USDA Green Lights More Than Two Decades of Animal Abuse at Alabama Research Facility

January 11, 2024

a dog in a kennel struggling to stand

Update March 19, 2024: Blue Ridge Kennel agreed to pay a fine of $48,000, with an additional $32,000 if they continue to violate the law over a four-year probational period.

Dogs weak and starving with ribs visibly protruding.
Dogs so overweight they can barely move or stand. 
Dogs with untreated wounds, masses, skin lesions and broken teeth.
Dogs to be used in research acquired under false pretenses.
Understaffed facilities and untrained staff performing animal care duties. 

This is who the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) licenses and registers. Dogs are suffering right in front of the USDA’s eyes, and this powerful federal agency is doing nothing about it. The USDA is responsible for ensuring humane care at animal research facilities like Blue Ridge Kennel, but there is no humane care to be found.

Blue Ridge Kennel is a research laboratory in Wetumpka, Alabama, that conducts tests on dogs. It is registered and overseen by the USDA. In its own words, “Blue Ridge Kennel offers an array of feeding trials and research services for the pet food industry. We work with you closely to develop individualized testing programs that are specific to your product.” In the past two decades alone, Blue Ridge Kennel has been cited for over 80 chronic and serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including repeated instances of severely under- or overweight dogs, dogs with injuries from fights, unnoticed and untreated medical issues, dangerous housing environments, untrained and limited staff, and randomly sourced dogs (defined by the Animal Welfare Act as animals obtained from pounds or shelters, auction sales or from any person who did not breed and raise them on his or her premises).

a malnourish dog

Source: USDA inspection report received via FOIA request

In July 2022, USDA inspectors found this severely thin Redbone Coonhound at Blue Ridge Kennel. He had been treated for worms two months prior and was prescribed double feedings but had not been seen by a veterinarian or given additional treatment, despite his health not improving. 

Source: USDA inspection report received via FOIA request

That same month, USDA inspectors documented this yellow Labrador Retriever with dropped hips who was weak and struggled to stand. He had pressure sores on his elbows and legs from lying down continually on hard surfaces, and he had difficulty moving away from his urine inside his enclosure. Despite his severely declining condition, he had not been seen by a veterinarian or given any treatment. 

Source: USDA inspection report received via FOIA request

In January 2023, USDA inspectors found this extremely thin Beagle whose ribs and backbone were very clearly visible. He had lost nearly 15% of his body weight in one month, yet the facility had not noticed or taken any action.

Source: USDA inspection report received via FOIA request

In July 2023, a yellow Labrador Retriever was found to be so severely overweight that she was barely able to stand up. The USDA inspection report stated, “It took her eleven seconds and many attempts to get her front legs up off the ground and her weight on them to get up off the floor. Her front limbs kept sliding out from under her.” She had not been evaluated or treated for her weight or difficulty rising.

On three separate occasions in 2023, inspectors cited Blue Ridge Kennel for acquiring dogs under false pretenses, not informing those who sold dogs to the facility that the dogs would be used for research and testing, or for acquiring dogs used for research from unlicensed sources. These requirements are at the core of the Animal Welfare Act and aim to protect stolen pets from being used for research.

The USDA filed an administrative complaint against Blue Ridge Kennel in February 2023 outlining uncorrected issues across almost every standard of care required by the Animal Welfare Act. Now, nearly a year later, the administrative action is still pending, and Blue Ridge Kennel continues to operate as a USDA-licensed research facility. In December 2023, the ASPCA submitted a formal complaint to the USDA, urging them to take action to protect the dogs in this facility. 

This story is infuriating, but there is something you can do: tell Congress to hold the USDA accountable. 

Goldie’s Act is the lifeline that animals in commercial facilities need. It would require the USDA to conduct better inspections, intervene for suffering animals, issue meaningful penalties for violations, and communicate with local law enforcement when cruelty and neglect are suspected. Use our easy online form to contact your members of Congress today and urge them to support Goldie’s Act!