Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Falling Through When the Whole Damned Thing is Cracks

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.


  1. It's outrageous. The entire thing. One example: Breeders who did receive fines (many didn't) sometimes claimed an inability to pay. Feds said basically "Oh, ok" and let it go.

  2. The people who do this. They aren't the same species as I am; they cannot be. It defies understanding how it is allowed to happen and allowed to persist.

  3. When the USDA reports were first made available online (um.. a year ago, maybe more?) I noted serious issues with reports - not one time did I find a report that I considered satisfactory. Even those reports that were noted as having violations were either not looked back in on, or were rechecked years later and found in violation of the same problems, plus.

    The defense is always that these animals are commercial property - but try to find a car dealer that wouldn't show more concern about a car rusting than these mass producers do about... well, see above.

    Heather - I looked at that last photo for quite a while before I continued reading. I couldn't figure out if I was looking at some kind of hematoma or fistula, some cancerous growth or just hair balls... I would NEVER have guessed that those were ticks.

    Now it's my turn to take the Clorax shower....

  4. Awesomer and awesomer (p. 30):

    In 53 cases [where penalties would have been assessed against breeders], the penalties were lower using the new worksheet than they would have been using the old worksheet (see chart 2); in 6 other cases, the penalties were the same.

    In 12 of the 53 cases, the reductions decreased the penalties to such an extent (up to 145 percent of the maximum penalty) that they initially resulted in a negative number. In these cases, APHIS arbitrarily changed and inconsistently applied minimum penalties.

    Game the system right and you can not only grind out the merch but get the Feds to pay you for it!

  5. I should say, "(almost)"...

  6. Okay, now how many times do I have to tell you, there is NO SUCH THING as a puppy mill?

    These are good people just trying to earn an honest living, dangit. And if you dispatch the black helicopters to their houses, it's just a matter of time before THEY COME FOR YOUR DOGS, TOO.

    There's a nationwide shortage of puppies, and those snobby 'show breeders' charge too much, and besides, we must champion the right of poor people to breed dogs.

    Here in the land that time forgot (population: 275,000) in our newspaper just this morning are 85 classified ads for dogs, puppies and kittens. Five of the ads offer adult dogs and puppies dogs for free; one says that the lab x pups are $25 each but their mother is available for free. The purebreds (more AKC than APRI) top out at $300 and range from Golden Retrievers to St. Bernards to Brussels Griffon. Oh, except here:

    The purebred and designer dogs available there are more expensive.

    But I'm rambling. The important thing to remember is: there's no such thing as a puppy mill. So quit it, already.

    Jeez. Next thing you know, it'll be bad to whack dairy calves with a crowbar.

  7. If you whack a dairy bull calf fast and hard - he he dies quickly and becomes useful feed (the girls are much too valuable to waste this way). And in the wild - most baby critters meet much slower and crueler deaths.

    Free range dairy veal doesn't give me any heart burn.

    The putrescent scum who turned their heads to let these things happen are far crueler than any farmer or good slaughterhouse employee. They're letting thousands of dogs suffer for the almighty buck. Or politics. Or because it's just too much effort to fill out the damn forms.

    No farmer I know would let his stock suffer like this. And slaughterhouses prefer to avoid excess stress because it taints the meat.

    Beyond the fact that handling any kind of animals cruelly is not good business (or good ethics) - isn't abetting these kinds of crimes a felony in most states?

  8. Janeen, have you been in an interwebz cave for a few days?

    The crowbar reference was to this:

  9. Oh thanks [NOT] for posting that.

    No. I really have been in an interwebz cave for a few weeks now... (by choice) and after seeing that - thank you [rolls eyes]. I feel quite rather good about it.

    For the record - most of the members of my immediate family are, and have been, farmers. And a very large number of my clients are farmers. None of them treat animals like this.

    SRSLY. This is just not done.

    For more reasons than I can, or I hope, ever need to, elucidate.


  10. People need to know this. That farmers. And slaughterhouse employees. DO NOT HANDLE ANIMALS LIKE THIS AS A STANDARD PART OF THEIR BUSINESS OPERATIONS.

    Not only is this horrifically cruel - it is bad business. SRSLY - google adrenaline and meat. They're not a good mix.

  11. Um, Prairiepup is me.

    As in dripping with.

  12. smartdogs wrote:

    "People need to know this. That farmers. And slaughterhouse employees. DO NOT HANDLE ANIMALS LIKE THIS AS A STANDARD PART OF THEIR BUSINESS OPERATIONS."

    "Not only is this horrifically cruel - it is bad business. SRSLY - google adrenaline and meat. They're not a good mix."

    Janeen, I've tried to make that same point here and elsewhere in the past, but got shouted down as some kind of ignorant defender of factory farming animal cruelty. Some have got their minds made up that cruelty is the norm in livestock farming, and trying to convince them otherwise is as pointless as trying to defend hobby dog breeders among the PETA crowd.

  13. Crowbar beatings and gratuitous brutality aren't business as usual on factory farms, not so far as I know, nor do I find those who claim it is to be credible.

    That's entirely different from the kind of business as usual factory farm cruelty that is absolutely standard, systematized, automated, unconscious, and unquestioned by the practitioners.

    Like the crowding of laying hens and broiler chickens. Feedlots. Sows immobilized in "gestation crates." Veal production. Dairies where the cows never see the sun or grass.

    Just because it isn't a beating doesn't mean it isn't cruelty.

    To take it back to the post, I don't see any evidence that the dogs in these pictures were beaten.

    Someone would have to actually open the cage to beat them.

  14. YouTube link to cow-beating troll is down -- apparently I'd linked to a "knock off" version -- here's a link that works:


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