New Audit Shines Spotlight on USDA’s Failure to Protect Dogs in Commercial Breeding Facilities

July 16, 2021

a bulldog in a cage
  • As far back as the early 1990s, audits performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Inspector General consistently identify USDA’s failure to protect dogs in puppy mills. 
  • The most recent audit uncovered critical issues that prevent the USDA from ensuring humane treatment of dogs, including basic recordkeeping failures and reliance on information that the USDA itself admits is inaccurate. 
  • The ASPCA has sued the USDA for its policies that allow animals to suffer, and we are calling on animal advocates to sign the petition urging the President of the United States to tell the USDA to do its job. 

In a series of audits since 1992, the USDA’s internal investigators, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), has consistently identified major deficiencies in the USDA’s oversight of dog dealers, resulting in the grossly inhumane treatment of dogs in commercial breeding facilities (commonly referred to as puppy mills). 

On June 30, 2021, the OIG released a new audit at the request of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who shared concerns raised by the ASPCA and others. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the OIG was unable to accompany USDA staff on in-person inspections and view the facilities it oversees, as it had done in prior audits. Even with these limitations, this recent OIG audit identified several critical defects in USDA’s oversight, including:

1. Reporting Systems Are Flawed 

  • OIG identified data reliability deficiencies in the database used by the USDA. This database is critical for important functions including generating inspection statistics to Congress; tracking active licensees, registrants and non-compliant inspection reports; documenting facility inspections; and maintaining licensee and registrant information. 
  • The lack of accurate data undermines the agency’s ability to make informed management decisions. Moreover, it cannot accurately identify trends in noncompliance, nor can it even identify how many inspections have been completed. Without those functions, the agency cannot perform its job.
  • Recognizing the reliability issues, the report system was replaced with a new system in September 2020. However, the OIG did not evaluate this new system, and there is no evidence that it will function any better than the previous one. 

2. The Complaint Process Is Inconsistent and Lacks Transparency

  • The agency has no official process for responding to reports of abuse in puppy mills or for recording the results of the USDA’s follow-up inspections. Additionally, the USDA does not provide a specific process to ensure complaints of unlicensed activity are investigated.
  • Out of 322 complaints reviewed by the OIG, 145 were not adequately addressed or documented by the USDA.
  • There were serious inconsistencies by the USDA when responding to a complaint or concern about a breeding facility. For some, the USDA would attempt to directly contact the breeding facility by phone or site visit. For others, they took no such action. The USDA has offered no rationale for its entirely different courses of follow-up action. 
  • This flawed complaint process means that the agency is willfully ignoring opportunities to investigate instances of animal cruelty and prevent illicit puppy mills from conducting regulated activity without a USDA license or oversight. Therefore, the USDA is not ensuring the health and humane treatment of animals at these facilities.

a dog in a rusty cage

The USDA is ignoring opportunities to investigate instances of animal cruelty, and dogs in puppy mills are suffering. 

While we don’t know what additional findings would have been uncovered if the OIG had accompanied the USDA to in-person inspections of facilities like they planned, we have proof that the USDA is asleep on the job. The agency is failing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act—a cornerstone animal protection law passed more than 50 years ago to ensure the humane treatment and care of commercially bred dogs. Therefore, in June 2021, the ASPCA filed a lawsuit demanding change in the USDA’s flawed—and harmful—policies.

Sadly, this latest revelation is just one more in a pattern of misbehavior. Prior to this new audit, the last complete assessment in 2010 found the department’s enforcement process failed to hold problematic dealers accountable, and USDA inspectors failed to adequately document violations. In the decade since, evidence that the USDA fails to protect the dogs under its authority continues to mount: the agency has coddled bad dealers and has demonstrated time again that they are unable or unwilling to ensure humane care of dogs in breeding facilities. 

Help us speak for the dogs who suffer as a result of failed USDA policies. You can take action today by signing our petition. It will go to President Biden, urging him to direct the USDA to wake up and do its job.