Part Two of this guest post from Monika.
One of the more alarming facts surrounding the audit was a lack of enforcement against violators. Enforcement has been ineffective, particularly against the worst of the worst where little or no action against a majority of violators resulted. Of the enforcement decisions for 68 sampled violators, 71% (48) resulted in no action taken, 6% (4) received a “Letter of Information,” 19% (13) received an Official Warning and 4% (3) resulted in Stipulation. In 2007 the AC discontinued using Letter of Information as an enforcement option. Only 20 of 68 dealers (nearly 30%) were cited for repeat violations.
States with Animal Cruelty Laws
Only 5 states have a subsequent-offense felony cruelty law (Arkansas, Idaho, North & South Dakota, Mississippi); and 5 States have a misdemeanor cruelty law (Alaska, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the remaining 40 states have a first-offense felony cruelty law.
We all know that puppy mills put profit over the health and well-being of the dogs but here are a few of the worst examples cited in the Audit.
Example No. 1. With 83 adult dogs, a Oklahoma breeder was sited with 20 violations during 5 inspections from April 2006 to December 2007. Lack of adequate vet care for 3 dogs hair-loss over their entire bodies and raw, irritated spots on their skins. Despite continuing violations, no enforcement actions were taken due to the agency’s lenient practices against repeat violators.
During another visit, AC cited breeder for another 11 violations (one involving a dog that had been bitten by another and left untreated for at least 7 days which resulted in the flesh around the wound rotting away to the bone! The inspector required the dog be taken to a local vet who immediately euthanized it. The case was referred to IES for investigation but only after another violation was documented. AC recommended a stipulation, yet as of early June 2009 (11 months following visit), violator had not been fined.
Example No. 2 was another OK facility with 219 adult dogs. Breeder was cited for 29 violations (including 9 repeats) during 3 inspections from February 2006 to January 2007. Yet the AC did not take enforcement action, but did request an investigation in November 2007 when another inspection revealed five dogs were found dead and other starving dogs resorted to cannibalism. When asked why dogs were not confiscated when the first dead and starving dogs were discovered, inspector cited its own regulations require violator be given opportunity to correct condition before confiscation can occur. Despite those conditions, the AC did not immediately confiscate the survivors, resulting in another 22 dogs dying before the breeder’s license was revoked and surviving dogs were rehomed within a year.
Example No. 3 involved a Ohio facility with 88 adult dogs. Breeder was cited for 23 violations including 7 repeats during 3 inspections from August 2005 to January 2008. An official warning was sent in July 2007 and in a subsequent visit in January 2008, found the same violations with another official warning sent rather than a more severe penalty. When asked by a more serious action was not taken, the regional manager indicated ‘breeder was making progress’ with a ‘reasonable opportunity’ to comply. National instructions state official warning can be sent if no other action was taken against a violator in the previous 3 years. Four months later in June 2008, breeder was cited for another 9 violations (4 repeats) yet the inspector recommended no enforcement action. Upon re-inspection 4 months later, breeder was cited for 4 more violations (including 3 repeats); AC took no enforcement action noting violator was “making credible progress.”
The USDA accompanied 19 of the 99 inspectors to observe dealer facility inspections. While many inspectors are highly committed, inspections are conducted timely and thoroughly and significant efforts are made to improve humane treatment of covered animals, it was noted that at least 6 inspectors did not correctly report direct or repeat violations. Some inspectors did not always document violations with sufficient evidence and direct violations were not reported. The Agency Guide defines a direct violation as one that “has a high potential to adversely affect the health and well-being of the animal” which include: “infestation with large numbers of ticks, fleas, or other parasites” and “excessive accumulations of fecal or other waste material to the point where odors, disease hazards, or pest control problems exist.” In such cases, a facility must be re-inspected within 45 days to ensure that the violator has taken timely actions to treat the suffering animals. By contrast, an indirect violation is one that “does not have a high potential to adversely affect the health and well-being of the animal.” Minor violations include: “inadequate records” and “surfaces not resistant to moisture.” In such cases, a re-inspection may not occur for up to a year.
Major deficiencies of the APHIS administration of the AWA cited in the Audit included:
- AC’s enforcement process was ineffective against problematic dealers.
- AC inspectors failed to cite or document violations properly to support enforcement actions.
- AC inspectors failed to Cite or document violations properly to support enforcement actions.
- 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.
- 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, violations were inconsistently counted and applied “good faith” reductions without merit. A reduction in “no history of violations” when there was a prior history; and arbitrarily changed the gravity of some violations and the business size. AC assessed lower penalties as an incentive to encourage violators to pay a stipulated amount rather than exercise their right to a hearing.
- Some large breeders circumvented AWA by selling animals over the Internet. Large breeders that sell AWA-covered animals over the Internet are exempt from AC’s inspection and licensing requirements due to a loophole in AWA resulting in an increasing number of unlicensed breeders are not monitored for their animals’ overall health and humane treatment.
While the USDA does not advocate assessing maximum penalties, at a time when Congress tripled the authorized maximum penalty to “strengthen fines for violations,” actual penalties were down 20 percent less through the use of a new worksheet as compared to the one previously used.
I could go on, but to do so belies cold hard facts that trying to stem puppy mills is a bit like playing a ‘Whack-A-Mole.”
Bottom line, what the Audit tells us is: (1) red tape saddles agencies with convoluted regulations that are difficult to implement or monitor, due in part to (2) the sheer number of puppy mills and (3) a lack of adequate number of inspections conducted.
No doubt resources are limited but until such time as the economics of keeping puppy mills in business is reduced, they will continue to operate with impunity. The resulting advice is make sure your breeder is legit and don’t succumb to adorable puppy faces in pet shop windows.
I shudder to think how many of Elsa’s pups are out there because who easily resists puppies? It makes me wonder how many of them have genetic diseases due to poor breeding practices (in Elsa’s case epilepsy which was diagnosed just two weeks following her adoption), but other dogs seized at the same mill with her suffered from Sebaceous Adenitis (which is also most likely an autosomal recessive inherited disease), Addison’s Disease and one whose severe aggressive behavior (due to lack of socialization) was deemed so severe, he was considered unable to be rehabilitated in any way as to place him and heartbreakingly was euthanized. Bottom line, please adopt, don’t shop (or only use a reputable breeder). Only then can the sheer numbers of puppy mill facilities be reduced and heartbreaking stories like Elsa’s be stemmed.
Live, love bark!
Tails Around the Ranch
We must spread the word far and wide that puppy mills have to be brought down by publicity and lack of business.
Only when the last puppy mill goes out of business can we relax.
Finally, here’s a picture of a million miles from a puppy mill!