating tethering, and reinforcing the cattle panel. “They said that the wood needs to be painted because of sanitation reasons, but what happens when (the dogs) start chewing on the painted wood? I also can’t place the two dogs that are tethered with plenty of shelter because they are jumpers and jump out of the runs. My property is sloped, so there is plenty of drainage in those runs.

“I would also like to know how an agency that has said it is so overburdened with the number of licensed breeders in this state can afford to send not one but two inspectors to my property when there are people operating puppy mills and have serious violations that affect the welfare and health of animals,” Long says.

The Kansas Animal Health Department, an agency that is overseen by the Livestock Commissioner, is in charge of licensing and inspecting not only rescues and shelters but also breeders the USDA hasn’t licensed, in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act. Duncan says that her agency has sole jurisdiction over Kansas rescues and shelters.

Duncan, a petite woman with animal pictures and paperweights decorating her office, has pets. She gives the impression of a person who cares for animals but is saddled with bureaucratic legislation and regulations that create controversy, particularly from animal lovers who claim state laws don’t do enough to protect animals despite the legislative intent.

“When licensed facilities are inspected, they are subject only to the regulations that govern them. All regulations deal with essentially the same issues — the structure of the facility, protection from harm, sanitation, waste disposal, feeding, etc. State regulations for the licensing category (with the exception of USDA licensed breeders and distributors) also require adequate veterinary care,” Duncan wrote in a letter to PitchWeekly following an interview.

Duncan also says she has supported and worked for a bill in the Kansas Legislature that would have strengthened her agency’s authority over USDA-licensed facilities, but the bill went nowhere. “Several animal breeders showed up to oppose the bill, and it didn’t even make it out of committee,” she says.

Duncan admits she hasn’t visited Long’s facility.

“I recognized the facility from pictures we have in the file, and it doesn’t matter if the dog (in the PitchWeekly photo) was sticking his head through this time. When I told Mr. Long that he could use cattle panel, I thought I had previously given an exemption to another facility using cattle panel, but I hadn’t. It isn’t fair for him to be the only exemption in the state. Also, these laws are meant to … protect the animal from harm. These dogs could fight through the fence, or a sick wild animal could get in. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t,” Duncan says.

Duncan also adds that inspectors’ interpretations of the statutes they said Long violated all concerned the welfare and well-being of the animals in his care. “We have six inspectors for the whole state, and they complete an inspection at least once a year unless there is a problem,” Duncan says. She added that it is common for a supervisor to accompany the regular inspector on a visit to a facility if there have been violations in the past.

Although breeders must have a certain number of animals to require a license, according to Duncan, if a person operates a rescue and has offered only one animal for adoption, he or she must be licensed and fall within the state guidelines. These guidelines are much more stringent than those for private pet owners, who need only to provide adequate food, water, and shelter.

“We are required by state law to administer the Kansas Pet Animal Act. The act covers all kinds of facilities, including pet shops, breeding facilities, and pounds and shelters. I believe, and state law requires, that anyone who chooses to assume responsibility for these animal-related activities be regulated and inspected. They are assuming a responsibility for a number of animals, and they have to be ready to accept that responsibility,” Duncan says.

In offering an olive branch of sorts, Duncan adds, “We would rather work with these facilities and help them correct problems than fine them. That is what is best for everyone involved.”

Long has retained an attorney, who has offered pro bono legal help, and he has contacted other animal welfare agencies and animal rights groups for assistance. Lisa Pelofsky, with the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, says her organization may be able to donate some dog runs to Long’s facility.

“I intend to continue to fight for these animals,” Long says. “It has already cost us everything financially, and it really gets me down some days. But if we aren’t here for them, what will happen to them?”

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