Earlier this week, the Office of the Inspector General released a report detailing the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) lax and ineffective enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) against licensed large-scale dog breeders and brokers known as puppy mills. As part of the investigation, auditors visited 81 facilities and reviewed records documenting 28,443 violations over a two-year period.
The report concludes that despite regular inspections, breeders were allowed to continue operating facilities where dogs lived in inhumane conditions—cages overflowing with pools of urine and feces, food laden with dead cockroaches, and dogs infested with ticks and unattended injuries including a mutilated leg and other atrocities—all without penalty. Furthermore, in cases of severe neglect and abuse, inspectors failed to confiscate the animals. At one Oklahoma mill, despite discovering five dead dogs and others who had resorted to cannibalism due to starvation, investigators took no action. This resulted in the deaths of 22 more dogs. The ASPCA is saddened by the findings, but we are not surprised.
The ASPCA has been painfully aware of the cruel conditions to which dogs are regularly subjected at the hands of puppy mill operators who put profit above providing the most basic standards of care. "Puppy mills are a primary focus of the ASPCA's anti-cruelty initiatives," says Cori Menkin, ASPCA Senior Director of Legislative Initiatives. "The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team has rescued countless dogs from puppy mills and aided in the prosecution of their owners." This past February, the ASPCA rescued more than 95 severely underweight dogs from a puppy mill in Holly Springs, MS—the animals were being housed in feces-encrusted pens and suffering from severe neglect.
In addition to our nationwide investigations, the ASPCA supports landmark legislation, including the Missouri Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act. "This is a groundbreaking citizens' initiative aimed at drastically improving the lives of dogs in Missouri kennels," explains Menkin. With an estimated 3,000 puppy mills in the state, Missouri has rightly come to be known as the Puppy Mill Capital of America.
"While the ASPCA commends the Office of the Inspector General for its detailed audit, we hope the findings will lead to stronger, more consistent enforcement by the USDA, more federal funding to increase the number of inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, and ultimately, more humane conditions for the dogs," says Menkin.
You can read the full report on the USDA's website [PDF].