The days are just too short. Between protests and rescues and investigations and legislation, every second here at CAPS is precious. That’s probably why we love acronyms. OIG. ACI. APHIS. We’re always using these little time-savers. And over the years, there’s probably no single acronym you’ve heard us utter more often than “USDA.”

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) licenses and inspects our country’s 3,000 commercial dog and cat breeding facilities. These facilities produce half a million young animals a year, which are sold in pet shops and online marketplaces. The USDA is supposed to protect these animals by enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, but CAPS has been monitoring the USDA for over twenty years, and we’ve turned up a different story.

The USDA doesn’t do its job. Want examples? We have them.

Doug and Wendie Dettbarn’s puppy mill — where dogs shiver in the snow.

Claudia Obermiller’s kitten mill — where matted cats suffer with infected eyes.

Dennis and Donna Van Wyk’s puppy mill — where feces falls from elevated cages onto bleeding dogs trapped below.

Randy Stoen’s puppy mill — where he illegally shoots dogs and hides the bodies.

CAPS recently investigated each of these USDA-licensed facilities (and more) and gave our undercover video to the USDA. Based on our evidence, we believe these places should’ve been shut down and their licenses revoked. But in the few cases where the USDA followed up on our investigations, their inspectors either claimed to see nothing wrong or just gave the offenders a slap on the wrist.

And it gets worse.

It’s been sixteen years since CAPS partnered with Dateline NBC to expose the USDA’s smug indifference to the shocking conditions at puppy mills. And it’s been six years since our work led the USDA’s Office of Inspector General to issue a scathing report about the department’s failure to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. Since then, what has the USDA done to address these issues?

They created “Teachable Moments.”

That’s their new program designed to “reduce the regulatory burden” on puppy mills. USDA inspectors can now ignore certain Animal Welfare Act violations if the puppy mill promises to fix them soon. The reason, they say, is to keep breeders from getting too many bad marks on their records, in order to better “enable breeders to sell their dogs to pet stores.” In other words, the USDA wants to protect its licensees, not animals.

Thankfully, there is cause for hope.

Since 2009, the number of USDA-licensed breeding facilities has dropped from 5,000 to 3,000. And the longtime deputy administrator of the USDA’s Animal Care Division, who was pro-industry, recently stepped down. His replacement, Bernadette Juarez, has indicated some willingness to examine the problem.

Many of you have joined us over the last few months in writing to Ms. Juarez, and there’s some good news: your letters are working! Her office is now hiring a new employee to reexamine old inspection cases for possible mistakes and oversights.

You can help keep the pressure on the USDA by e-mailing, calling, or writing to Ms. Juarez and voicing your concerns.

Ms. Bernadette Juarez
Deputy Administrator
USDA/APHIS/AC
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737

(301) 851-2735
Bernadette.r.juarez@aphis.usda.gov

We’ve also prepared a sample letter you can download here. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of animals suffering in pet shops and mills.