In Response to IG Report, Durbin, Vitter Call for Reform of Agency Responsible for Policing Puppy Mills

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In response to a scathing report by the USDA Inspector General (IG), critical of the government’s handling of puppy mill investigations, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA) today called for immediate changes at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) and promised to work with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on administrative and legislative reforms.

“This report raises serious concerns about APHIS’ ability to enforce the law, ensure the welfare of animals, and crack down on the most negligent and irresponsible dog breeders,” Durbin said. “While USDA has already begun to make administrative changes at APHIS, more needs to be done. I will work closely with Secretary Vilsack to ensure these changes address the complaints detailed in the Inspector General’s report. I’ll start today by introducing a bill that will close the loophole that allows large breeders to sell puppies online, escaping inspection and oversight.”

“I am alarmed by the findings of today’s IG report and believe we cannot delay in making changes at APHIS that would stop the inhumane treatment of dogs, especially abusive and harmful breeding practices,” said Vitter. “The bill we introduced today would help provide guidelines to breeders and ensure that puppies are bred in safe and sanitary facilities.  It is a first step in correcting the current problems in the Animal Welfare Act and making certain dogs are treated humanely.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General conducted an audit of APHIS’ Animal Care Unit and found four major flaws with their handling of puppy mill investigations:
  • APHIS’ “enforcement process was ineffective against problematic dealers.” The IG report shows that more than half of the dog breeding facilities found to be in violation of the Animal Welfare Act repeatedly violated the law — some as many as a dozen times.
  • APHIS “inspectors did not document violations properly.”  According to the report, 30% of inspectors failed to correctly report violations, resulting in some known violators receiving less frequent inspections and escaping strong enforcement. The report also says the reporting failure resulted in nearly 50% of all administrative hearings with problem dealers being compromised due to lack of evidence.
  • “APHIS misused guidelines to lower penalties for violators.” In over 30% of cases, APHIS misused their own enforcement guidelines by inconsistently counting violations, applying penalty reductions without merit, and arbitrarily changing the gravity of some violations.
  • Large puppy mills “circumvented the law by selling animals over the internet.” Because of a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act, large puppy mills that sell dogs online are exempt from APHIS inspection and licensing requirement.
Durbin had been working for some time to address the sales of animals over the internet and today introduced legislation to close the internet loophole puppy mills are currently exploiting. Durbin’s bill, the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act, would require all breeders that sell more than 50 dogs a year to be licensed and to undergo inspections to ensure dogs are receiving proper care. USDA played a role in developing the legislation and has endorsed the approach. Senator Vitter is the bill’s lead cosponsor.

Durbin said he was concerned about the numerous problems exposed by the Inspector General’s report. The senator acknowledged that under the Obama Administration, changes had begun to be made, but stressed that more needs to be done. Durbin plans to work closely with Secretary Vilsack in the coming weeks to address the APHIS’ problems. If administrative fixes aren’t possible, Durbin plans to introduce additional legislation to address any gaps in APHIS’ ability to enforce the law.? ?

A copy of the IG report can be found here: http://www.usda.gov/oig/new.htm  A summary of the Durbin/Vitter legislation appears below:
Durbin-Vitter PUPS Act
Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act Summary
To help ensure more humane treatment of all dogs, the PUPS bill would amend the Animal Welfare Act to:
  • Require licensing and inspection of dog breeders that sell directly to the public and sell more than 50 dogs per year.
  • Require that dogs in commercial breeding facilities have appropriate space and opportunity for daily exercise.

For years, news reports have revealed glimpses of an unregulated and often hidden industry of puppy breeding that relies on housing dozens of puppies and dogs – sometimes hundreds -- in cramped, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions.  The dogs raised in these facilities often suffer serious health problems.

Most commercial breeders are responsible dog owners who lovingly tend to the animals in their care.  But the substandard facilities, sometimes referred to as “puppy mills,” not only harm puppies and the people who buy them, they also threaten the reputation of the broader dog breeding industry.

Current Federal Law:

Under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), wholesale animal breeders – those who sell to pet stores, for instance -- are regulated, licensed and subject to inspections by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at USDA.

Because retail pet stores are thought to be supplied by licensed, regulated breeders, retail stores are not regulated.  Now that on-line puppy sales happen every day, it is clear that law has not kept pace with recent developments.  Internet sales bypass the retail pet store.

A recent report released by USDA’s Inspector General suggests that the Department should tighten this loophole to prevent its exploitation by large, negligent breeders.

The PUPS Act would bring direct-to-buyer dog breeders into the regulatory framework that will require them to meet the basic standards for shelter, care and exercise.