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Over the years, multiple organizations and citizens have tried to encourage the USDA to honor its mission (protect the welfare of animals) and hold animal producers accountable for their actions.

Complaints have been filed, presentations have been made, undercover investigations have occurred and legal action has been taken.

Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), who has investigated over 1,000 commercial breeding facilities in sixteen states, including Minnesota, has documented breeding conditions through video and reports. Based on these investigations, CAPS presented the assessment below (prior to the 2010 OIG audit; see below) to the USDA:

“Although some improvements in the USDA’s regulations are warranted, the larger problem is that the USDA is simply not enforcing them adequately. The USDA’s rules are too often ignored, not only by those who are regulated, but also by the regulators themselves. … Simply put either through omission, misfeasance, and (we fear), in some cases, malfeasance, the USDA is not getting the job done. … We question whether the USDA is even institutionally capable of adequately implementing the puppy mill protection provisions of the AWA. Thus, we believe the appropriate congressional committees should conduct prompt and vigorous oversight of the USDA’s management of this program.” 

The above assessment of USDA's inspection and enforcement activities has been shared by others. In response to concerns and complaints, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a two year audit of the Animal Care Program's actions and concluded that the Animal Care's (AC) enforcement process was ineffective against problematic dealers. The report outlines major deficiencies with APHIS' administration of AWA.

Read: 2010 Audit Report


Multiple recommendations for improvements within AC program were made by the OIG. The USDA agreed with these recommendations and, in 2011, released a plan outlining specific goals and tactics to improve its enforcement actions.

Read: APHIS' Enhanced Animal Welfare Act Enforcement Plan


Below is a statement by the USDA (in September 2011) in regards to its recent changes, following the 2010 OIG report. (Please note: Multiple audits have been conducted of the USDA-AC Program in past years, resulting in little or no improvements. While the changes stated below are hopeful, it is necessary to continue to monitor what actions and results will occur within the Animal Care Program. Animal Folks has conducted considerable research on USDA licensed facilities in Minnesota and has found that USDA inspection reports do not paint an accurate picture of true conditions within many of these kennels. What the USDA may define as a "federal standard" may not reflect what Minnesota expects per our state laws. Animal Folks has found that incidents of animal neglect and cruelty, if witnessed by USDA inspectors, are not reported to local law enforcement. As a regulatory, federal agency, USDA inspectors provide the breeders/brokers with multiple chances to comply, while the animals continue to live in substandard conditions—often a violation of Minnesota law.)

"The USDA takes its role in regulating commercial dog breeders very seriously. We hold these breeders accountable to federal standards so that their animals receive humane treatment. We welcomed the OIG audit on problematic dog breeders/dealers. It spotlighted areas where we needed to improve, and we have already made great strides. [See Plan at link above.) This has not been the start of a focus on animal welfare here at USDA but rather an improvement to our former processes.

Amongst our many improvements, we are ensuring that our inspections are consistent across the country -- so that an inspection in Maryland is done using the same criteria and standards as an inspection in California. We have created standard operating procedures that all of our inspectors will strictly follow. We are increasing our internal communication efforts by gathering our employees together more frequently, providing more frequent training to inspectors and supervisors, and more clearly articulating procedures and expectations to our personnel. We have also made changes to how we pursue enforcement actions, especially in regards to repeat violators of the Animal Welfare Act. We are being more aggressive in our enforcement actions, and we are seeking stiffer penalties in cases involving problematic breeders/dealers. We are also issuing monthly press releases that provide case information on Animal Welfare Act violators. All told, USDA has taken heed of the OIG audit and continues to significantly improve its regulation of commercial dog breeders in the United States.

Animal Care hired a kennel specialist on Oct. 11, 2010, who manages the program’s kennel issues by providing expertise in animal welfare, population medicine and standards of veterinary care. Animal Care provides information to impacted states and shares information with all its inspectors through weekly email updates. Animal Care’s Inspection Requirements Handbook, given to all inspectors, has improved consistency from inspector to inspector, and inspection to inspection. APHIS created a separate Animal Health and Welfare Branch of its enforcement office so that this branch will be dedicated to Animal Care cases. Animal Care will identify inspectors who are not performing quality inspections, and will train supervisors to identify subpar work by inspectors.      

It is important to note that the audit focused on the problematic dog breeders, which make up a small percentage of all USDA-licensed breeders. Still, one problematic breeder is one too many, so we expect full compliance at every facility every day. There are many variables involved with raising animals, so we know there will be non-compliances, but we expect full compliance and we regulate based on this expectation. We have made a concerted push since the OIG audit came out to move from a focus on educating the problematic breeders/dealers [so that they come into federal compliance] to more strictly enforcing the Animal Welfare Act by pushing for stricter penalties for repeat offenders.

Here at USDA we have no ideological agenda; we focus on the welfare of the animals that we regulate. So we will continue to do our best to make sure that all dogs regulated by the Animal Welfare Act receive humane care and treatment as spelled out in the federal regulations."

• USDA - APHIS press releases can be found at: USDA News



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