Report cites dog breeding facilities cited for neglect
http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20100526_16_A9_JohnRa280060 - 5.26.10
| Issues: Puppy Mills
By JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau / Published: 5/26/2010
WASHINGTON — Oklahoma facilities repeatedly were cited in what two U.S. senators described Tuesday as a scathing report criticizing a federal agency's lack of enforcement against so-called puppy mills.
At one unnamed Oklahoma breeder's facility with previous violations, the report states, dogs were not immediately confiscated even though a federal inspector discovered five dead dogs and others so starved that they had resorted to cannibalism.
More than 20 additional dogs died before the breeder's license was revoked, according to the report.
Another example involved a facility that allowed several dogs to go without adequate veterinary care even though they had hair loss over their entire bodies and raw, irritated spots on their skin.
A later inspection found another dog with flesh on one leg rotting away to the bone, the report states, adding that the dog had to be euthanized.
Despite continuing violations, according to the report, enforcement actions were not taken because of the federal agency's "lenient practices" against repeat violators.
Almost a year later, the violator had not been fined, the report states. The inspections occurred in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Oklahoma was not notified even though the state has first-offense felony laws for animal cruelty.
Facilities in many other states also were cited in the report.
Issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General, the audit focused on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Animal Care Unit and its action on "problematic dealers."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 leader in the Senate, and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called for immediate changes at the federal agency and introduced legislation to regulate online puppy sales.
"This report raises serious concerns about APHIS' (the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's) 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."
Vitter said he was alarmed by the report, adding that lawmakers should not delay in making changes within the agency to stop the inhumane treatment of dogs, especially abusive and harmful breeding practices.
Durbin and Vitter highlighted the following aspects of the audit:
An ineffective enforcement process against problematic deals. They said the report shows that more than half of the dog-breeding facilities found to be in violation of the Animal Welfare Act were repeat offenders.
APHIS' failure to document violations properly, resulting in some violators receiving less frequent inspections and escaping strong enforcement.
APHIS' misuse of guidelines to lower penalties for violators and change the gravity of some of the violations.
The audit states that large breeders are using a loophole in the federal regulations to sell animals over the Internet.
Durbin said he has been working with the USDA on legislation that would close that loophole and require all breeding facilities that sell more than 50 dogs per year to be licensed and to undergo inspections.
His bill also would require that dogs in commercial breeding facilities have appropriate space and opportunities for daily exercise.
USDA spokesman Dave Sacks said the agency welcomed the audit and is committed to taking a "giant step" toward a better process.
"We will improve," he said.
Sacks said the agency already launched that effort by making changes to its handbook and focusing on problematic breeders.
Most breeders follow the rules, he said.
Sacks would not discuss whether problems were more common in certain states.
The audit referred to the significant media coverage of large-scale dog dealers who fail to provide humane treatment for animals under their care. Breeders referred to as "puppy mills" have stirred the interest of the public, Congress, animal rights groups and others, it states.
Earlier this month, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed a bill into law to regulate puppy mills in the state.
In 2007, a Tulsa World investigation revealed that Oklahoma is a puppy-mill state, with unlicensed breeders neglecting animals, falsifying pedigree papers and selling diseased animals.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20100526_16_A9_JohnRa280060
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