Sheila and Paul Haag, and their son Kyle, aren't selling animals. They're selling unconditional love. According to their website, there's dozens of dachshunds, Poochons, and Pomerians — just to name a few — just waiting for you to bring them home.
But the Haags don't want you to see where they breed the dogs or the conditions in which they're raised. For good reason. The family operates one of Minnesota's largest commercial dog-breeding operations.
The family's sprawling Amaze'n Farmyard entertainment complex sits on Highway 55 near Paynesville. It's about a two-hour drive northwest of the Twin Cities. The fun land, which includes a 150-foot slide, a petting zone, and a large dirt track for kiddie tractor rides, plays window dressing to the Haags' secret.
A walled thicket of old-growth trees shrouds a handful of gray buildings just beyond the Amaze'n Farmyard corn maze. The camouflage does a bang-up job. The pole barns can only be seen from a side road.
Passerbys are greeted by an array of signs, declaring heavy surveillance and no unauthorized entrance.
The NSA-like security measures are in place to keep hidden from public view the kennel where, according to federal inspection reports, more than 800 dogs are bred repeatedly and peddled to pet stores across the Midwest.
The Haags' Valley View Kennel has been hit with violations for at least a decade. In 2004, USDA inspectors found unsanitary living conditions, three dogs with eye problems, and puppies being sold younger than eight weeks. Almost a decade later, nothing had changed. In 2013 officials found numerous lame animals and a dog with "a red ulcer-like mass in the eye."
A year later the Humane Society of the United States dubbed it one of the country's "worst puppy mills."
Bobbie Bauman, director of operations at the Humane Society of Meeker and Kandiyohi Counties, knows the kennel well. Her office receives regular complaints.
Bauman last went to investigate about a year ago. Her efforts proved fruitless. No one was around and without a court order, she couldn't gain entrance to the barns.
Though her office has had regular contact with the Haags, it usually comes when they want to rid themselves of problem dogs.
The animals aren't usually suffering from medical issues, says Bauman. Most often they're skittish to the point of unsellable, or adult dogs that have been returned.
Bauman recalls the most recent throwaway. A Yorkie mix named Maya was dropped off. She was unsocialized to the point of heartbreak. Bauman thought she might be at the shelter by mistake. She tracked ownership back to son Kyle Haag.
"He was busy" when she called, Bauman says. "Eating lunch, I think he said, and couldn't talk. He said he would call back once he was done. I never heard back from him."
The Haags aren't willing to talk about their kennel. Repeated messages left last week went unreturned. City Pages paid a visit over the weekend, but was unsuccessful at locating anyone at the property.
But this coming weekend, families playing putt putt and petting goats will encounter an uninvited contingent. Animal rights activists have scheduled a protest at the property for Saturday afternoon.
Mindy Patterson, who owns The Cavalry Group, a company that represents people in the animal business from cattle ranchers to dog breeders, is spokesperson for the family. She's recently gone on the offensive on behalf of the Haags.
Last weekend after City Pages ran a story about the upcoming protest, Patterson's firm posted a photograph on Facebook of Lindsay Holiday, the demonstration's organizer. The Cavalry Group charged Holiday with "terrorizing the Haag family's kennel and educational A-maze-n Farmyard in rural Minnesota."
A threat followed the declaration. The post from "People for Pet OWNership" read, "Another scumbag terrorist needs some action taken against her."
These choice words have only annealed Holiday's commitment. She senses fear coming from the Haag camp.
"They're scared because once people know what's behind the farmyard, no one in their right mind is going to want to buy a dog from them."
- Mom Lindsay Holiday's crusade against a Minnesota puppy mill
- Minnesota home to America's worst puppy mills
- State animal board neutered when regulating puppy mills
- New photos of Walter Palmer's illegal Wisconsin bear kill
- A clash between protesters at Valley View puppy mill
- Minnesota's first nonprofit pet clinic draws visitors across the Midwest
- 'Tis the season for slaughtering gray wolves at Fur-Ever Wild in Lakeville
- No-show carnival operator Edwin Reinke sued by state for making kids sad