OVERSIGHT OF BREEDERS:
AGENCY FAULTED FOR NOT CRACKING DOWN ON VIOLATORS
By STEVE NEAVLING FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's focus in recent years on giving breeders who violate the Animal Welfare Act repeated chances to correct their problems has drawn harsh criticism - both from within and outside the agency.
Saying the USDA has failed to protect dogs, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, plans to call for an oversight hearing this month into the agency's handling of breeding facilities.
"I think there is a desire by the USDA to let the industry regulate itself," said Kucinich, who has two dogs.
In a 2004 letter to Heartland Kennels, a Missouri breeder that sent at least 123 pups to metro Detroit pet shops in 2005, the USDA said its run of violations used to result in fines or closure, but current policy "is to encourage compliance through education and cooperation rather than legal action."
"The more we educate them, the more likely they are to be in compliance," USDA spokesman Darby Holladay said.
The USDA's Office of Inspector General has criticized the agency since the 1990s for failing to adequately crack down on violators. And in a blistering September report, the inspector general found an ineffective monitoring and inspection system and concluded the USDA failed to take action against "violators who compromised ... animal health."
A USDA inspector, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agency does not allow employees to speak to the media and he fears retaliation, said he and his colleagues are beset with low morale as leadership demands second and third chances for some of the worst offenders.
"When morale is low, you have inspectors doing half of what they normally can do," the inspector said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Schwartz, R-Mich., the only Michigan representative on the committee that oversees the USDA, acknowledged enforcement problems at the agency and said he supports an investigation.
Contact STEVE NEAVLING at 586-469-4935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.