In 2020, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was set to perform an audit to evaluate adequacy of controls of the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). The main goal of this audit was to ensure licensed dog breeder compliance. The OIG planned to accompany APHIS Animal Care inspectors to onsite inspections of USDA licensed dog breeders to ensure compliance in regard to the Animal Welfare Act. This audit was also a follow up on the last OIG audit report completed 10 years earlier in May 2010, entitled Animal Care Program Inspections of Problematic Dealers. This is where the dogs lose. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, onsite inspections for dog breeders were halted and the onsite evaluation part of the audit experienced a scope limitation. Therefore, OIG was unable to evaluate breeder compliance.
As of January 2020, there were 2,422 licensed USDA dog breeders in 37 States. The plan was to focus on 15 states with high concentrations of USDA licensed dog breeders. OIG would attend inspections alongside the Animal Care inspectors to observe and evaluate the inspectors and breeder compliance. They randomly chose 40 Animal Care inspectors in those 15 states, they then selected three dog breeding facilities per AC inspector based on the location, number of violations, and other factors. They planned on visiting and reviewing 120 USDA dog breeders total, but due to the pandemic, in March of 2020, the onsite visits portion of the audit was cancelled.
Let’s go back to the May 2010 OIG audit entitled, Animal Care Program Inspections of Problematic Dealers, which was a scathing report and horrific reality of what was taking place in USDA dog breeding facilities at the time. The report uncovered massive violations, lack of vet care, filth and more. They found dogs covered with tics, untreated exposed wounds where the dog had been in pain for days and upon the audit inspection was sent to the vet to be euthanized immediately. The report found puppies lying on unsafe wire cages where their feet had fallen through and were touching the feces below, they also uncovered filthy water bowls with feces and slime. You can read the 2010 OIG Audit here.
Part of the 2020 USDA dog breeder audit was to follow up on the May 2010 audit. They were also going to visit USDA dog breeders, evaluate the inspectors, make sure they were documenting any violations correctly and ensure the dog breeders were complying to the Animal Welfare Act’s low set standards. But because of the pandemic and the halting of inspections, the 2020 audit instead focused on other issues and failures relating to procedures and database systems. Not the dogs, but procedures.
They found the agency does not have a data manager for its ACIS database system, that the database system is unreliable and has security issues. They summarized these issues affect and impede how APHIS makes management decisions and identifies trends in noncompliant items. These issues also affect the record keeping of dog breeder’s inspections and completions. In addition, the audit found that Animal Plant Health Inspection Services does not consistently address, document or follow up on complaints received from organizations such as Stop Online Puppy Mills who regularly make complaints regarding unlicensed dog breeders selling online, operating with no oversight. They also do not follow through on complaints from families who have purchased puppies and want to report the breeder. They have no process to record or follow up on these complaints.
These issues show just how unorganized and unprofessional the APHIS government run agency is. Let’s not forget the real reason for the 2020 audit was essentially to review breeder compliance which should translate to the overall health, well-being and humane treatment of the dogs in USDA licensed kennels. There are hundreds of thousands of dogs and puppies in these facilities. OIG was essentially going to check on them again, after 10 years, to see the state of the kennels and breeder compliance. But sadly, that did not happen.
Instead of finalizing and closing the 2020 audit, for the dogs sake, OIG should have kept the audit open and waited for the inspections to resume. Because of internet sales, USDA dog breeders are selling more puppies than ever now. The record keeping issues found in the audit are not reassuring. From that aspect alone, there is no guarantee the dogs are getting even the minimal care and treatment set by the low standards of the Animal Welfare Act or that the kennels are being inspected on a regular basis. The dogs can’t wait another 10 years.
The fact is, the onsite inspections of the USDA dog breeders that was shut down by APHIS just as the audit began is a tragedy for the dogs. We have been told that APHIS halted the inspections of dog breeders but continued to conduct onsite inspections of its other regulated facilities during this time. This is both disturbing and suspicious.
During the pandemic, the online sale of puppies skyrocketed and it continues to soar. We are deeply concerned that the kennel inspection portion of the audit was halted because of the online sellers and large puppy broker websites that boast about selling thousands of puppies a year, from USDA dog breeders.
The same websites that promise they don’t use puppy mills and have endorsements from animal protection organizations are selling puppies from USDA breeders the audit was targeting. There is no guarantee the dogs in these USDA kennels are being treated humanely. We feel the disorganization, consumer complaint, database and security issues found in the audit do not bode well for the dogs in these kennels. These back-office issues alone raise suspicion that the dogs and puppies in these facilities are not getting the proper oversite the USDA is supposed to ensure. Here is a link to the 2020 audit.
Stop Online Puppy Mills
Photo from May 2010 IOG audit.