We’re Taking the USDA to Court for Sleeping on the Job While Animals Suffer

June 14, 2021

Dog in cage

Friday, June 11, 2021, the ASPCA filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failure to enforce the Animal Welfare Act—a federal law passed more than 50 years ago to ensure the humane treatment and care of commercially bred dogs.

The USDA licenses approximately 2,000 commercial dog breeders and dealers, and at any given point, these facilities house about a quarter of a million dogs and puppies. The licenses allow breeders and dealers to sell puppies wholesale, or sight unseen, to pet stores or over the Internet.

The USDA is responsible for inspecting licensed facilities to ensure animals are receiving at least the minimum level of care required by law. The USDA identifies violations during inspections so negligent breeders and dealers are held accountable.

But that’s not what is happening.

Instead, the USDA is not reporting violations or holding violators accountable for failing to meet the standards of care. In fact, the USDA has not imposed a single penalty against a dog dealer since 2017, despite overwhelming evidence of cruelty. 

The USDA’s policies are now:

  • If a violation is labeled as minor, it’s a “Teachable Moment,” not a violation.
  • If a violation is observed during a “Courtesy Visit,” it is not even reported.

Animal Welfare Violations Issued by USDA graph

As a result, the number of reported violations has declined significantly in recent years:

  • Prior to the implementation of the new policies above, USDA inspectors recorded close to 2,000 violations each year.
  • In 2018, the number of violations cited on inspection reports declined to 280.
  • In 2020, the number declined even further to just over 150.

Even in the cases where violations were recorded on official reports—dogs caged outdoors in freezing temperatures, puppies with visible ribs, dogs with open wounds, dogs in cages so small they could not stand and dogs fed food contaminated by rodents—the USDA did not act. They are asleep on the job, and helpless dogs are suffering because of it.

Emaciated dog

A photo taken at a USDA inspection shows an underweight 5-week-old Weimaraner puppy with visible bone structure living outdoors in 90-degree heat. This licensee amassed 20 violations over five years yet remains licensed by the USDA.

We will continue to fight for the dogs and puppies and will keep you updated on the lawsuit.

Want more proof that the USDA is failing to uphold the law? Read about a dog dealer in Iowa who continues breeding and selling dogs at a licensed facility, even after years of documented abuse.