Tennessee lacks regulations for oversight of animal care facilities

Jonathan Roberts • May 10, 2019 at 11:38 PM

After the owner of a Johnson City dog training facility and a trainer were charged with aggravated animal cruelty after the death of a dog in their care, the question of whether dog training facilities and kennels need state regulation has bubbled to the surface.

Currently in Tennessee, there are no laws requiring dog training facilities or kennels to be licensed, regulated or inspected — unlike animal shelters operated by cities, counties or commercial breeders, who must be licensed to buy, sell and transport animals.

City or state officials can obtain warrants to inspect facilities suspected of animal abuse or neglect, but unless a violation is reported, there’s little that officials can do.

State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, says he believes what the state currently has on the books is sufficient, but that regulating training facilities and kennels is something they will look at.

“If we had additional laws, I don’t think it would’ve been helpful,” Lundberg said. “(owner Randi LaFerney and trainer Andrew Hunigan) clearly went past what we have already, which is why they’re charged with animal cruelty.”

Several states, including North Carolina, Missouri and Georgia, have laws regulating animal care facilities, but the industry as a whole remains largely unregulated. There are several independent organizations — such as the American Kennel Club and the International Boarding & Pet Services Association — that provide guidelines for animal care facilities, but those guidelines are not backed by law in most states, including Tennessee.

An email from state Sen. Rusty Crowe’s office highlighted state laws 39-14-202 (cruelty to animals) and 39-14-212 (aggravated cruelty to animals) as current legislation that would theoretically prevent these abuses from happening, but neither of these laws specifically references boarding or training facilities for animals. In fact, the only law referencing an animal care facility in Tennessee is TN 5-1-120, which only says counties have the ability to establish and operate animal shelters.

LaFerney and Hunigan of Off Leash K9 Training were charged after the death of a dog in their care.

The dog, Dallas, reportedly lost half its body weight after being at the training facility for five weeks. Hunigan reportedly told the dog’s owners that he believed Dallas had strangled himself trying to escape his crate, and that it wasn’t the dog’s emaciated condition that led to its death.

Both Hunigan and LaFerney face one count of aggravated animal cruelty, which Lundberg says is proof the state’s current laws are working. 

“They were charged with animal cruelty for a reason and I think that shows that our laws are effective," Lundberg said.