Many Americans applauded President Trump’s vow to slash government regulations – that always sounds great in the abstract – but it may be less popular when it means gutting rules that addressed puppy mill abuses, says JP Sottile.
By JP Sottile
Is Donald Trump trying to make puppy mills great again? Actually, that’s a trick question because puppy mills were never great. In fact, puppy mills are one of the uglier bits of scumbaggery to emerge from a burgeoning pet industry that has, according to the American Pet Products Association, ballooned from $17 billion in 1994 to nearly $63 billion in 2016.
About $2.1 billion of that total is “live animal purchases,” and the people who butter their bread by breeding animals fall under the regulatory purview of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Right now, there are an estimated 10,000 dog breeders nationwide, and the USDA’s minuscule budget of $28 million annually means they only keep tabs on a small fraction of them. As a result, there are fewer than 3,000 officially “regulated” breeders. Falling into that sizable gap between “regulated” and “unregulated” are thousands of facilities ignominiously known as “puppy mills.”
Factory Farms for Dogs
If you haven’t seen video footage of a puppy mill, you might not be aware of just how sadly appropriate that moniker is for these fetid factories of fecundity. Unregulated breeders run Dickensian “mills” filled with malnutritioned, poorly-groomed, and chronically infirm dogs that are all-too-often crammed into cages throughout the entirety of their utterly bereft lives.
Each of these captive canines produces an average of nearly ten puppies per year in operations that amount to the factory farming of dogs. The puppies are sold in retail stores for a tidy profit to customers who often find their newest member of the family is sick or overbred or worse.
For those seeking compensation for their “defective product,” tracking back to the breeders is a daunting task. Even if they’ve been inspected and accumulated numerous violations, the USDA rarely revokes licenses or even enforces minimum compliance with the law. Amazingly, it has collected less than $4 million in fines over the last two years, according to a shocking investigative report published in a recent issue of Rolling Stone.
But now the difficult task of keeping tabs on sleazy breeders who refuse to comply with even the meager, decrepit standards of the anachronistic Animal Welfare Act (AWA) just got a whole lot harder.
That’s thanks in part to the Trump Administration’s “delete first … so we won’t have to ask questions later” approach to everything related to science, public health, safety, or anything that might crimp the money-making style of Trump’s corporate supporters.
Draining the Swamp?
In the spirit of gag orders imposed on a number of science-dependent agencies, the USDA abruptly “purged” its online database of “inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities,” according to a story first reported by the Washington Post.
“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication. APHIS will also review and redact, as necessary, the lists of licensees and registrants under the AWA, as well as lists of designated qualified persons (DQPs) licensed by USDA-certified horse industry organizations,” the USDA said on its website.
And it’s that last bit about “USDA-certified horse industry organizations“ that might be the key to unraveling a move that has outraged animal welfare activists, journalists, and even a few conservative commentators like Laura Ingraham and Tammy Bruce. Writing in the Washington Times, Ms. Bruce questioned the move as a “disturbing“ and “odd“ move for an “administration to be committed to transparency, draining the swamp and ending lobbyist control of policy.“
Of course, it’s hard to tell whether the Trump Administration wants to drain the swamp or to swamp the drain with crony capitalists in an attempt to flood the already financially fertile plains of Washington, D.C., with the loamy, rich monetary manure spread so profitably by key industries.
So, who benefits from a widely unpopular decision that generated angry hashtags like #USDAblackout and #NoUSDAblackout … and the filing of a new lawsuit claiming the blackout illegally obstructs the application of the Animal Welfare Act?
New reporting by the Washington Post indicates senior staffers within the UDSA advocated the purge in response to a lawsuit over the controversial practice of “soring” the legs of walking horses with harsh chemicals that inflict enough pain to cause the animal’s “high-stepping” gait to rise just a little bit higher. That, in turn, makes them more successful in competitions and raises their value as a commodity. In other words, no pain means less financial gain.
Ironically, the USDA recently banned soring … but suddenly decided to implement the data purge despite the decision to prohibit the very practice that sparked the lawsuit that supposedly led to the purge.
Perhaps it’s not coincidental that the ban came after the national Humane Society conducted its own investigations into horse soring or that their investigation would’ve relied in part on the exactly the type of data collected by USDA inspectors. But now, just like it will with profligate puppy millers, the purge effectively hides the identity of “horse industry organizations“ with a documented history of soring and gives them new room to run roughshod on animal welfare protections.
And Who Decided?
So, who made this perplexing, politically unpopular decision?
