Some Thoughts on USDA Inspectors, Etc.
by Chuck Wegner, Executive Director, CCHS
I have been watching, listening and thinking for some time now about the USDA inspectors and how they must feel regarding the recent exposé’s of puppy mills in Wisconsin. After all, they are charged with the oversight of any commercial breeding facilities and they have been taking quite a round of bashing and bad-mouthing from many people, both the public in general and some in the humane community.
It is easy to look for a scapegoat when there is a problem. I have no intention of diminishing my opinion of the horrible conditions that have been exposed recently in area puppy mills, however I think we need to step back and take a look at some rather blanket statements that would indicate a near collusion among millers and inspectors. Regardless of our feelings about puppy mills in general, we do need to be very careful to make the distinction between the millers who are at least following the laws (however inadequate) and those who are not. As with anything in life, there are those who do things right and those who do not. The reason we need mandatory inspection of all animal-related facilities is because of those who do not provide proper care.
Wisconsin has always thought of dogs as property. That being said, there is a distinction made for providing proper care. While the law is very unclear in its definitions of the minimum standards, nonetheless it does recognize the difference between inanimate and living property. Humane-minded people would like to see this minimum standard revised and improved. Anyone who is running a proper breeding operation, whether it is a “hobby” or commercial business, should be all in favor of this if they are in it for the right reasons. The problems start to occur when they move from small-scale breeding to commercial or large-scale breeding. We all know of horror stories from any size breeding operation however.
This is where the USDA comes in. Large-scale commercial breeders, those who sell to brokers, or wholesalers and not to the general public or individual sales, fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA inspectors. These are people who have a job to do and very explicit guidelines to follow. They are limited by what they can and can’t do. If it’s not in their rulebook (part of the Animal Welfare Act), then they can not cite anyone for violations. Only regulations that are specifically listed in “the book” can be enforced.
Many of the USDA inspectors are fair, humane-minded people and they too are frustrated by the inadequacies of the law, but they must do their jobs within its parameters. State Humane Officers, law enforcement personnel and humane societies must operate with the same degree of frustration under the current state laws. They often get calls from the public wanting them to do something about a particular situation. The public does not understand the limitations of what can legally be done to rectify a bad situation of animal mistreatment.
What we have to do is see to it that the laws are improved to provide more power to those responsible for humane law enforcement. There is a need for stronger penalties for those who violate the existing laws and the laws need to be revamped to reflect a higher standard of acceptable humane care. The USDA is a federal agency and to change those laws is a lengthy and cumbersome process. There is no question that needs to happen, however, state law supercedes federal law and to modify state law is a much easier process. That is where we need to focus our attention now.
In summary, we need to remember… do not blame the inspectors, shelters, humane officers or law enforcement personnel. Most of them are in favor of enforceable, stronger laws. They can only enforce what the law requires, no more. They are doing the best they can with what they have to work with. We just need to give them more to work with, lots more! We all need to work together to give the law clarity and strength so that the previously mentioned people, can do their job better and to ensure more humane treatment for animals in our state.