Animal Welfare in the Age of Trump

What we know about the Trump administration’s regard for animals so far is troubling.  In the early weeks of his presidency, Trump had many government websites scrubbed of information – a clear indication that transparency is not in the game plan.  Among them was the USDA website which for many years had posted inspection reports on roughly 8000 facilities (such as puppy mills, research labs, zoos and circuses) required to treat their animals humanely under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.  The searchable database allowed the public to see things like which research labs were letting monkeys die of thirst and lose body parts in fights due to negligence.  It also provided an opportunity to see which puppy mills passed USDA inspection – a low, very low, how can I say this? L O W bar – and which were repeat violators.  Several states have passed laws requiring pet stores to buy puppies only from breeders not cited for violations by the USDA.  With the inspection reports now gone, it is unclear how these pet stores, or anyone else, would find out the federal inspection history of any breeding facility.

Due to public outcry (thing I never tire of typing), the feds relented and put a “small fraction of the cache back online.”  But the most credible effort to date at holding the USDA accountable is coming from a private citizen by the name of Russ Kick.  He has set up a blog to repost the deleted documents, provide links to other sites doing the same, and ask for help from anyone who has saved any of the disappeared reports.  (Anyone wanting to support his one man effort can do so here.)

Then there is the Trump budget proposal.  While it is up to Congress to work out and decide upon the details, the proposal does give us insight into Trump’s vision for American families (and by family, I mean anyone who loves and shares their home with another being).  In a nutshell: bombs IN, poor people OUT.  Of the numerous proposed cuts within the budget, many will directly impact families if passed by Congress.  These include cuts to housing for low income people as well as:

And incidentally, the farmers who grow the food used in these anti-hunger programs will be negatively impacted as well.

It is estimated that approximately 65% of U.S. households have pets.  These include low income families.  If Americans who were previously relying on government assistance to help with things like baby formula, school lunches, and meals for homebound relatives are cut off from that assistance, pets will be impacted.  When families suffer, pets suffer.

Pets who provide enormous benefits to senior citizens and veterans, may end up being fed from the reduced food available to the owner (resulting in even less food for these already at-risk people), be surrendered to shelters or perhaps not even adopted in the first place.  When families suffer, pets suffer.

As the public learns about the proposed cuts to these essential family programs, they will rush to open their wallets and offer support.  Because that’s what we do.  At the same time, with so many valuable services being cut from the federal budget, competition for donation dollars will increase.  And compassion fatigue will set in.  Indeed, an insurance company recently debuted a television ad depicting a man feeling overwhelmed by so many worthy causes and issues in his community – the first of which is represented by a shelter dog.  Rescue groups can expect to work harder for every donated dollar and volunteer hour as compassionate people spread their resources far and wide.

What you can do:

  1.  Check to see if your Congressman signed this letter to Trump asking that the USDA documents be restored to the website.  If he/she did, call his/her office to say thank you and ask that the issue not be dropped.  If he/she did not sign, call and request that he/she support this effort.  Senator Cory Booker (D – NJ) has set up a petition.  (Note:  petitions are ok but phone calls are the thing.  Start making calls.  Plan to keep making them.  Every voice is needed – even quiet ones.)
  2. Call your elected representatives and tell them to reject the cruel Trump vision for American families outlined in his budget proposal. Demand that they stand up and fight for our shared values and rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.

How will animals fare during the government shutdown?

As many of you know, there is no federal oversight of animal shelters.  They will continue to operate as usual during the government shutdown which, in too many cases, is a tragedy in itself.  But with the failure of Congress to do its job and keep the government running, I wanted to mention a few animal related services that are being impacted by the federal government shutdown.

  • USDA food inspectors will remain on the job so the food you eat and feed to your pets – or for those who feed kibble/canned pet food, the ingredients used to make that food – will be as safe as it was before the shutdown, which is up for debate.
  • Although the animals are still receiving care, the National Zoo is closed and the panda cam is dark.  The loss of the panda cam seems to be the only thing that might motivate citizens to take to the streets.

