Animal Welfare Act and the USDA

      Comments Off on Animal Welfare Act and the USDA

 

Updated 2019 © Bailing Out Benji

Actual USDA licensed and inspected breeder from Iowa 

So many people have questions about USDA licensed breeders, the people who inspect them, and why certain licensed breeders are allowed to get away with many violations without any consequence- not to mention the many problems we have with small town zoos.   The Animal Welfare Act can be difficult to interpret, and it is subjective to each inspector. 

It’s important to note exactly what inspectors are looking for when they arrive at a USDA licensed kennel. Their job is to make sure breeders are adhering to the minimum standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), but that is it. They can look at a facility with hundreds of dogs in small cages, desperate for human attention, and note no violations. In fact, in recent years the USDA has moved towards sharing “teachable moments” with their licensees; where they share concerns verbally and write nothing down on an official report. NOTE: Currently, when a USDA inspector utilizes the “teachable moment” policy, or ignores violations in accord with self-reporting or other recently changed policies, the inspector makes the following notation on the official inspection report: “No non-compliant items.” Then the inspector documents, either on a separate “teachable moment” document, or in his/her field notes, the specific non-compliant items discovered during the inspection. (source: MAAL) 

That’s because the AWA does nothing to ensure dogs are happy, or live a quality life. It’s not written into the regulations, and therefore is not something the USDA enforces. Here are some quick facts about the minimum standards set forth by the USDA:

-Inspections are “Risk-based,” meaning that facilities that meet a certain criteria are inspected “as seldom as once every 2 to 3 years.”
-Cage size: must be 6 inches larger than the size of the dog, on all sides
-Up to 12 dogs can be housed in one cage
-Dogs never have to be let out of their cages. Breeders only need to have an exercise plan
-There is no limit to the number dogs a breeder can have—many have over 1,000 . ( Please note: A dog breeding limit can be set on the state level and has been in Washington, Oregon, Virginia and Louisiana ) . 
-There is no age limit for breeding dogs. If a dog is able to produce puppies for ten years, that’s how long they could be in the facility.
 

Animals covered under this act are: Dogs, Cats, Monkeys (other nonhuman primate mammals), guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and other warm-blooded animals that is intended for use in research, testing, or exhibition. 

Not all animals are covered by this act. Excluded animals include: Birds, Cold Blooded Animals, Fish, Rats and Mice, Amphibians, and livestock (cows, horses, pigs). 

Certain facilities are covered by the AWA, which means that these types of facilities must be USDA licensed. These include facilities that: Breed animals for commercial sale (such as puppy mills), Use animals used in research, Transport animals commercially, or Publically exhibit animals (such as zoos, aquariums)

Facilities not covered by the AWA include pet stores, farms and hobby breeders. 

Actual cage size requirements from the USDA

As noted above, the AWA does nothing to address boredom, emotional well- being or quality of life. A dog spinning in circles in a tiny cage 24-7 would not trigger a USDA violation as long as that dog appears outwardly healthy and the cage is at least 6 inches taller that the dogs’ head and 6 inches wider and longer than the dog measures from nosetip to tail BASE. This is an example of why the AWA needs to be rewritten. Emotional torture is every bit as damaging as physical torture for these dogs. The AWA requires that basic standards of care and  treatment be provided for certain animals bred and sold  for use as pets, used in biomedical research, transported  commercially, or exhibited to the public. Individuals  who operate facilities in these categories must provide  their animals with adequate care and treatment in the  areas of housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water,  veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather  and temperatures. Sadly, the word adequate doesn’t meet many of OUR standards.

Most commercial breeders use wire flooring on their cages so the feces and urine are able to fall through the openings. This set up is another cruel part of the industry. When people started getting smart and complaining that the wire flooring was causing further injury and deformity to the dogs, the breeders asked that the USDA refer to it as “mesh”. After many people spoke up, the USDA required the wire to be coated, as opposed to making the wire thicker. Any attempts at making changes to these regulations has been met with much resistance.  

Although Federal requirements  establish basic standards, regulated businesses are encouraged to exceed these standards. (AWA website.Most do not. Unfortunately, many USDA licensees not only have a history of violations, but they have many repeat violations with no follow-up or enforcement by the USDA. In fact, every year the Humane Society of the United States creates a “Horrible Hundred” puppy mill list, and many of the violators are repeat offenders. 

-Recent updates with the USDA- 

It is also important to note that in February of 2017, the USDA removed all of their public access to USDA inspection reports in a shocking and sudden move, leaving countless animal welfare organizations in the dark on what is going on within these facilities. Several organizations are in ongoing litigation to fight for our right to obtain the records in their full, un-redacted state. This made our work a lot harder. 

Since the records have been redacted before being released for public viewing, we have seen a dramatic difference in what inspectors are reporting. In fact, the Washington Post uncovered that  the USDA’s enforcement of the AWA had virtually stopped in 2018. See photo obtained from the Washington Post Below. 

Provided by the Washington Post

In 2019, the Washington Post also provided additional research showing that “USDA inspectors documented 60 percent fewer violations at animal facilities in 2018 from the previous year.” You can view their full article here. See the photo obtained from them below. 

Obtained by the Washington Post

This is why there is a huge need for organizations like Bailing Out Benji to exist. We not only research the puppy mill industry, but we connect them to the pet stores they sell to and we have volunteers working to end this cruel industry every day. This is where we need your help! Keep talking about puppy mills and help us educate; go to your city, state and federal leaders to strengthen enforcement on a local level; and don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to get more involved with our small nonprofit! You can also view our pet store research here. 

Follow us on social media and get involved in the fight to #EndPuppyMills !

 

To make a donation or learn about other ways to support our efforts, click the image above

To receive action alerts and updates on our efforts, click the image above

Sources are the AWA website, MAAL,  Washington Post,