Fourteen summers ago, Morrison County commissioners approved a factory-sized dog breeding business in Cushing Township, about two hours north of the Twin Cities.
According to the conditional use permit granted to Clifford Chandler and his bride Leone Wilcox, there were three conditions that had to be met: The kennel couldn't house more than 800 adult dogs, a manure management plan had to be submitted, and the facility must comply with USDA regulations.
By 2001, the couple was out of the dog business. Gary and Wanda McDuffee had taken over. The use permit and its terms were grandfathered in.
In June of that same year, the McDuffees submitted a waste management plan to the Morrison County Department of Planning and Zoning.
It consisted of a handwritten, one-paragraph note that read, "The manure under the cages will be raked up on a weekly or bi weekly basis. The manure will then be spread over our 17 acre field that is located on our property."
Four months later, the couple expanded the facility big time. According to the county assessor's office, a building 28 feet wide and 254 feet long was erected.
How the couple planned to dispose of the growing mound of dog waste is anyone's guess. Morrison County's Jeremy Bartkowicz says that paperwork is missing.
The McDuffees would split. Wanda McDuffee changed her name to Wanda Kretzman in 2006, according to Crow Wing County court records.
She would go at it alone in the canine breeding business, fast becoming one of Minnesota's, if not the country's, largest breeders. Her business would be known as Clearwater Kennels.
Kretzman's kennel was apparently in violation of its use permit as far back as 2006, according to USDA inspection reports. Federal officials flagged it for "incomplete records… wire mesh floors that allow dogs' feet to go through… buildup of feces under kennels and in outdoor pens… not enough head or floor space in pens."
More violations followed.
A September 2010 USDA report cited the kennel for selling puppies that were less than eight weeks old. According to Minnesota law, "animals must not be sold, traded, or given away before the age of eight weeks unless a veterinarian determines it would be in the best interests of the health or well-being of the animal."
A subsequent inspection noted a strong ammonia odor [of urine], rodent feces near dogs’ food, and excessive feces in the enclosures that left “limited areas for the dogs to walk or stand without coming into contact” with their own excrement and urine.
Earlier this year, the Humane Society of the United States included Clearwater in its "Horrible Hundred" as one of "the worst puppy mills" in America.
Also this year, Kretzman's repeat violations were enough for the USDA to file an official complaint.
It alleges that Clearwater Kennel willfully violated the Animal Welfare Act by failing to establish and maintain a program of adequate veterinary care, failing to provide the proper cleaning, maintenance, and sanitation, and failing to maintain enough employees to carry out the level of care needed for the ever-expanding number of dogs at the facility.
According to inspection reports, the kennel has grown from 682 adult dogs in early 2013 to more than 800 in its most recent inspection.
Last month, the kennel appeared to be in violation of a second condition of its conditional use permit. The August 5 USDA report shows that 808 adult dogs were housed there — eight more than allowed by law.
Moreover, no one seems to know where all that canine waste is going. An average-sized dog pumps out almost 275 pounds of excrement annually. At 800 adult dogs — not to mention the 421 puppies documented in the most recent USDA report — that's an estimated 220,000 pounds of dung a year.
Morrison County officials are on the cuff for ensuring that Kretzman's facility adheres to the terms of its use permit, according to Nancy Drach of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. But county officials have no answers at the moment. Likewise, Minnesota Animal Board of Health's Paul Anderson was unavailable for comment.
Kretzman isn't much in the mood for talking, either. She didn't respond to repeated interview requests.