Have more? Add them in the comments.

USDA Grim Reaper Inspector on the Job

Dear Cruel MoFos of the World,

My outrage-o-meter is seriously overloaded.  Like the needle is shaking in the red zone and little puffs of smoke are seeping out accompanied by the occasional spark.

Please knock it off.

Seneca Co, NY:  A puppy miller with a disturbing track record of problematic USDA inspection reports (pdf) was told by a USDA inspector at the June 29th inspection to address the issue of Brucellosis in his kennel.  When the inspector came back on July 15, the puppy miller, David Yoder, informed the inspector he had indeed dealt with the contagious disease situation:  by putting his dogs, 5-6 at a time, into a whelping box, Rube Goldberg’d into a gas chamber via an exhaust pipe and a 3 horse power farm engine.  He couldn’t stay to monitor what level of suffering the dogs endured while being gassed because, you know – there were fumes and stuff and the puppy miller got a headache.  So Mr. Yoder left them to die in view of the main kennel dogs who also suffered from the fumes.  He came back after a bit to remove the bodies and put the next batch in for killing.  In all, Mr. Yoder killed 78 dogs and 15 puppies in this manner.

OK, now we come to the really outrageous part.  (You didn’t think that was it already I hope?)  The USDA inspector typed up the report noting “This method of euthanasia should not be used again”, and mentioned that the remaining dogs had so much shit piled up in their cages, it wasn’t falling through the mesh floor anymore.  The report was filed and tra-la-la, business as usualUntil:

Mary Anne Kowalski, a board member of the Seneca County SPCA, said she was not aware of anyone from the USDA reporting what she believes is a clear case of animal cruelty to local authorities.

[…]

Kowalski, who discovered the report of the gassing on the USDA website while updating her files [on September 13], said she was stunned at what she read. “I just lost it,” she said.

Kowalski said she reported the incident to the sheriff and district attorney in the hope that cruelty charges will be brought against Yoder.

Mr. Yoder’s wife commented to an area newspaper:

Barbara Yoder said today that USDA inspectors had urged them earlier to euthanize their dogs because they had contracted brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can also be passed to humans.

She said the USDA inspector “scolded” them for not having put the dogs down sooner.

Cruelty charges for the Yoders?  Perhaps (investigation pending).  For the USDA inspector?  *tumbleweed*  *howling wolf*

More Misguided Pet Breeding Legislation

The IL Senate has passed a bill that is supposed to protect consumers with regard to pets sold in pet stores:

In Illinois, the legislation requires pet shops to post information on or near the cages of dogs and cats that includes: the name and address of each animal’s breeder; a record of all veterinary conditions and treatments; and any known information regarding congenital or hereditary defects of the animals’ parents.

Is this really going to help protect consumers?  Let me fill out the information for one of the 47 puppies I’m selling to a broker this afternoon:

Name and Address:  Mary Bad-Breeder, PuppySunshineville, USA

Veterinary conditions and treatments:  Veterinary health certificate issued today.

(That is to say, my Vet gave this puppy a health certificate declaring he showed no signs of communicable disease and was too young for a Rabies shot at the age of 5 weeks when I prematurely removed him from the dam to turn over to the broker.  The puppy may have had some other condition before that but I won’t be listing that here because I didn’t want to pay the Vet to come out and look at him.  Therefore, no record.)

Known info on hereditary defects of parents:  N/A

(That is, the parents may be defect free or may have every defect listed in the vet school textbooks – I don’t know because I don’t pay for those kinds of screenings.)

So the consumer sees a puppy from Mary Bad-Breeder who was issued a health certificate by a Vet a few weeks ago (which probably misleads the buyer into believing the puppy is therefore healthy) and the parents have no known congenital defects.  Sounds like a winner!

