Read about the details from these additional news sources:
In a stunning setback in their efforts to increase enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), USDA has suddenly reversed course and decided to, once again, tolerate substandard conditions at puppy mills. Dr. Chester Gipson, USDA’s chief of enforcement for the AWA, recently told animal advocates that the USDA needs “to enable breeders to sell their dogs to pet stores” and citing violations is an impediment to such sales.
In the past few years, many municipalities have enacted ordinances restricting pet stores to only purchasing puppies from breeders with no violations on their federal inspection reports. These ordinances are intended to protect consumers from buying dogs from substandard puppy mills.
Shockingly, USDA has made the decision to help substandard breeders circumvent these ordinances and to continue to sell puppies in spite of continuing violations. USDA has recently instructed their inspectors not to cite breeders for “minor” violations as such documentation is making it more difficult for breeders to sell their puppies. When questioned as to their definition of “minor,” or as to how many minor violations of the Animal Welfare Act will be ignored per facility, and for how long such violations will be tolerated, USDA responded that it will be left up to the individual inspector and admitted that no guidance has been provided for the inspectors.
At a recent meeting of dog breeders, USDA officials told breeders that, “if at any time a violation has the potential of affecting your business, please call our office immediately and let us know,” emphasizing that USDA stands ready to enable breeders to market their dogs to pet stores.
In an effort to further aide substandard dog breeders, USDA has hired a long-time puppy mill lobbyist and advocate, Julian Prager, to be its “Canine Advisor.” Mr. Prager’s duties will include assisting in the training of USDA inspectors. Ironically, Mr. Prager has consistently opposed all laws regulating puppy mills and vigorously opposed Pennsylvania’s new puppy mill law, and most recently, fought against implementation of USDA’s new regulations on puppy mills selling over the Internet. Mr. Prager also opposed a law to prevent puppy mill operators from performing surgeries such as C-sections and debarking on their own dogs.
Yet, this is the individual that USDA has hired to assist in the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the law which regulates the same industry that Mr. Prager has served to promote and protect for several decades.
Please contact the Secretary of Agriculture and remind him that the AWA stands for the Animal Welfare Act and not the Dog Breeders Welfare Act. USDA’s sole focus, as mandated by Congress, should be on the welfare of the dogs and not the welfare of the substandard breeders’ businesses regardless of how the neglect of their animals is hurting them financially.
If this activity concerns you, please contact Secretary Tom Vilsack via email at AgSec@usda.gov or leave a telephone message at (202) 720-3631 or write to him at: Secretary Tom Vilsack, U. S. Department of Agriculture – Room 200-A, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20250. Finally, you may also click the following link and leave a comment: https://www.votervoice.net/link/target/iowavca/J9iRGPKtW.aspx
Many thanks to the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation who provided us with the above information.
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By: Garen Meguerian, Esq.
Suffering animals are often referred to as the “voiceless” and as advocates you’ve been encouraged to “be their voice”. Your opponents have devised a powerful tool designed to strip you of your voice and make sure that you cannot help the voiceless animals, including those suffering in Pennsylvania’s puppy mills.
That powerful tool is known as the SLAPP lawsuit, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. In a SLAPP lawsuit people with money and power use their superior resources and access to the courts to punish, silence, intimidate and retaliate against their vocal critics.
Have you wondered why no undercover puppy mill investigations seem to be in the news lately? Does Pennsylvania no longer have a puppy mill problem, or, have advocates and investigators been cowed into silence by lawsuits? Some of you still working in the trenches of animal welfare advocacy know the answers to these questions.
As an attorney who represents advocates and consumers, I am writing with an urgent plea that you support an important bill that will help restore the advocates’ voice.
There is no greater threat to advocacy or the voice of the ordinary citizen in the United States of America than the SLAPP suit.
As an advocate, your voice is your most precious resource, and SLAPP suits target your voice by causing you to pay to defend your words.
What if it someone passed a law that fined you $50 each time someone disagreed with you on any given topic? What about $500? $50,000? $500,000? That would, of course, be outrageous. Such an act would be held unconstitutional; after all, in the United States of America, the Constitution protects our fundamental right to speech.