Although he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the purge when it was first proposed, outgoing Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the Post that he refused to sign-off on the new, information-obscuring rule because “there was not enough time for us to properly vet the recommendation, and I was concerned about transparency.“
But that was then and this is now. And now there is a new sheriff in town who has said regulations must go the way of the dying bumblebee his administration doesn’t want to list as an endangered species.
To wit, the prime mover behind the purge might be one of Trump’s lesser-known deputies – a guy name Brian Klippenstein of the industry-aligned Protect the Harvest. He was the head of Trump’s USDA transition team. And the “harvest” he and his barely-known advocacy group want to protect is the unchecked right of human beings to harvest animals for profit.
Mostly, they want to do so without any meddling by the Humane Society or even the barest protections for the welfare of animals. Klippenstein – who is something of a puppy mill enthusiast – is no doubt pleased with a purge that will make it easier to profit off of mistreating animals again.
So, with a tidy little bit of doublespeak, the USDA website replaced the database with a message explaining that the records were removed “based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals.“
Red Tape and Paperwork
It’s the needs of those “stakeholders” – the breeders and businesses and big agricultural interests – that will predictably win out in this crony-laden administration. But wait … maybe this was just part of Team Trump’s war on the onerous, freedom-killing regulatory state … right? Hardly.
According to a fact sheet from the HSUS, these anything-but-onerous USDA ‘regulations’ make it perfectly legal to “keep dozens or even hundreds of breeding dogs in small wire cages for their entire lives with only the basics of food, water and rudimentary shelter.”
Despite that, many of the licensed breeders violate these comically inadequate standards in their never-ending quest to cruelly cut corners and squeeze a little more profit out of the cramped lives of dogs trapped in a perpetual cycle of insemination, pregnancy, and birth.
And that’s to say nothing of the thousands of unlicensed puppy mills whose only oversight comes from activists, nonprofits, journalists, and the occasional whistleblower … and whose operations only come to an end when these non-governmental do-gooders do the kind of good that one might expect from an agency tasked with the duty of ensuring a basic level of animal welfare.
As a result of the move, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), along with ASPCA, PETA, and hundreds of other smaller non-profit and volunteer animal welfare organizations around the country, will be tied up in red tape and tortuous FOIA paperwork if they want to access heretofore public information on zoos, laboratories, roadside attractions and, of course, puppy mills.
That matters because those organizations fill the gaping hole left by the sparsely funded, severely understaffed, and seemingly overmatched USDA.
The Humane Society is one of many non-government watchdogs that watch out for dogs by funding their own investigations and by even staging raids on puppy mills in concert with local law enforcement. The USDA’s now-purged database was often a roadmap leading the HSUS, ASPCA, and hundreds of local watchdogs to serial violators.
The simple fact is that little is done even when the USDA is on the case, which is not that surprising for an agency with a well-greased revolving door between itself and the businesses it regulates.
Even Ringling Bros – whose violation data would be purged along with puppy millers – was able to get someone placed at the USDA back in 2011. Perhaps that helps explain why, as the HSUS points out, “there are hundreds of USDA-licensed puppy mills in operation that have a history of documented animal care violations that are still licensed.”
But that’s just one part of why access to the records accumulated by the USDA is so important. Natasha Daly of National Geographic wrote:
“These records have revealed many cases of abuse and mistreatment of animals, incidents that, if the reports had not been publicly posted, would likely have remained hidden. This action plunges journalists, animal welfare organizations, and the public at large into the dark about animal welfare at facilities across the country.”
As One Green Planet reported, it’s the same database that helped Boston Globe reporter Carolyn Johnson expose a “federally-funded primate testing facility” at Harvard University that mistreated thousands of monkeys despite repeated violations and $24,000 in fines … until it was ignominiously closed in 2015.
It was whistleblowers and journalists who used shocking footage to expose the cruelty that halted the captive breeding program at SeaWorld, ended years of torture and sickness for Ringling Brothers’ elephants, and sparked a wholesale revolution in the production of eggs when Mercy for Animals revealed the deplorable conditions of egg-laying chickens.
It was surreptitiously filmed videos that eventually led to McDonald’s, Walmart, and other major companies forcing their suppliers to adopt new welfare standards for the chickens they quite literally bank on to bring home the bacon.
The same has been happening with puppy mills, too. Increased awareness of the deplorable conditions – thanks in part to activists and journalists using the now deleted data – has led to a number of anti-puppy mill laws around the country.
Those efforts, along with campaigns to convince dog enthusiasts to adopt a soon-to-be-euthanized shelter dog over a costly retail puppy, have the pet industry mounting a counter-campaign of alternative facts designed to convince Americans that there is a puppy shortage in spite of the daunting facts.
