Washington Post reveals White House may have meddled to stop USDA inspectors from helping suffering animals

By on August 23, 2019 with 24 Comments

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

There are new and explosive revelations about the lengths the Trump administration may be going to in order to prevent U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors from documenting and reporting violations of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.

A Washington Post story details a disturbing case at an Iowa facility in 2017 where nearly 300 raccoons, bred and sold as pets and for research, lay suffering and without relief in their stacked cages in 100-degree temperatures. But when a USDA team of veterinarians and specialists confiscated some of the animals and made plans to come back for the others, an industry group appealed to a Trump White House adviser. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and senior USDA officials then intervened to block the inspectors and veterinarians from taking the remaining raccoons, and they were ordered to return the ones they had already seized.

“In the months that followed, the Iowa incident was described by USDA officials at internal meetings as an example of the new philosophy of animal welfare protection under the Trump administration and Perdue,” reporters Karin Brulliard and William Wan write. “Leaders of the agency’s Animal Care division told inspectors to treat those regulated by the agency — breeders, zoos, circuses, horse shows and research labs — more as partners than as potential offenders.”

William Stokes, a veterinarian who oversaw inspectors in 27 states for the USDA, told the Post that the weakened enforcement had caused an “untold numbers of animals” to experience unnecessary suffering.

These are shocking revelations, but they are not surprising to us. The Post article further cements concerns that we’ve had – and voiced – on this blog before: that in the past two-and-a-half years, the USDA – the agency with a mandate to protect animals used by businesses, including pet breeders, zoos, research labs and other institutions – has been failing miserably to do its job because it is busy pandering to those who run these businesses. The result has been immense suffering for the animals, even as the USDA itself has been hemorrhaging experienced staff and taxpayer dollars.

The Post article also discusses a shift in the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act with regards to the soring of Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds – a shift that began in 2016, after the appointment by the Obama administration of Bernadette Juarez, the first non-veterinarian to lead the Animal Care division. Among other changes, a new rule required a second USDA veterinarian to independently perform a second inspection on a sored horse, and unless both came up with the same results, the horse could not be disqualified and the owner could not be cited. As a result, the number of horses that inspectors determined had been sored dropped from 30% in 2016 to only 2% in 2018.

The weakening of enforcement is not the only bad change made by the Trump administration: in early 2017, it abruptly removed from the USDA website all public inspection reports on regulated facilities. The same year, it introduced an incentive program that allows licensees to avoid penalties for violations by self-reporting them, even if the violations resulted in animal deaths. It also removed a chapter in the inspectors’ guide that explained how to identify and confiscate suffering animals, and began training for inspectors that instructs them to “educate” licensees rather than documenting violations.

As a result, since the current administration took office, citations by USDA have plummeted 65%, according to the Post’s research, and enforcement cases declined 92% between 2016 and 2018.

Former Animal Care division head Ron DeHaven called the decrease in citations for the most serious violations concerning. “If there are things that are directly impacting the health and well-being of animals, I don’t care who the administration is,” he told the Post. “Those are the kinds of things that need to be documented.”

Our own research for our Horrible Hundred report shows a similar drop. We found that many puppy mills that have been cited by state officials for serious issues, such as emaciated dogs and dying puppies, received completely clean inspection reports from their USDA inspectors.

With our government turning its back on the animals, it has been left to animal protection groups like us – and the media – to shine a light on the cruelty when possible. We are intensifying our fight against puppy mills by working with states and localities to stop the sale of puppies in pet stores altogether, and we’ve been successful in more than 312 localities and two states. Earlier this year, 39 Senators and 188 Representatives wrote a letter urging the USDA to stop treating regulated industries as their clients, tighten up enforcement, require documentation of every noncompliance, and restore the public inspections records and enforcement documents to the USDA’s website.

We have also filed a lawsuit against the USDA for withdrawing, in 2017, a rule finalized by the Obama administration that would have closed loopholes in Horse Protection Act regulations. And we’ll be watching to see how USDA inspectors are allowed to perform their duties at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration that starts this week in Shelbyville. This week, five of the lead House sponsors of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which the House approved in July, sent a letter to Secretary Perdue urging the Department to “do everything possible to vigorously enforce” the HPA, and for field employees at the Celebration to “perform their inspection duties with diligence.” A parallel letter was also sent to the secretary by the lead sponsors of the Senate PAST Act.

