Feds block online animal welfare data

Photo by Olga Myrontsevalistock

Extensive commentary after last year’s presidential election included the belief – or was it a fervent hope?—that caring for and protecting animals is a bipartisan effort, so activities already underway on behalf of animals would simply continue.

Then came reports that US Dept. of Agriculture records having to do with the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act had without warning or reason become inaccessible. Noting that the USDA had purged its website of all government inspection reports, enforcement actions and related information on thousands of puppy mills, circuses, laboratories and roadside zoos, one animal advocacy organization concluded that “animals are under attack.”

Such taxpayer-supported online materials had been readily available to the public. Now they can be obtained only through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which reportedly “can take months, or even years, to process.” Although a widespread outcry in reaction caused the USDA to restore some reports, most are still unavailable.

While claiming a need to balance transparency (by making info available) with individual privacy (presumably including that of proven violators), the department has made it easier to hide violations of the two animal laws and generally mistreat animals with greater impunity.

End result, at least for as long as USDA materials are out of reach: those who abuse animals will not be brought to justice, and their unchecked actions will lead to immense animal suffering. The treatment and fate of “research animals” will be unmonitored; cruel horse soring will continue; puppy mills will turn out more sick animals while shamelessly over-breeding their mothers; animals in Alaskan wildlife refuges will be cruelly trapped or shot in their dens. . . and on and on.

Wait a minute! Aren’t we humans supposed to become more enlightened as time goes by? And aren’t animals supposed to be less threatened as humans grow smarter?

In mid-February, two APLNJ reps joined Senator Robert Menendez at a press event where participants spoke out against USDA’s removal of this online info and urged people to contact their federal legislators – 1-844-872-0234 – to request their intervention. Doris Lin, director of legal affairs, and Doreen Frega, an associate director with the BEAR program, responded to Senator Menendez’s invitation.

Among many other “animal organizations” also protesting, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has advised phoning the USDA, at 1-844-820-2234, to express strong opposition to its decision to remove inspection reports and other important information on facilities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act. (Don’t be deterred if you’re told, as I was, that a review for privacy and other guidelines is underway; demand that the records be made publicly available again.)

Finally, in the belief that every effort counts, sign all bona fide petitions calling on the USDA to stop covering for abusers and make that material accessible once more.

Meanwhile, here in NJ. . .

Two bills that would greatly benefit New Jersey animals are moving through the legislative process, and in contrast to current federal changes and blockades, these are easy to find, read, promote and track online! Passed by the state Assembly, the earlier bill (A3899) would make declawing cats illegal except for medical reasons. Now, S2410 must still make its way through the Senate, surviving the hurdles awaiting it there.

Late last month, S3019 – the Animal Shelter Bill — was introduced by Senator Linda Greenstein in the state Senate. It seeks to revise and strengthen the laws governing animal shelters throughout NJ.  Anyone familiar with this state’s shelters will rejoice to know about this bill – much more on it will follow soon.  Meanwhile, you can check  it out at  http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/

– Pat Summers

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Comments 1

  • The Trump administration is so hostile to animals. I hope that the animal welfare people who voted for him will certainly speak up for animals at this critical moment. I hope to see the declawing bill become law. I was so upset to find out that there is an apartment complexes that forces people to have their cats declawed as a condition of their tenancy. Finally, I hope people will take the time to thank Senator Linda Greenstein for her compassion and efforts on behalf of homeless companion animals. Her bill will do so much to reduce euthanasia and to improve dramatically the daily care of animals in shelters.

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