USDA Audit Shines Spotlight on the Enforcement of Dog Breeder Regulations
The federal agency responsible for enforcing animal welfare laws was ineffective in achieving compliance with “problematic” dog dealers, according to a report released earlier this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).
The report contains OIG’s findings during an audit of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) animal care unit, which is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. In addition to citing problems with the agency’s effectiveness in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, OIG took issue with how some violations were documented as well as how penalties were calculated and assessed. The report also highlighted how some large-scale breeders circumvent USDA oversight because they sell dogs over the Internet.
The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) said it hopes the findings will lead to greater effectiveness in the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. Already, federal appointed and elected officials have offered administrative and legislative reforms.
As part of its audit, OIG reviewed the animal care unit’s inspections of dog dealers with a history of violations and its enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act during fiscal years 2006 through 2008. OIG also performed fieldwork, including visits to 81 dealer facilities in eight states.
In its audit report, OIG listed what it called five major deficiencies with the administration of the Animal Welfare Act.
The report states that the animal care unit believed compliance achieved through education and cooperation would result in long-term dealer compliance and, accordingly, chose to take little or no enforcement action against most violators. Relying heavily on education weakened the agency’s ability to protect the animals, OIG said in the report.
In addition, some inspectors did not correctly report repeat or direct violations and did not always adequately describe violations, according to the report. (Direct violations are described as having a high potential to adversely affect the health and well-being of the animal). As a result, some violators were inspected less frequently, OIG said in the report.
With regard to penalty issues, OIG said the agency continued to assesses minimal penalties that did not deter violators. In addition, OIG said APHIS misused guidelines to lower penalties for violators. Specifically, OIG found that APHIS inconsistently counted violations, applied “good faith” reductions without merit, allowed a “no history of violations” reduction when the violators did have a history and arbitrarily changed the gravity of some violations and the business size.
In its report, OIG noted that some large-scale breeders circumvent the Animal Welfare Act by selling animals over the Internet. This, it said, is due to a loophole in the act that excludes retail stores, which are defined as any retail outlet where animals are sold only as pets at retail.
OIG provided recommendations for each of the issues it raised in the report. For example, OIG recommended the agency provide more comprehensive training and detailed guidance to inspectors and supervisors on direct and repeat violations and that APHIS should propose the agriculture secretary seek legislative changes to address the loophole for breeders who sell dogs over the Internet.
APHIS agreed to most of the recommendations, offering suggestions for how to reconcile the two that it did not.
Michael Maddox, vice president of government affairs and general counsel for PIJAC, said the organization has long advocated that substandard breeders follow the law or be put out of business.
“We’re hopeful that this is just going to increase the effectiveness of enforcement in the future and that it will lead to USDA getting the resources they need to be more effective in their job,” he said.
Maddox said it’s important to note that there are many responsible commercial dog breeders who do follow animal welfare laws and regulations.
“Whenever you have something like this come out, there’s a tendency to focus on the substandard facilities,” he said. “We think it’s critical that the substandard facilities be addressed, but we don’t want people to be blinded to the fact that there are also quality commercial breeders out there as well. We hope that commercial breeders who are doing a good job will be recognized for that.”
In a statement released by the USDA, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said APHIS has put together an action plan to address the OIG recommendations and that USDA will reinforce its efforts under its animal welfare efforts responsibilities.
“We are taking immediate actions to strengthen our enforcement of the AWA (Animal Welfare Act), specifically in the areas of enforcement, penalties and inspector training,” Vilsack said in the statement. “I am committed to work with Congress to make resources available to carry out this plan and am confident that the changes we are making will significantly strengthen our animal welfare program.”
In response to the report, U.S. senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and David Vitter (R-LA) have introduced a bill that seeks to amend the Animal Welfare Act to “provide further protection for puppies.”
Senate Bill 3424, referred to as the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (PUPS Act), would require licensing and inspection of dog breeders that sell directly to the public and sell more than 50 dogs per year. It also sets forth exercise standards for dogs at breeding facilities.
To view OIG’s audit report, click here.
To view SB 3424, click here. <HOME>
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