The administration should take heed that we will not sit by and allow it to continue choosing the interests of businesses over the animals they use. The media spotlight is already turned on them, Congress is watching, and rest assured we will not miss a single opportunity to protect the animals with all means at our disposal.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Categories
Animal Research and Testing, Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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24 Comments

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  1. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    De verdad este mundo tiene que sensibilizarse en como tratamos a los animalitos por favor en este mundo ya existe mucha maldad pero gracias a Dios aun hay gente muy buena y somos mas

    • David Garris says:

      This doesn’t surprise me. Most worthless administration. Trump is only about money and himself. I wish we had someone that is a true humane individual running for president. It’s sad what is happening to our earth.

  2. John&Shirley Valney says:

    Evidently this administration is incapable of ever protecting innocent animals and they have no limits on the cruelty and evil they are willing to inflict. What a disgusting group of people. Please make them go away and elect some decent, caring souls.

  3. Brian says:

    Sonny Perdue is a pos, just like the pos in the WH. They care not at all about animals.

  4. Patt Hale says:

    My Representative in the House, Ann Kirkpatrick, is on the agriculture committee.
    I called her office about the Washington Post article, but the fellow who answered the phone seemed clueless, even though the story was on the front page that day.
    Sonny Perdue must be brought in front of the committee in a public hearing to tell America why he supports animal cruelty.

  5. Janice m theodoroff says:

    This administration has been instrumental in so many wrong things. Targeting defenseless animals is a new Low!

  6. Christine Donohue says:

    Put an end to this cruelty

  7. Jerry evans says:

    Someone please take this orange turd out of politics

  8. Renee Doan says:

    Absolutely inexcusable, pathetic, deranged & heartless scum-bags who do this to innocent puppies & dogs! You do not have the “right” to do this. Get a real job. Allow these beautiful animals to find & live a life of real love. Thank you.

  9. Tamara says:

    There’s nothing wrong with my email address but your system keeps telling me there is! Can you assist? So frustrating as I feel it’s critically important for your outreach efforts to succeed! Very anxious to help the cause. Thanks

  10. Virginia Lloyd says:

    OMG Please Please help these poor animals.

  11. Mary Anne Murphy says:

    That is a very low and inhuman thing to do!!

  12. Kathleen Muir says:

    I am horrified by this report. But, sadly, not surprised. 45, and his hand-picked cadre of syncophants and…..well, sadists, are hellbent to destroy everything GOOD about our country, our basic decency, everything that USED TO make America admired worldwide. WE are better than this.

  13. Karen says:

    It never ceases to amaze me the damage that this so called president has done to our country. He has set us back 100’s of years in undoing basic legal precedents that any decent person would uphold and fight for. He needs to be impeached and put in Rikers Island jail for life.

  14. Linda Acri says:

    If this is true, then all of the above mentioned fools belong in a cage. Maybe all of us animal lovers should get together and march to Washington with our pets, hopefully we all can get pitties and rotties. All puppy mills should be shut down, those that continue to operate them also belong in a cage in the heat, the winter and no water or food!!!!

  15. Jeanette Ortiz says:

    This president does not care about the welfare of animals period! His sons are trophy hunters! We need stricter laws against animal cruelty……..no more puppy mills, trophy hunting, dog fighting……all of it! These animals don’t deserve this…..they are living, breathing beings!

  16. Janice Washienko says:

    Trump is the AntiChrist and his Croonies are the demons from hell!!! This administration is the very WORST in history! Expecting any caring or compassion for any other life experiencing cruelty or difficulties is a joke…i.e.his son is a trophy hunter and he tosses paper towels to people facing hurricans…….

  17. Christine Engels says:

    I really am sick to my stomach after reading this. This POS president must go quickly and rot in prison where he belongs!

  18. Helen says:

    And barefoot on wire floors .

  19. Nancy Newman says:

    I’m not sure about my feelings. It keeps creeping back that maybe we better stop bringing animals into our country and take care of the ones here.

  20. Patty S says:

    This administration of Trump could care less about animal cruelty when he has a son who kills animals and gets a trophy for doing it. The Apple does not fall far from the tree. All Trumps cabinet members are killers & liers out for their own gratification

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