A Small Step to Protect Animals in the Fight to End Animal Abuse

A 60-day comment window will be open until October 23, 2017, as the USDA considers changes to animal breeder licenses.

This is a call to action.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering changing how they grant and renew licenses to individuals or entities that breed and sell animals. The public has an opportunity to influence whether the USDA will provide greater protection for affected animals or simply maintain the status quo.

Currently, the USDA only requires an inspection at the time a breeder or dealer seeks an initial license. The licensee is not subject to another inspection at the time of renewal, even if they were found to be in violation of the original license.

The following scenario provides an example of the bizarre results:

Abby is a dog owned by a puppy mill operating in the United States. She lives in an outdoor cage that is approximately three-feet wide, three-feet deep. Her cage is made of chicken wire so feces can drop through. So far, she has birthed 12 litters of puppies that were sold in pet boutiques. The breeder, who has been cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act multiple times, is relicensed without inspections ensuring that Abby and any other animals in their possession receive the bare minimum of care. Moreover, anyone buying Abby’s pups has no idea they came from an operation profiting from confining breeder dogs without a solid floor to walk on.

History of the Animal Welfare Act

Enacted in 1966, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the federal law governing the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, and breeding programs for sale. The USDA is tasked with issuing licenses and enforcing the AWA. In theory, the purpose of the AWA is to provide minimum standards for the treatment and care of these animals, including those in breeding programs.

Unfortunately, the law contains a loophole. Under the current law, any individual or entity that wants to be licensed as a breeder must pass an inspection, but that breeder can have their license renewed without another inspection. Licensees are only subject to subsequent inspections if a public complaint is filed against them. But the public is largely unaware of how breeders operate. As a result, licensees can operate with impunity once they obtain their original license.

Changes to License Renewals

Thankfully, the USDA is considering changes to how they grant and renew licenses. Now is the opportunity for concerned citizens to recommend procedural changes to AWA license renewals. Citizens should ask that the USDA inspect at license renewal periods, especially for those with a history of violations. Renewing licenses contingent upon passing an inspection encourages licensees to stay compliant with AWA requirements. It undermines the purpose of the AWA to renew licenses for those with a history of violations without inspections.

The law is much more than statutes and cases; how a law is regulated and enforced carries is equally, if not more, important.

The public comment period is crucial to our ability to influence how the AWA is enforced and, as a result, how we as a society value the treatment and care of animals. The 60-day comment window on USDA’s Procedures for Applying for Licenses and Renewals is open until October 23, 2017. You can visit the Federal Register and submit your formal comment on the issue of AWA licenses here. Additionally, for your reference, Animal Legal Defense Fund has posted background information on the issue, tips for commenting, and a sample comment for personalization on their web page.

About the Author

Megan Cooper is an environmentally and socially conscientious third-year law student, and former Division III student-athlete, graduating Cum Laude from Plymouth State University, New Hampshire with a bachelor of science in biology, minors in chemistry and neuroscience. She has been recognized for academic achievement while at the Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law, is the President of the COL Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, and is a member of the Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity.