USDA Must Stop Issuing New Licenses to Puppy Mills During Coronavirus Pandemic

April 9, 2020

Dog in crate

  • The USDA is responsible for licensing certain animal businesses, such as puppy mills and zoos, and enforcing federal animal welfare care standards.
  • The USDA recently announced new procedures that will not only cut back the number of routine inspections but will also speed up the approval process for license applications and renewals.
  • These policy changes could worsen the already uncorrected abuses in puppy mills and burden essential animal organizations.

Communities around the world are working hard to contain the spread of COVID-19 and help those directly impacted by the virus. Policymakers are quickly issuing new orders and guidance aimed at keeping everyone safe—including our companion animals. But what about animals that are living in commercial facilities such as puppy mills, roadside zoos or laboratories?  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and overseeing commercial animal facilities such as puppy mills and zoos, recently announced plans to change its operating procedures related to inspections and licensing. The agency will not perform inspections where local or state orders allow only essential businesses and services to operate. The result: Most facilities in the country will be operating without oversight. 

Even as it discontinues most inspections, the agency has also decided to continue issuing new AWA licenses to commercial animal facilities. These policy changes threaten animal welfare and unfairly burden essential animal organizations already working overtime to strengthen safety nets for individuals and their pets during the unfolding economic crisis.

This week, we sent a letter to APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea urging him to temporarily suspend the issuance of licenses to new facilities. Given that APHIS employees will not be conducting routine inspections at this time, this policy seems inappropriate and detrimental. Issuing new licenses will stretch the agency’s resources and further increase the inspection backlog once normal operations resume.

We are also concerned about the consequences of approving new commercial breeding facilities at a time when animal shelters are already concerned about becoming overwhelmed and under-resourced. Without any proactive measures to limit breeding, the increase in the number of dogs born in puppy mills could worsen deteriorating welfare conditions, increase the population of at-risk animals and create further demands on animal welfare and sheltering organizations. We urge the USDA to protect the vulnerable animals under its care, especially in light of these unprecedented and unpredictable times.

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