On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—the federal agency that oversees more than 10,000 commercial breeding facilities, zoos and research labs that use animals—released its Impact Report for 2019, which claims that 99% of these licensed facilities were in “substantial compliance” with animal welfare law. The agency’s report does not explain how it defines “compliance” or provide any evidence for its rating.
During 2019, the USDA withheld, redacted and otherwise blocked access to animal welfare records. Still, inspection records that we have obtained paint a very different picture from the one described in the Impact Report. Here are some excerpts from reports prepared by USDA inspectors in 2019:
Alabama: “7 adult dogs were housed in outdoor enclosures which contained shelter but did not contain bedding. It snowed last night and the weather at the time of the inspection was 48.7 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Florida: “All kinkajou enclosures contained excessive accumulation of decomposing food and excreta, swarming with flies. The fennec fox enclosures had a buildup of excreta outside of their litter boxes. The licensee stated that he only has one animal keeper who cleans the enclosures once weekly. Today, the licensee couldn’t recall the last time [the] keeper had been to the facility, and that it had been awhile. When the keeper is unavailable, the licensee confirmed the enclosures are not cleaned at all.”
Georgia: “A pregnant Great Dane in the large dog whelping building is excessively thin. Her spinal vertebrae, ribs, scapula, and pelvic bones are easily visible. This dog needs to be evaluated by the veterinarian to get recommendations for keeping her weight up during pregnancy and lactation.”
Missouri: “All of the puppies were thin with three of the puppies having visible ribs and hip bones. One of these puppies was extremely weak, had difficulty standing, and had visible shoulder and vertebral bones. The puppies were housed in an outdoor enclosure. The puppies had not received any type of supplemental nutrition or husbandry. A veterinarian had not been consulted about their condition.”
New York: “During the inspection, a litter of puppies was observed with one appearing to be the runt and slightly away from the other puppies. When the puppy was picked up, it was not breathing and was cold to the touch. The licensee stated he had observed the dogs in the kennel that morning and two other individuals were working in the kennel during the inspection process, but none had noticed the puppy was deceased.”
Ohio: “A female standard chinchilla, [number] 2470, is thin. Upon further examination, at least half inch of the animal’s collar is embedded into the top portion of her neck. The skin around the affected area is covered in a thick yellow/green crust. Blood is present and muscle can be identified in the open wound.”
Pennsylvania: “There was a dead and decomposing newborn guinea pig observed embedded in the feeder. There was feed piled on top of it and the licensee had not observed the dead animal in the feeder prior to adding more feed.”
Texas: “a female baboon pulled a door cable through an opening at top of a holding cage in a working chute and strangled.”
The USDA’s Impact Report offers a gross mischaracterization of the state of federally regulated animal businesses. This not only erodes public trust in this agency and administration, it puts animals in danger. Without an accurate and transparent assessment of the level of animal care licensees provide, it is not possible to implement effective programs and policies.
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