USDA Awards Employees for Disastrous Puppy Mill Case

January 11, 2023

a small poorly groomed, unhealthy looking dog in a cage with a wire floor and dirty carpet

Update: January 11, 2023

We analyzed the USDA’s inspections, documented violations, and enforcement actions for the 2022 fiscal year, and it is clear the agency is still failing at its job to protect dogs in puppy mills. The USDA documented over 800 violations of the Animal Welfare Act by licensed dog breeders (puppy mills) and puppy brokers–collectively referred to as “dog dealers”–last year. 

Despite these many violations, the USDA did not file formal complaints asking that any dog dealer’s license be revoked or suspended, did not suspend the license of any dog dealer, and did not impose any penalties against dog dealers through settlement agreements or administrative orders. Even when dogs were subjected to horrific treatment, documented by the agency, the USDA took no action to stop the abuse, making this story of cash awards being distributed for exceptional performance even more appalling.  

December 19, 2022

We have obtained documents showing that the USDA’s Animal Care Division gave cash awards to 17 staff members who were involved with the notorious 2021 Gingerich puppy mill case in Iowa. The documents redacted the specific dollar amounts of the awards, which recognize exceptional performance or achievements by USDA staff, but based on agency guidelines, the awards likely total tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Given the USDA’s mishandling of that case over the course of many months, and its lack of action to intervene to save the dogs—or even to revoke Gingerich’s license to breed—this is a staggering, outrageous development.

The Gingerich case epitomizes how the USDA’s policies fail animals. Daniel Gingerich received his USDA commercial dog breeding license in October 2019, but he failed to provide USDA inspectors access to his facility or animals on multiple occasions. That alone would have been justification to revoke his license. However, the agency did not do that. Instead, in 2020, without having inspected the facility, the agency renewed his license.

USDA inspectors were aware of problematic issues with Gingerich’s operation and conducted a “courtesy visit” in March 2021, when they confirmed that he was indeed brokering dogs as well as housing dogs in other, unapproved locations. But because these observations were made during a courtesy visit, there was no recording of these deficiencies (per USDA policy).

The USDA did not formally inspect Gingerich’s facility until April 2021. Around this time, court records show that the agency observed a dog in an emaciated condition but did not record the observation on any report. This is in line with another of the department’s policies to not record violations as long as the veterinarian indicates they were told about the dog. 

However, the same inspector observed the dog around two months later in even worse condition and, although she noted that the dog still had not received veterinary care, she again did not record the violation or even the existence of the dog on an inspection report. The dog never received veterinary care, and she died in the puppy mill. We named her Goldie after learning about her fate. Over several months, the agency observed over 100 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at Gingerich’s facilities. Each one of those violations individually could have resulted in a penalty, and all together, this would make a clear case for revoking Gingerich’s license, but no action was taken.  

The Department of Justice eventually stepped in and negotiated the surrender of more than 500 dogs who were on Gingerich’s properties. There was never an attempt by USDA/APHIS leadership to take responsibility for their inaction or for allowing Gingerich to continue profiting off his cruel breeding operation. There was no investigation or any other indication that the staff onsite misinterpreted the agency policies or somehow otherwise acted in contrary to the agency’s directive. They followed the failed policy, and dogs continued to suffer.  

In light of this sordid history, the “Gingerich Team Awards” given to recognize the achievements of agency staff who worked on the case is nothing short of absurd. If this outrages you as much as it outrages us, there is something you can do: Support Goldie’s Act, legislation in honor of Goldie that will require the USDA to uphold its responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act.