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Northfield dog-abuse suspect “wouldn’t hurt a flea,” husband says

Maricella Miranda and Jessica Fleming, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. –

The husband of a Northfield-area dog breeder accused of killing 16 dogs said she will fight the charges against her and that “she wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

Dayna Kristine Bell, 61, appeared Tuesday, April 17, in Dakota County District Court on 16 felony charges of animal cruelty.

Judge Michael Sovis set bail at $50,000, or $10,000 with conditions, including no contact or possession of animals.

Bell’s husband, Dave Johnson, said the complaint, which includes witness accounts of Bell drowning puppies and sheriff’s deputies finding the bodies of 10 dogs in a freezer, was “based on lies.”

“When the truth comes out, she’ll be vindicated,” Johnson said.

Bell’s attorney, Robert Miller, said she planned to pay the higher bail amount, which would allow her to maintain her business, Bell Kennels and Farm.

Bell has bred dogs in Sciota Township for at least 35 years without complaints, Miller said. She has no criminal record in Minnesota.

Online reviews of Bell’s business call the farm a “puppy mill.” Some people who bought animals from the farm say their dogs soon became sick from intestinal parasites and yeast infections in their ears and that they were not socialized.

Speaking at the couple’s 40-acre farm, Johnson said the pair has spent more than $200,000 on a “state-of-the-art dog-breeding facility” that is heated and air-conditioned and has an air-exchange system.

“To me,…’puppy mill’ is offensive,” Johnson said. “I know there are puppy mills out

there, but this is not one of them. Those dogs are treated with tender, loving care.”

When Dakota County sheriff deputies searched the property Sept. 29, they found about 160 dogs, said Sheriff Dave Bellows.

They also found the carcasses of about 10 small-breed adult dogs, each in a plastic bag, in a freezer chest.

The carcasses appeared to have been placed in the freezer wet, authorities reported.

Four days earlier, a former employee of the farm reported witnessing Bell mistreating dogs, a criminal complaint said. Two other employees also reported she abused dogs.

The first worker noticed a dog had given birth to six puppies in a wire kennel. Two of the puppies were dead, and two had severely injured legs. The worker saw Bell grab the four live puppies and place them in a bucket of water. She then placed another bucket – containing water and a bottle for weight – on top of the first bucket and drowned the animals, the worker said.

Bell put the dead puppies in a bag and threw them in the garbage, the complaint said.

The next day, the same worker said, Bell took two dogs to the deck of her swimming pool. The worker watched as Bell tied a rope to the neck of a small black-and-white male teddy-bear breed dog; the

other end of the rope was tied to a cinder block. The worker said Bell threw the dog and the block into the pool.

The worker told police that when a dog bit Bell on her right arm, Bell took the dog into the back yard. Bell returned and said: “That (expletive) will never bother any of us again. I broke its damn neck,” the complaint said.

The worker also saw a blue bucket in the back room of the kennel with a cinder block sitting beside it, the charges said. The worker said that inside the bucket, under another cinder block, she saw a puppy.

A second worker told police that in late September she saw Bell put another puppy in a bucket of water and place a second bucket on top of the first, with a bottle of Pine Sol to hold the dog in the water.

When the second worker questioned Bell about the drowning, she said the puppy was not going to live so she needed to put it out of its misery, the charges said.

A third worker said he also questioned Bell about the death, and Bell said the week-old puppy was not doing well, so she didn’t want to see it suffer.

During the search, deputies found a blue bucket and a cinder block with a rope tied to it, the charges said.

Bell denied knowing anything about the dogs in the freezer, the charges said. She told authorities she had drowned the four puppies from the litter of six, which the first worker reported to police. Deputies also saw a bite on Bell’s right arm. When questioned about the dog that bit her, Bell said she gave the dog away to a friend.

She did not provide the last name of the friend, the charges said.

Bell became licensed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a dealer of dogs Jan. 3, 2011, said spokesman Dave Sacks. The license allows Bell to buy dogs from breeders and sell them to retailers. The license requires that the business be inspected, he said.

An investigation of Bell’s business has been under way since November and is not complete, Sacks said.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Bell’s business still is operating. No dogs were seized from the operation during the search, authorities said.

Bell turned herself in to police Tuesday after being charged on a warrant. If convicted, she could face up to two years in prison for each count. Her next court appearance is scheduled for July 23.

“Dogs and other pets depend upon us for their safety and well-being,” Backstrom said. “When that trust is breached…the person responsible needs to be held accountable.”

Johnson, who refused to allow the media to see the dog-breeding facility Tuesday, said the business belongs to his wife. He said he mostly stays out of it, “primarily because of the noise and the smell.”

But he said the dogs have access to fresh food and water at all times and are not otherwise mistreated.

“The dogs are very lucky to be there compared to other facilities,” Johnson said.

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