The USDA has released a report on its own puppy-mill inspection results and practices.
You can download the PDF here.
From the report's executive summary:
In this audit, one objective was to review AC’s (Animal Care's) enforcement process against dealers that violated AWA (Animal Welfare Act). Accordingly, we focused 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. We identified the following major deficiencies with APHIS’ (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) administration of AWA:
• AC’s Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers. AC’s enforcement process was ineffective in achieving dealer compliance with AWA and regulations, which are intended to ensure the humane care and treatment of animals. The agency believed that compliance achieved through education and cooperation would result in long-term dealer compliance and, accordingly, it chose to take little or no enforcement action against most violators.
However, the agency’s education efforts have not always been successful in deterring problematic dealers from violating AWA. During FYs 2006-2008, at the re-inspection of 4,250 violators, inspectors found that 2,416 repeatedly violated AWA, including some that ignored minimum care standards. Therefore, relying heavily on education for serious or repeat violators—without an appropriate level of enforcement—weakened the agency’s ability to protect the animals.
• AC Inspectors Did Not Cite or Document Violations Properly To Support Enforcement Actions.
Many inspectors were highly committed, conducting timely and thorough inspections and making significant efforts to improve the humane treatment of covered animals. However, we noted that 6 of 19 inspectors did not correctly report all repeat or direct violations (those that are generally more serious and affect the animals’ health). Consequently, some problematic dealers were inspected less frequently. In addition, some inspectors did not always adequately describe violations in their inspection reports or support violations with photos. Between 2000 and 2009, this lack of documentary evidence weakened AC’s case in 7 of the 16 administrative hearings involving dealers. In discussing these problems with regional management, they
explained that some inspectors appeared to need additional training in identifying violations and collecting evidence.
• APHIS’ New Penalty Worksheet Calculated Minimal Penalties. Although APHIS previously agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to produce “significantly higher” penalties for violators of AWA, the agency continued to assess minimal penalties that did not deter violators. This occurred because the new worksheet allowed reductions up to 145 percent of the maximum penalty. While we are not advocating that APHIS assess the maximum penalty, we found that at a time when Congress tripled the authorized maximum penalty to “strengthen fines for violations,” the actual penalties were 20 percent less using the new worksheet as compared to the worksheet APHIS previously used.
• APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators. In completing penalty worksheets, APHIS misused its guidelines in 32 of the 94 cases we reviewed to lower the penalties for AWA violators. Specifically, it (1) inconsistently counted violations; (2) applied “good faith” reductions without merit; (3) allowed a “no history of violations” reduction when the violators had a prior history; and (4) arbitrarily changed the gravity of some violations and the business size. AC told us that it assessed lower penalties as an incentive to encourage violators to pay a stipulated amount rather than exercise their right to a hearing.
I'm not going to have a chance to read the whole thing tonight.
However, I have one question.
In what universe does the person who kept this dog in this condition for at least a week:
Not get arrested on the spot for felony animal cruelty?
I'm serious. If your neighbor's pet was chained in the yard suffering from this festering, untreated injury, would he not get a visit from the law? Would you not make this happen? Are federal employees conducting licensing inspections not mandated reporters when they observe a felony in progress?
Not the Big Bad inspector who can write you up. The big bad policeman with the gun on his hip who takes you to jail. Where the bikers and potheads and bar-fighters take a dim view of people who hurt children and animals.
This willful act of cruelty took place in Oklahoma, which does have a first-offense felony animal cruelty law. The federal inspector -- our tax dollars at work -- did not trouble himself to notify the appropriate local law enforcement officials. And at the time the report was written, the puppymiller had not even been fined for the license violation.
This willful act of cruelty, also in Oklahoma, similarly resulted in no criminal charges, no write-up for a "direct violation," and no documentation by the inspector that would allow the agency, "to identify the animals during re-inspection to determine if they were treated or just disposed of. "
What's wrong with this little dog? I thought she had an untreated suite of tumors or cysts, or some exotic skin condition, until I read the caption.
Her face is covered with engorged ticks. So many that the inspector who didn't see fit to cite the puppymill operator for the violation was, "concerned about their hematocrit [a red blood cell ratio indicating anemic conditions].”
Concerned, but not concerned enough to, you know, do her goddamned job.
I'll be going over this report thoroughly tomorrow. For an internal agency document, it appears to be blunt and honest about the shortcomings in the current inspection system. It correctly identifies, as well, the enormous loophole presented by direct-to-consumer internet sales of puppies. I'm hopeful that it represents a commitment to agency reform, to requiring inspectors to do the job the taxpayers pay them to perform.
If federal and state inspectors did their jobs, if police and humane enforcement officers, prosecutors, and mandated reporters did their jobs and enforced the cruelty laws, if citizens reported violators and ensured that law enforcement followed through, we'd be light-years further along in meeting our barest obligations to the animals who depend on us for everything.