A photo this week of George W. and Laura Bush’s new puppy, adopted from the SPCA of Texas, reminds us that our previous Republican president and his wife are avowed animal lovers. Their compassion also reminds us that so many tens of millions of us love animals and want to be their protectors and not their persecutors. We thank the Bushes for making this clear with their decision to adopt, and for sharing the news.
Disgust with animal cruelty transcends any partisan divide, and that gives hope to many of us who are concerned about how issues such as puppy mills will be addressed when our new president assumes office. President elect Trump will appoint a secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and that person will oversee an enormously important agency, including its Animal Care program. That team enforces the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the only federal law in the United States that specifically regulates animal dealers, including hundreds of puppy mills. The Trump Administration can help reduce the suffering of dogs in puppy mills by ensuring that the Animal Care program is vigorously enforced, and by upgrading insufficient dog care standards.
But another problem at the USDA is the seemingly endless amount of time it takes to revoke the licenses of those who repeatedly mistreat dogs and fail inspections. We need much more administrative efficiency and more decisive action.
This week, dog lovers were shocked to see Gary Felts, of Black Diamond Kennel in Iowa, receive a slap on the wrist from a federal judge after failing to pay almost $20,000 in animal welfare fines and hiding the money that could have been used to pay up. Felts is still licensed with the USDA despite the judgement, and despite the fact that, over the course of 17 different inspections since 2010, he has been cited with more than 50 violations of the AWA, including having let bleeding and injured dogs go untreated. At his kennel, according to inspection reports, inspectors found severely matted dogs, dogs with mouse feces in their food bowls, dogs confined to rusty and deteriorating cages, and dogs left in freezing cold or rain without adequate protection. The HSUS has highlighted poor conditions at Gary Felts’ kennel in all of our last four annual Horrible Hundred reports. As the Des Moines Register asked in an editorial about Felts this week: “Why in blazes is the USDA content to dutifully catalog the actions of a serial animal abuser who has lied to the agency and failed to pay his fines?”
Many other licensed breeders have serial AWA violations spanning more than a decade, yet continue to remain credentialed. For example, the USDA found more than 90 dogs and puppies in need of medical attention during inspections of Donald Schrage’s Rabbit Ridge Kennel in Edina, Missouri, between April 2010 and October 2014, according to a complaint the agency filed in February 2015. Yet, as of October 2016, the facility was still licensed.
The USDA faces many difficulties in enforcement, including staffing shortages, a drawn-out legal process, red tape that delays casework, and not enough lawyers to swiftly handle caseloads once the worst offenders are identified. While the Obama Administration did some important policy making and enforcement work on puppy mills, there are still gaps in the law and in enforcement action. We hope the incoming administration will insist on finding a swifter process for cracking down on problem dog breeders that doesn’t involve tolerating years of delays while animals suffer.
As we’ve read, the idea of a very hostile appointee to lead the USDA is floating out there, and that would be a terrible development. Mr. Trump, please do not go down that road and select someone who has defended or championed puppy mills and other abusive activities. Steer clear of people like oilman and Protect the Harvest founder Forrest Lucas and former Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who, while serving as chief executive of his state, threatened The HSUS with these words: “We’re going to kick your ass and send you out of the state.” Their actions disqualify them from serving in any administration.
Instead, pick a person who loves animals and who will go out of his or her way to defend them.
We need baseline standards to protect animals from people who would abuse them. Deregulating this industry, or any other animal industry, would run in the opposite direction of where we need to go as a country and would leave vulnerable animals at the mercy of people without that instinct or value system.