Of course, the dog breeding industry is there to help re-puppy America – for a price. And their bottom line is that the less you know about the way those puppies are produced, the better it is for the conscience of consumers and the breeders’ bank accounts. Frankly, that’s really what this purge portends … a wider crackdown on transparency and information in the USDA, which, along with the FDA, oversees the nation’s gargantuan factory farming industry.
The fact that Trump tapped former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue to run the Department of Agriculture is the clearest signal yet that years of hard-won, incremental progress on animal welfare and increased safety in the food supply are likely to go the way of the dodo bird under factory farm-friendly Purdue.
Remember that time then-candidate Trump floated the idea of eliminating the FDA’s “food police” who make sure there isn’t too much feces in the meat or too little safety in the nation’s vast, complicated food system?
Now, with Brian Klippenstein planting the seeds of profitability for factory farmers, horse sorers and, alas, puppy millers, Trump’s vision of “unchecked everything” is coming into focus. Thanks to the purge, it just got harder for activists, journalists and whistleblowers to do what the USDA wasn’t capable of doing.
And it also became a little easier to be an animal-abusing ingrate again.
JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, published historian, radio co-host and documentary filmmaker (The Warning, 2008). His credits include a stint on the Newshour news desk, C-SPAN and as newsmagazine producer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington. His weekly show ‘Inside the Headlines With The Newsvandal‘ co-hosted by James Moore airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa. He blogs at Newsvandal and tweets [email protected]. This article was originally published on AntiMedia (Creative Commons).
It would be refreshing if the writer of this article had even a an ounce of knowledge about the dog breeding business but of course he is doing what all bubble writers do they just regurgitate vomit from HSUS! Of course we all know that HSUS doesn’t have an agenda??! To make this simple for the average reader thousands of restaurants across this country every year are written for filthy conditions,rat droppings in their coolers,roach infestations,dead rodents on shelves,rotten food and meat in coolers,workers found with open sores and TB,hepatitis,aids and scabies,not to mention no hot water,mold under counters and filth on cooktops and on and on and your eating the stuff coming out of these places??! They are closed for three days and fined $500 and right back to business as usual when is the last time you ate a chihuahua from a kennel!? Try to put this ridiculous article into perspective a dirty window,outdated medicine,a bag of garbage in the kennel,dirty dishes in the sink,cobwebs these are no many of the serious violations people are sighting oh really how many of these same people could pass a USDA inspection of their homes I’ll tell you almost none have you ever seen how a lot of people live especially these liberal animal rights kooks!! Whew make you gag!!
Until one has loved an animal, part of one’s soul remains unawakened. Anatole France.
Lincoln had Fido. Teddy Roosevelt had Rollo, Sailor Boy, Manchu and Blackjack. Woodrow Wilson had Mountain Boy. FDR had Fala. Truman had Feller and Mike. Eisenhower had Heidi. Kennedy had Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie and Streaker. Johnson had Yuki, Edward and Freckles. Nixon had Checkers. Ford had Liberty. Carter had Grits. Regan had Lucky, Scotch, Soda and Victory. George HW Bush had Millie. Clinton had Buddy. George Bush had Barney. Obama had Bo and Sunny. Trump has … three wives?
Until one has loved an animal, part of one’s sole remains unawakened.
–the phone for the comments line is ringing busy all morning–probably Trump had it shut down
–this is the new Trump WH email form
The HS and SPCA should be getting all their chapters and members to flood Trump. Jam them up and take to twitter.
Puppy Mills are cruel and should be banned. Another sad day in America.
The Amish are notorious for puppy mills, their old-timey religion devalues non-human life. Start organizing boycotts and picket lines against them. I like dogs a lot better than people, but can’t expect Trump to do much about this when CIA, neocons and Dems are trying to start a war with Russia.
”Critics of Republican Donald Trump have cast his potential presidency as a threat to American citizens. The Humane Society Legislative Fund argues it’s a threat to animals, as well.
Recent ads from the animal welfare group — which are airing in the battleground state of Virginia — begin with a picture of Trump’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., holding up a dead leopard they shot during a hunting trip”
As much as I dislike the Dems I am now ready to see this scum sucking trash and his trash boys kicked out of the WH.
Ahhh, yes. Alinsky alive and well. Mr. Sottile, how many licensed breeding facilities have you been in? Or, are you just parroting? Would hazard a guess at the latter.
By eliminating purpose bred pets raised in inspected and licensed facilities and then vet checked several times prior to sale, it appears not only you, but many others, much prefer to buy pet of UNknown breeding, UNknown health issues, UNknown parentage, UNknown temperament issues, etc.
