After years of dedication, a bill brought forth by State Representative Brenda Kupchick was signed into law in Connecticut that prohibits pet stores from selling dogs and cats sourced from breeders who have violated the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) animal welfare regulations. The bill, SB-445, brought forth by the Environment Committee was made effective on October 1, 2014. To abide by this law, and for appropriate enforcement, access to USDA inspection reports is required. Without warning, however, the USDA removed inspection reports and other information from its website relating to the treatment of animals in numerous facilities inspected by the USDA, including puppy mills.
The Washington Post reported on February 3 that the USDA had removed inspection reports from their website after having made them available through an online, searchable database for years. The USDA cited court rulings and privacy laws for their decision to do so. The records that have been removed are frequently used to monitor animal welfare and could be used by pet stores to look up information on dog breeders. Six states in addition to Connecticut require pet stores to source puppies from breeders with clean USDA inspection reports, which now may be impossible to meet.
The USDA slowly began to re-post inspection reports after Animal welfare organizations filed lawsuits to try to ensure these inspection reports are reinstated on the website. Lawsuits cited violations of the Freedom of Information Act and Administrative Procedures Act, a law which prohibits government agencies from taking actions that are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” Members of Congress have also begun to initiate legislation to have these reports reinstated, including a bill from six Senate Democrats introduced on March 2. Another bill is planned from the House of Representatives.
Without easy access to these USDA reports, pet stores in Connecticut may return to their old habits and source dogs and cats from puppy mills with violations (although the standards of care for animals in puppy mills are virtually non-existent, leading to abhorrent, horrific living conditions for animals in these facilities, even when no USDA violations are noted). Hopefully, this will not be the case. With greater pressure from animal advocates, there is hope that the USDA will restore all reports removed and ensure transparency.
If you’d like to ensure that Connecticut’s puppy mill laws can be upheld, you can lend your voice by signing one of the petitions crafted by trusted animal welfare organizations.