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2010 USDA Report on Puppy Mills


© 2010 Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation

In 2008 the USDA ordered an audit of their Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) Animal Care (AC) unit, which is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

In May 2010, the report was published.

The findings indicate what we, at the Foundation, have been saying for years: the USDA
- does not do enough inspections of puppy mills ,
- breeders of puppies sold on the internet are not inspected,
- fines are too low,
- repeat inspections turn up continuing violations--i.o.w. puppy mills don't care about the USDA.

Below is the Executive Summary and Recommendations.

The full report is at:

Executive Summary

In the last 2 years, there has been significant media coverage concerning large-scale dog dealers (i.e., breeders and brokers)1 that failed to provide humane treatment for the animals under their care. The breeders, negatively referred to as "puppy mills," have stirred the interest of the public, Congress, animal rights groups, and others. Accordingly, we conducted an audit of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) Animal Care (AC) unit, which is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The audit focused on AC's inspections of problematic dealers. It is the latest in a series of audits related to AWA.2

In our last audit on animals in research facilities,3 we found that the agency was not aggressively pursuing enforcement actions against violators of AWA and that it assessed minimal monetary penalties against them.4 APHIS agreed to take corrective action by incorporating more specific guidance in its operating manual to address deficiencies in enforcement actions. It also agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to generate higher and more appropriate penalties.
In this audit, one objective was to review AC's enforcement process against dealers that violated AWA. Accordingly, we focused on dealers with a history of violations in the past 3 years.5 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' 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 education6 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 inspectors7 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.8 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.
  • 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. As a result, an increasing number of these unlicensed breeders are not monitored for their animals' overall health and humane treatment.
  • Recommendation Summary

    To ensure dealer compliance with AWA, AC should modify its Dealer Inspection Guide (Guide) to require enforcement action for direct and serious violations. We also recommend that "no action" be deleted as an enforcement action in the Guide.
    To increase the effectiveness of inspections, AC should provide more comprehensive training and detailed guidance to its inspectors and supervisors on direct and repeat violations, enforcement procedures, and evidentiary requirements (e.g., adequately describing violations).

    To calculate more reasonable penalties, APHIS should limit total reductions on its penalty worksheet to less than 100 percent. We also recommend that the agency ensure its penalty guidelines are consistently followed and that it include instructions to count each animal as a separate violation in cases involving animal deaths and unlicensed wholesale activities.

    To prevent large breeders from circumventing AWA requirements, APHIS should propose that the Secretary seek legislative change to exclude these breeders from the definition of "retail pet store," and require that all applicable breeders that sell through the Internet be regulated under AWA.

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