This opens the door for the shelter/rescue industry to utilize their backyard, behind closed doors, or just across the border breeders. ALL of which are UN licensed, UNinspected, NO required vet inspections, etc.
So in essence it is a “law” (which is very UNconstitutional by the way), you are advocating for that a family to buy a pig in a poke pet instead one of known origin, temperament, etc. How nice you and others to advocate that a safe pet be banned and take chances on one that may easily be of ill temperament to maim or kill. And puppies, let’s not forget those puppies, of unknown breeding, living conditions, real age, etc.
How caring. Not!
Dog breeding operations under scrutiny | Mason City & North Iowa …
Jan 19, 2013 – “There’s good and bad in any business,” said Betsy Fickel, of Garner, who … Fickel also objected to a before and after picture shown of one dog …
Betsy Fickel – As a dog breeder, I continually hear that… | Facebook
As a dog breeder, I continually hear that we (dog breeders) are responsible for the alleged “overpopulation ” in animal shelters, recues, etc. Really? Perhaps …
I live in New Bern NC not far from you I will come check out your breeding mill. IMO animal breeders who use dogs to make money are on the same level as pedophiles .
From Puppy mills to Pedo’s. I stand corrected; the right has officially lost itself in an emotional wasteland as well. #passthepopcorn
There is no difference between abusing a helpless child and abusing helpless animals.
The people who do this are the same kind of people.
Writing while aggravated is probably a mistake, but I’m definitely irritated so I’m going to do it anyhow.
Puppy Mills. On a scale of 0 to 100 in “bad” they’d be up near the top. But in the matter of “importance”, make that much, much closer to zero. First a little perspective and a story title:
“Humane Society: New dog owner Obama is delaying promised crackdown on puppy mills”
By Paul Bedard (@SecretsBedard) • 8/20/13 12:00 AM
Like so much else, Obama promised to “do something” about this abusive industry and as soon as the news spotlight turned away he promptly forgot about it.
Eventually Obama & Company “seem” to have done a little bit more. According to what the author writes, VERY little.
In other words, essentially nothing was being done before, and the very evil Trump has snuffed out that meaningless show.
The whole thing reminds me of how Obama was also very big when talking about Climate Change, but where the rubber met the road the man was as useless as teats on a rooster.
Yes, Trump has a burr under his saddle saddle about awful regulations, and by golly he’s going to fix the problem! Yes, we’re going to see many versions of this kind of jackassery, but the fact remains that puppies of the US aren’t going to be very much worse off than they were before. The primary suffering will be by the folks who fund-raise for the societies who justify their existence by exposing the mistreatment of animals. Of all of these societies, those defending puppies and kittens are the laziest, for who gives a solitary damn about the domesticated birds being torn apart while still alive so as to more cheaply supply our fast food nuggets?
We humans are abusing just about everything we touch. On a big scale, we’re presently making planet Earth uninhabitable for the biosphere as it currently exists. On a smaller scale, as a mass we ignore the suffering of the individual smaller creatures. (even the less fortunate of our very own species – you can go to jail for feeding a hungry homeless human being!)
The other day I saw a story which reminded me of this:
“Mother Goose thanks Cincinnati Police” at youtube
On the local scale of creation, we may currently be at the top, but the other creatures aren’t all that far below us. And it ain’t just cute puppies who are victims of our “God Made Us #1” notions.
Finally, and one of the other reasons for my aforementioned aggravation is this from the story above:
… according to a story first reported by the Washington Post.
Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post and the New York Times are pulling out all the stops to demonize Trump. Hying relative trivia to assist them in getting President Pence and more wars for Israel and TPP for the corporations just isn’t something I approve of.
Bang on!! The so called left has done lost it’s mind in an emotional wasteland and the so called right is busy gloating they won while ignoring or justifying the more egregious of Trumps errors, much like the left did/does for Obama. How long will it be before more people realize left and right are just a sham. It’s us against them. They know which side they are on and we squabble about a largely irrelevant left or right. #passthepopcorn
Damn right – it is ‘us against them’.
This does it for me on Trump.
As a life long animal activist, volunteer with our local animal sanctuary ,rescuing abused and abandoned animals——- my advice is to GO LOCAL.
Join a group or form a group, do your thing and do what the feds, state or city wont do. Get the bastards.
Well said. Going local makes sense in this and many other cases.
Nota very bene: “The puppies are sold in retail stores for a tidy profit to customers who often find their newest member of the family is sick or overbred or worse.”
Don’t buy puppies from pet stores or any other outlets for puppy mills. The odds are very high you’ll become attached the the poor little thing and soon find yourself on the hook for hefty vet bills. Warn your friends, too.