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The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Animal Welfare Act Regulations established requirements for the humane care and treatment of certain animals. 

NOTE: Some data on this page is from past years and was obtained through USDA audits. Figures may vary each year. Recent figures can be found by contacting the USDA.



Authority to conduct inspections (and follow-up on complaints of abuse and noncompliance) has been granted to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is administered by the Animal Care (AC) program within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). However, past audits of the USDA-APHIS (scroll below for links to audits) have concluded that inspections are infrequent and, due to poor management and enforcement practices, compliance by breeders is minimal.


Inspectors and training

In 2010, the agency employed 99 inspectors. Per the 2010 USDA audit report: "Before Animal Care issues a license, it conducts a pre-licensing inspection because by law applicants must be in full compliance with AWA and regulations. After a license is issued, AC inspectors perform unannounced inspections at least biennially to ensure the facilities remain in complaince with AWA. If an inspector finds AWA violations, the dealer is given anywhere from a day to a year to fix the problems depending on their severity. During a recent audit of AC, it was found that inspectors gave the dealers an average of 16 days to correct their violations.

After inspectors are hired, they receive 5-6 weeks initial training on animal care standards and inspections. Thereafter, they receive annual training in the form of national or regional conferences as well as meetings with their supervisors."


Number of inspections

In FY 2008, the inspectors conducted 15,722 inspections on licensed and registered facilities (including dealerss, exhibitors, research facilities, etc.). In FY 2008, there were 4,604 licensed breeders and 1,116 licensed brokers.

Previous years:

• In 2007, there were 16,542 inspections and 101 inspectors.

• In 2006, there were 17,978 inspections, 99 inspectors and 9,075 USDA-licensed facilities.

• In 2005, there were 18,290 inspections and 8,048 USDA-licensed facilities.

NOTE: The AC has used a Licensing and Registration Information System (LARIS) to calculate its number of inspections. This system was found to generate unreliable and inaccurate information so numbers cited above may be questionable. A new system is being developed.



There are 4 full-time USDA inspectors for Minnesota; some of these inspectors also inspect USDA-licensed facilities in Wisconsin. These inspectors must inspect licensed breeders as well as exhibitors, dealers, brokers, zoos, research laboratories, circuses and animals transported via commercial airlines. 

For further information about the AWA, go to: Animal Welfare Act


A lack of enforcement

Whether or not Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations are strictly or loosely enforced during inspections is a policy decision. Field inspectors follow the direction given to them by ‘top officials’ at the USDA-APHIS.

Throughout the years, multiple audits have been conducted by the USDA Inspector General to assess the practices of the USDA-APHIS-Animal Care Program.

In May 2010, an audit report was submitted entitled Inspections of Problematic Dealers. The focus of this audit was on "dealers with a history of violations in the past 3 years. Another objective was to review the impact of recent changes the agency made to the penalty assessment process." Their assessment:

• Animal Care's Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers

• Animal Care's Inspectors Did Not Cite or Document Violations Properly To Support Enforcement Actions

• APHIS' New Penalty Worksheet Calculated Minimal Penalties

• APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators

• Some Large Breeders Circumvented AWA by Selling Animals Over the Internet

To read the full 2010 audit report, go to: USDA - Inspections of Problematic Dealers


Previous audits

The USDA-APHIS-Animal Care program has been audited in previous years, including  1992, 1995 and 2005. Each audit varied based on its objective. Each audit cited specific and multiple problems with recommendations; each subsequent audit showed little improvement by the USDA-APHIS-AC.

See link below for the 2005 Audit Report.

USDA Audit: APHIS Animal Care Program Inspection and Enforcement Activities

The 2005 Auditor identified numerous recommendations in the report; one particular observation made: “Discounted stipulated fines assessed against violators of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are usually minimal. Under current APHIS policy, Animal Care (AC) offers a 75-percent discount on stipulated fines as an incentive for violators to settle out of court to avoid attorney and court costs. In addition to giving the discount, we found that APHIS offered other concessions to violators, lowering the actual amount paid to a fraction of the original assessment. An Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES) official told us that as a result, violators consider the monetary stipulation as a normal cost of conducting business rather than a deterrent for violating the law.”

This and other actions illustrate how inspections are supposed to be conducted, according to policy set by USDA-APHIS officials. Based on past behavior of the USDA, legal action is rarely taken against breeders who violate USDA standards. 


Multiple chances given while animals wait

Instead of imposing fines for violations or shutting down facilities, the USDA had followed a policy of "education" rather than legal action — i.e., educate breeders about AWA requirements. If violations were found, multiple chances were given to breeders for them to “fix” the problem. (Animals were/are not removed while compliance is occurring.)

Recent changes at the USDA have introduced "teachable moments" as part of inspections. Instead of citing a licensee for noncompliance, the inspector can now treat the incident as a moment to "educate" the license about what is required.

In 2006, (Detroit Free Press), “the USDA in 2004 opted not to fine Heartland Kennels [a puppy mill in southwestern Minnesota] — which sent at least 123 pups to local pet shops in 2005 — after citing the facility for repeated violations that included confining dogs to cramped, dirty cages that offer no protection from the wind, rain and snow. In a letter to the facility, the USDA said its run of violations used to result in fines or closure, but current policy “is to encourage compliance through education and cooperation rather than legal action”.… The USDA’s Office of Inspector General has criticized the agency since the 1990s for failing to adequately crack down on violators. And in a blistering September 2005 report, the inspector general found an ineffective monitoring and inspection system and concluded the USDA failed to take action against “violators who compromised…animal health.”

Based on the 2010 OIG audit of of the Animal Care program, the USDA created and is implementing the APHIS' Enhanced Animal Welfare Act Enforcement Plan to make improvements. Whether this plan is successful — where more animals are protected and businesses are held accountable — remains to be seen. For plan see: Improvements


USDA Inspection Reports

For additional data about inspection reports, go to: AWA - Inspections

Inspection reports for Minnesota USDA licensees, including breeders, brokers, exhibitors, carriers and researchers, are posted online at link below. (These documents were removed by the USDA and then reposted in August 2017. The majority of inspection reports have been redacted, removing the names, addresses, and license numbers of the USDA licensees.)

USDA - New APHIS Compliance Database and Search Tool


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