Animal Welfare Act and United States Department of Agriculture Enforcement
About the Federal Animal Welfare Act and United States Department of Agriculture Enforcement:
Commercial breeders that sell to pet stores must be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The standards governing the care of dogs and cats in commercial breeding facilities are set forth in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), 7 U.S.C. § 2131 et. seq. and its accompanying regulations, 9 C.F.R. § 1 et. seq. Download the regulations.
USDA licensure and standards are not sufficient to protect commercially bred dogs. The AWA’s standards are too minimal to ensure humane care or treatment and the USDA does not effectively enforce the AWA.
Even if enforced to its fullest extent, the AWA only requires the bare minimum in housing facilities and care for the animals. The standards are far below what most would consider humane.
The AWA leaves significant discretion in the hands of commercial breeders to define what constitutes an adequate level of care for the dogs with respect to living environment, cleanliness and sanitation, feeding, veterinary care, housing structures, and comfort.
A breeding facility could have hundreds of dogs stacked in cages in a barn, continually bred, and confined in spaces only six inches larger than their bodies for their entire lives and this would not violate the AWA.
Under the AWA and its regulations:
Dogs may be caged 24 hours a day. There is no exercise requirement if dogs are housed with other dogs and certain minimal size requirements are met for the dog’s enclosure.
Dogs may be caged in a space with only six inches of space on each side, not including the tail.
Dogs may be kept in stacked cages. Mesh or wire flooring is allowed.
There is no limit to the number of dogs on the premises.
Human interaction with the animals is not required.
Breeding females at the first heat cycle and at every heat cycle is permissible.
Unwanted animals may be euthanized or auctioned off.
The USDA enforcement of the AWA is insufficient due to the following:
Even if standards were sufficient to ensure humane treatment of dogs and cats, the USDA is overburdened and has a demonstrated record of leniency towards commercial breeders resulting in a failure to protect the animals under its care.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Animal Care Unit is responsible for inspecting licensed facilities and enforcing the AWA. In 2010, the Animal Care Unit had 8,782 licensed facilities under its jurisdiction.Recent sources indicate that the Animal Care Unit has 120 inspectors on staff to inspect all of the facilities under its supervision, not just commercial dog breeders and brokers.This includes animal exhibitors (including circuses, zoos, educational displays, animal acts, petting farms/zoos, wildlife parks, marine mammal parks, and some animal sanctuaries), research facilities (including hospitals, colleges and universities, and pharmaceutical firms), and animal transporters (such as airlines and trucking companies).
USDA oversight is limited and inspections are often infrequent. While the Animal Care Unit inspects every new licensee, subsequent inspection is based on a “Risk Based Inspection System.” Facilities determined to be lower risk may only be inspected once every 2-3 years; facilities that are a moderate or average risk may only be inspected once a year.
In 2010, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the Animal Care Unit and found numerous inadequacies in its enforcement of the AWA, including the following:
APHIS took little or no enforcement action against most violators of the AWA. A total of 2,416 violators had repeat violations, some of which ignored minimum care standards.
APHIS did not properly cite or document violations.
APHIS did not accurately report repeat or direct violations, leading to less frequent inspections and leaving the animals at higher risk for neglect and illness.
Some serious direct violations were incorrectly reported as indirect violations. Examples included significant tick infestations on the dogs, cockroach infested food sources, and excessive accumulations of feces and waste. (The USDA defines a direct violation as one that “has a high potential to adversely affect the health and well-being of the animal.” An indirect violation is one that “does not have a high potential to adversely affect the health and well-being of the animal.”)
APHIS assessed minimal penalties that did not deter violators.
APHIS misused its guidelines to lower the penalties for violations, including miscounting violations and changing the gravity of violations.