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Fargo aims to make day care and boarding safer for city's critters

Proposed regulations bring animal day care and boarding facilities under the scrutiny of Fargo Cass Public Health.

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A dog named Kaia peers over the indoor play area at Eddie & Barkus in south Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — If you run an animal boarding facility in Fargo and don’t keep it clean and safe, you could soon end up in the dog house.

The City Commission accepted and filed an ordinance Monday, Oct. 20, that outlines an extensive list of requirements for animal day care and boarding facilities to be licensed in the city that also includes the possibility of fines and loss of license.

Fargo Cass Public Health, which would be in charge of inspecting animal boarding facilities, doggedly pursued the issue for more than a year, but was forced to heel at times due to COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic delays.

Complaints about animal cruelty or neglect have long been handled by the Fargo Police Department, but last summer, Public Health received a complaint about animal waste at an animal day care and boarding facility that highlighted the need for clear regulations.

The number of animal day care and boarding facilities had also grown, said Grant Larson, FCPH’s director of environmental health.

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“We saw a gap in the ordinances,” he said. “We thought, why don’t we put this on our plate?”

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Jaclynn Turcotte gives a dog named Tucker a bath at Eddie & Barkus in south Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

To dampen any howls of protest, Larson said the owners of the city’s animal boarding facilities were invited to offer their input at meetings held last November and December.

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Larson said the meetings drew packs of up to 60 people, whose unmuzzled input helped craft the ordinance that is expected to come up for its first reading with the commission on Nov. 2. Comment from veterinarians was also solicited.

More meat on the bone

The aim is to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to animal welfare in boarding situations.

“There’s more meat on the bone compared to what there was before,” Larson said.

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The ordinance lays out requirements for:

  • Facility maintenance: This includes good physical repair, with walls and floors built to be easily maintained, cleaned and disinfected. Good lighting and adequate garbage and waste disposal. Isolation of animals that appear sick. Separating grooming services from boarding.

  • Animal care and handling: The facility owner, operator or staff must be present at least once a day, regardless of whether the facility is open. Animals must be handled in a way that won’t cause them discomfort, injury or undue stress. Clean water and food must be available for each animal. Cages, rooms and pens must be cleaned and sanitized daily.

  • Veterinary care: In case of emergencies, or if instructed by a veterinarian or owner, veterinary care must be provided immediately.

  • Housing: Confinement areas must be comfortably sized for each animal and built to prevent injury and be easily cleanable. Animals must be in a compatible group. Animals with vicious dispositions must be separated; females in heat must be separated from males. Perishable food and medical supplies must be stored in refrigerated units. There must be washing facilities for staff.

  • Ambient conditions: A facility must be adequately ventilated and temperatures must be kept between 50 and 85 degrees.

  • Vaccinations and recordkeeping: Rabies (for dogs and cats), parvo/distemper and Bordetella for dogs, and other vaccinations for other species are required. Vaccination records must be kept readily available on-site for at least two years.

If approved, the new ordinance would have some bite: Public Health inspectors will have access to boarding facilities when they wish to bring a facility into compliance. Violations of the ordinance are an infraction, for which punishments include a suspension of a license or a fine up to $1,000. An appeals process is also laid out.
Operators must have a license, which will cost $100 annually. (The city currently has a $35 annual license fee for kennels.)

Always a passion

Marcia Humphrey, owner of Eddie & Barkus dog grooming, boarding and day care facility in south Fargo, provided significant feedback, Larson said.

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Team member Krystal Lyter and owner Marcia Humphrey stand in front of the south Fargo location of Eddie & Barkus on Tuesday, Oct. 20. David Samson / The Forum

Humphrey said the local dog boarding industry needed some regulation, and she thinks the proposed ordinance is pawesome.

“You just can’t open the doors, you have to work,” she said Tuesday, Oct. 20. “It’s just like a hospital. There has to be cleaning, sanitizing.”

Humphrey, who gave a tour of her south Fargo facility, is proud of the features of the building near the intersection of 32nd Avenue South and Interstate 29. There are separate areas for dog cleaning and grooming, and separate laundry facilities for the grooming and day care/boarding areas. Multiple air handling systems blow in fresh air and waft away odors.

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There are high-pressure washers and industrial-model floor cleaners to clean up urine and waste. Cleaning goes on from the start of the business day to close.

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Elsie Graupmann cradles Maggie at Eddie & Barkus in south Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

Plus, there are plenty of staff on hand to monitor the behavior of the many dogs in day care.

“Because not everyone plays together,” Humphrey quipped. “All dogs are different. Not every dog is the same.”

Though the facility is built for dogs, “You run it like a child day care,” she said.

A second location she opened in Harwood in 2017 has a 5-plus-acre area for the dogs to run, play and wear themselves out, she said.

There are security cameras inside and outside of the Fargo building. Sound-deadening panels prevent barking from bothering neighbors and keep out outside sounds. Humphrey also works with veterinarians and the veterinary technician program at North Dakota State University.

According to the American Pet Products Association, $95.7 billion was spent in 2019 on pet food, treats, supplies, veterinary care, medicine and other items. Of that total, $10.3 billion was spent in a category called “other services,” which includes boarding, grooming, insurance, training, pet sitting and walking and all services outside of veterinary care.

Humphrey said the customer has to be respected if you want to be part of that market.

“This has always been a passion,” Humphrey said. “If you leave your dog here, we watch over it. If there is a storm, we stay here. I want it to be safe and good. Your customers spend money. It’s important.”

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Haley Lang holds a dog named Bisou at Eddie & Barkus in south Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

Emphasis on education

Instead of “reinventing the wheel,” much of the ordinance is borrowed from a Minnesota statute, though it has been adjusted to fit this area. It must pass two readings of the City Commission and a public notice period before it passes into law, Larson said.

Then, Public Health will survey the city to determine the number of animal boarding facilities that need to be licensed and inspected. The emphasis will be on educating business owners, rather than punitive action.

“There’s a lot of people that own dogs and cats and they want to make sure Fluffy is taken care of,” Larson said.

Humphrey said the new rules and educating business people will improve care for animals. “There’s going to be no more second-guessing. They’ll know the right way,” she said.

“When you’re paying for that service, you deserve to get that service. And that service is a clean and safe environment,” Humphrey said.

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