Leading Animal Protection Groups Urge USDA to Stop Practice That Keeps Animal Abusers in Business

USDA is accepting public comment on flawed policy that automatically renews licenses of businesses with chronic Animal Welfare Act violations
October 16, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC –The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to end its practice of relicensing chronic violators of the minimum care standards set forth in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The USDA is accepting public comments on how to improve its troubling relicensing scheme, which automatically reissues licenses to animal businesses including puppy mills, zoos, and circuses, regardless of whether the business has a history of mistreating animals.

The USDA routinely renews the licenses of businesses with sick or injured animals that have repeatedly failed to provide adequate veterinary care, food, clean water, and protection from the elements.  In the case of puppy mills, they are allowed to continue to sell puppies online and in pet stores around the country, regardless of their atrocious conditions or the poor health of the animals, and in some cases, regardless of whether they have even made their properties available for inspection at all. This lax licensing scheme harms not only animals, but people as well. The Centers for Disease Control is currently investigating an outbreak of Campylobacter stemming from sick puppies being sold through Petland, a national pet store chain that acquires its puppies primarily from USDA licensed breeders. 

“The USDA continues to hand over licenses to animal businesses that make animals and people sick, enabling animal abusers to operate year after year while the USDA pursues enforcement at a snail's pace,” said Jennie Lintz, director of ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign“The USDA’s own Office of Inspector General instructed the agency to stop automatically relicensing violators as far back as 1995. We urge the USDA to stop allowing animal businesses to profit from animal suffering.”

“Roadside zoos are notorious for their substandard and unsafe environments that cause their animals great physical and psychological suffering, and expose the public to potential danger,” said Nancy Blaney, AWI’s director of government affairs.  “Nonetheless, they get to stay in business because they send in their annual license renewal fee every year. This failure to protect animals and the public has to end.”

The USDA is also accepting public comment on whether AWA-regulated businesses should have to disclose state or local animal cruelty convictions before having their licenses renewed. Disclosure of cruelty convictions is not currently required but should be, as a commonsense way to identify bad actors. Additionally, the USDA is considering whether violators should be able to obtain new licenses using a different name or that of a family member. The department currently allows this, meaning problematic licensees can operate under a new name, even after their license has been taken away.

“We commend the USDA for recognizing that the rules must be strengthened to stop animal abusers from repeatedly skirting the law,” said John Goodwin, Senior Director of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign for the HSUS. “The agency’s ability to prevent animal mistreatment is severely undermined when problem dealers are allowed to renew a license, or simply drop a noncompliant license and then obtain a new one under a relative's name or a new business name. The HSUS urges all animal lovers to comment online or write to the USDA before October 23 in support of commonsense rules that will help to ensure that licensees are meeting the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act as Congress originally intended. Everyone who cares about the welfare of dogs and other animals should add their voice and support them."

The USDA is accepting public comment until October 23. To submit a comment to the USDA, telling it to stop automatically renewing licenses of businesses that don’t comply with minimum care standards required under the Animal Welfare Act, please visit www.aspca.org/usdalicense.