The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – specifically their Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). In May of 2010, the Office of the Inspector General of the USDA put out an audit report for APHIS – Animal Care Program – Inspection of Problematic Dealers. You can read that report for yourself, but I will cover some of the highlights. And I would have to warn you if you care to read it, you’d better have a strong stomach, because there are photographs and details in there that are very disturbing. I can’t get the picture out of my head of two different dogs infested with ticks, among other horrors.
Please understand, this document is 69 pages long, and I did not read it all. I mostly skimmed it so will share with you some of what I believe are important points in it. What seemed to bring about this particular audit in 2010 was the fact that the media was starting to pay attention to the problem of puppy mills. The media brought these problem breeders to the attention of the American public, as well as Congress and animal rights groups. It seems the USDA had also conducted a similar review of APHIS’ handling of animals in research facilities, and discovered that they were not aggressively enforcing the AWA, and that penalties were minimal. Corrective action was taken in that case.
They now discovered the same problem with APHIS’ handling of these “problematic dealers (breeders)”. Basically, they were going too easy on them. They thought they could bring them into compliance with education and cooperation. From 2006-2008, when re-inspecting 4250 violators, 2416 had repeat violations; including some who were ignoring even just the minimum standards. In addition to that, some inspectors were not even reporting repeat or direct violations (those that could affect the animals’ health). As well, they weren’t providing photographic evidence of violations. This led to repeat inspections not happening as often at some of the worst violators.
APHIS had previously agreed to stiffen their monetary penalties. However, inspectors were still only assessing minimum penalties, even though Congress had tripled the maximum penalty in order to strengthen these fines. They were lowering penalties to encourage violators to pay the fines instead of exercising their right to a hearing. In addition to this, large scale breeders were now starting to sell over the Internet, in order to get around the AWA completely.
The report includes specific examples of the agency’s leniency and ineffectiveness, and how this adversely affected the animals. The report goes on to recommend in detail changes to APHIS’ inspections process, in order to address these deficiencies. Included in these recommendations is proposing legislative change to close the loophole for breeders selling over the internet. For the most part, it appears that APHIS agrees with most of the recommendations. Getting that loophole closed is in the works in the legislature – the PUPS (Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety) act which I discussed in Part 2 of this series. However, this act, which was proposed in February of 2011, is still in Committee at this point. Let’s hope some of the other changes have moved along more quickly.
I have to be honest here, reading that report was really very disheartening. The conditions the inspectors are finding are appalling. I don’t know how they could do their job, and especially how they could be doing it so poorly. I’d be throwing the book at every single one of those violators. On top of that, the website www.govtrack.us, where I found the information on where the PUPS act stood, believes that act only has a 5% chance of passing. Many, many dog breeding groups are against this act, and I wonder if that isn’t part of what is holding it up. What I don’t understand is why good, ethical dog breeders would be against it. That is something else to look into.
You can visit the USDA/APHIS website, where in their October 2012 report, they state that they are: “continuing to move more swiftly and consistently to take enforcement action in response to animal welfare violations”. You can see there what enforcement actions they are taking and copies of documents are available. I hope they are truly trying to do better, as it appears. The protections are there for the animals, but enforcement takes time. We cannot rely on the government to fix this problem…..they are not fast enough, and they probably don’t have the personnel to keep up with it all. Again, the bottom line is that WE need to do what we can to stop this also. We need to continue to get the word out about puppy mills. We need to contact our legislators and let them know how we feel. These breeders need to be shut down by the fact that they have no market for what they consider a commodity. We know that each animal stuck in these places is so much more than that, each and every one is an individual life that deserves so much better.