Again, we don’t need new legislation for pet breeding.  We have laws already on the books and the framework in place to enforce those laws.  What we need is to fill in that framework with solid material and get the job done.  Maybe, after we’ve been doing a good job at it for awhile, we might find a need for legislative changes.  But how can we possibly know that now, when we’re failing to even pretend to have a handle on licensed pet breeders in this country?

USDA Inspections – Not

Warning – There are extremely graphic photos of animal cruelty at both of the links below.

As many of us have been saying for years, the USDA has been falling down on the job with regard to licensed dog breeder inspections.  Raised by Wolves has a first look at a report (pdf) the USDA has released in which they audit their own inspection practices.  They basically give themselves an F.  Minus.

Excerpts:

  • AC’s [Animal Care’s] Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers.
  • AC Inspectors Did Not Cite or Document Violations Properly To Support Enforcement Actions.
  • Although APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] previously agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to produce “significantly higher” penalties for violators of AWA [Animal Welfare Act], the agency continued to assess minimal penalties that did not deter violators.
  • APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators.

You get the idea.  And while this isn’t news to many of us who have recognized the results of the deficiencies in the USDA inspection process for years, I for one have often blamed the lack of funding which results in too few inspectors, lack of follow up, etc.  Now I’m seeing that there appears to be rampant corruption within the agency, whether that be intentional or due to ignorance I neither know nor care.

The failings here are not simply a lack of funding.  They are a systemic rot within the agency characterized by negligence – criminal negligence in this layman’s opinion.  As a taxpayer, I expect far better from my government.  The rot needs to be gutted from the USDA inspections process and replaced with solid material.  For starters, any inspectors who saw the suffering dogs depicted in the cruelty photos and did not take appropriate action as per their job descriptions need to be 86’d.  And I’m betting there are more that need to go.

This report reinforces my thought that there is no point – and indeed it would be counterproductive – to add new breeder laws to the books.  We are not getting the job done as things stand.  Let’s correct that before we talk about piling on more laws regarding pet breeding.  We have the framework in place to get these tasks done but we are severely lacking in execution.  I would think that’s a fixable problem.  It’s called accountability.  USDA inspectors need to do their jobs, not just cash the paychecks we provide for them every week.

This Seems Wrong

Regarding a MN puppy mill investigated by a Boston TV station and others:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in its final decision and order, stated that [Kathy] Bauck is “unfit” to be licensed because she operated her kennel in a criminally improper manner.

And by “criminally improper” they mean:

[…] emaciated dogs, sick dogs and others being dunked in a tub of diluted but toxic insecticide that is only supposed to be used on swine.
[…]
The government is revoking Bauck’s license to deal dogs based on her conviction of animal cruelty and torture in March 2009. The year before, she pleaded guilty to practicing veterinary medicine without a license. Both times Bauck spent time in jail.

OK so this all sounds pretty bad. And my first reaction was “Thank goodness the government finally did something to help these dogs!” But:

Bauck will still be allowed to keep her animals because they’re considered her personal property.

And she can continue selling dogs online since the USDA doesn’t regulate that. But she has to wait 2 years before re-applying for a USDA license so I guess that’ll learn her. As for the dogs, well we can always hope the Boston TV station, the animal activists, the U.S. justice system and the USDA are all wrong and Ms. Bauck really takes great care of her pets.

Transparency is a Good Thing

I’m all for government transparency and accountability. That’s why I was glad to come across this bit from Best Friends:

Animal welfare advocates around the country shouted a collective “hallelujah!” last month when the unbelievable finally happened: USDA inspection reports were put online for all to see. Instant access.

It should have been the case all along, but previously, the USDA made the process of viewing breeders’ inspection reports so convoluted and time consuming that it was difficult for those in the know to get them, much less a curious potential puppy or kitten purchaser.

Reputable pet breeders have nothing to hide when it comes to compliance with the law. Now potential buyers can look at USDA inspection records with just a few clicks. And they can see what their tax dollars are paying for which is an added plus.