TOPEKA — Auditors working for the Kansas Legislature reported Thursday a majority of problems with regulation of pet animal facilities outlined in a 2002 report had yet to be addressed and indicated the Kansas Department of Agriculture failed to conduct timely inspection of businesses and to consistently sanction repeat offenders.
The inquiry examined the Department of Agriculture's program of oversight at 940 animal facilities, including breeders, kennels, pet shops, animal shelters and research centers.
Matt Etzel, who works for the Legislative Division of Post Audit, told a joint House and Senate committee that four of five problems listed in the audit completed more than 15 years ago hadn't been resolved. The agriculture department did stop improper issuance of licenses, partially created policy to guide inspections and lack of timely inspections, but failed to document a system of tiered penalties for violators.
He said auditors identified department policy that adequately addressed only five of 16 requirements or best practices for regulating pet animal facilities. State inspectors were generally consistent in how they assessed compliance, but had insufficient agency guidance on inspection protocol, the audit said.
The report said the agriculture department didn't adequately address enforcement of laws and the application of penalties was "not always consistent, appropriate or progressive." From 2013 to 2017, state officials didn't pursue penalties in 21 of 33 cases where a facility failed three consecutive inspections and was in line for a monetary fine.
In addition, the audit said 13 percent of facilities in Kansas hadn't been inspected at the required frequency from 2013 to 2017.
The state's animal facility inspectors carried a heavier case load than peers in Missouri and Nebraska, the audit said. Kansas employees had an average of 270 inspections per inspector, while the other states averaged fewer than 236 each. Colorado, Iowa and Missouri employed an investigator to monitor the industry for unlicensed operators, but Kansas eliminated that position after 2011.
Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey said in a letter to auditors that support of the pet animal industry was a priority at the agency. She said the 2018 Legislature blocked the department's ability to give advance notice to breeders of inspections and that reform "is expected to increase the number of no-contact inspections."
She said development of a complete policy manual to guide inspections "would not be practical" given differences in licensee types.
Sen. Elaine Bowers, a Concordia Republican and member of the Legislature's audit committee, said she was concerned with the new state law enabling surprise inspections of dog breeding facilities. She said some of her constituents had complained.
"Are we more strict in Kansas than federal inspections?" Bowers said.
Kelly Navinsky-Wenzl, an attorney with the Department of Agriculture, said she didn't know the answer. She attended the meeting because none of the agency's animal facility inspection staff or other department officials could be present.
"Where are they?" said Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican.
"It's my understanding they had an obligation," Navinsky-Wenzl said.
"I always worry when you send your attorney and you don't show up yourself," Barker said. "It just shocks me they won't show up. I have some direct questions."
Sen. Lynn Rogers, a Wichita Democrat who is lieutenant governor-elect, asked Navinsky-Wenzl whether the department had policy regarding state-ordered seizure of neglected animals. The attorney said she wasn't certain, but the audit report said the department had authority to immediately seize animals when health, safety or welfare was endangered, but "chose not to in recent years."
Navinsky-Wenzl said she would relay the committee's inquiries to colleagues for response.
"That's great, but I think they should probably come and answer. This is their everyday business, and they need to respond," said Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican and chairman of the audit committee.
Midge Grinstead, who represents the Humane Society of the United States, said the audit offered evidence of problems with effectiveness of the state's inspection system. She said opposition to robust inspections was based on fear it would interfere with commercial breeding of dogs.
"These animals live in our homes and with our kids," she said. "It's important the standards of care for these animals are the highest."