Defending your right to free speech costs time and money, however, and the Constitution does not promise or guarantee that your right to speech will be protected for free; which makes free speech very costly indeed. So, in effect, you are fined each time you are sued, even if the lawsuit is baseless.
Sadly, the $500,000 figure above is no exaggeration. Even a case dismissed at its earliest stages, will cost an advocate upwards of $50,000 in defense fees. Cases that survive or linger for years can cost exponentially more to defend.
If you think this cannot happen to you, think again.
Animal welfare advocates have been particularly vulnerable targets to SLAPP suits throughout the country. Most animal welfare advocates do not have the resources to defend themselves. So, typically, for the cost of hiring an attorney to draft a complaint (with serious sounding charges including: defamation; slander; libel; false light; conspiracy; business disparagement; and, infliction of emotional distress), an ordinary citizen can quickly be intimidated into silence. It is much cheaper to agree to remain silent than to be subjected to the trials and tribulations of a lawsuit.
Ordinary Pennsylvanians have been especially vulnerable to SLAPP lawsuits, particularly those advocating for the welfare of animals. Unfortunately, unlike many other states, Pennsylvania does not offer protections for those facing SLAPP suits.
Senator Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) is trying to change that fact and is working to even the playing field in Pennsylvania. He has introduced Senate Bill 1095 that would make the filing of SLAPP suits more difficult by giving courts an opportunity to dismiss these suits before advocates and ordinary citizens are forced to incur tens of thousands of dollars in defense fees. The bill also provides for the reimbursement of counsel fees for those facing SLAPP lawsuits. Passage of this legislation can diffuse the greatest threat to advocacy by, finally, raising the cost associated with the filing of a SLAPP lawsuit against an advocate.
This is sensible legislation, and, Senator Farnese deserves a tremendous amount of credit for introducing the bill. This may be the most critical piece of legislation as it will restore the advocates’ voice. Unfortunately, this legislation is not getting the attention it deserves!
Senate Bill 1095 needs your help – actually, it needs more co-sponsors – and that’s where your help is needed. Pick up the phone today and contact your state Senator to ask that they co-sponsor and vote YES on Senate Bill 1095 because it’s important to the dogs and to you – the voting public. Don’t know who or how to contact your State Senator? Go here: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/
Attorney General Kathleen Kane
Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General
16th Floor, Strawberry Square Harrisburg PA 17120
RE: ENFORCEMENT OF PA’S DOG LAW/AUDITOR GENERAL’S REPORT
Dear Attorney General Kane:
United Against Puppy Mills, Pennsylvania’s largest 501(c)(3) not-for-profit group advocating on behalf of the mill dogs, has reviewed Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s recent report: Dog Law Enforcement Hindered by Lax Leadership, Inadequate Financial Controls (the “Report”).
The Auditor General reviewed and assessed (i) the adequacy of the Office of Dog Law’s enforcement of the Pennsylvania Dog Law from 2008-2012, and (ii) whether, during that time, certain financial withdrawals from the Dog Law Restricted Account were in compliance with the requirements of the Dog Law.
The findings were disturbing and shocking. Evidence throughout the Report highlights the Bureau’s misappropriation of funds, intentional and deliberate non-enforcement of the Dog Law and other instances of malfeasance, including the Bureau’s failure (in 2011) to comply with the required twice annual inspection of all licensed PA kennels pursuant to the Dog Law regulations.
The following is just one example of the misappropriation and non-enforcement uncovered by the Report: “A performance audit of the dog law program from 2008 through 2012 shows an intentional lack of enforcement of the state’s dog law and the commercial kennel canine health regulations. During the audit period the dog law restricted revenue account went from 15 million to $3.1 million – $4 million was transferred to the state general fund in 2010, $2.6 million was used for unsupported payroll costs, and $1.4 million was used for unsubstantiated expenditures.”
In addition, we are concerned that despite the findings in the Report, it does not appear that the Office of Dog Law Enforcement has remedied its past failures to actively enforce the law and that kennel owners are continuing to flaunt their failure to comply with Pennsylvania’s Dog Law. In one recent instance, Derbe Eckhart – a convicted animal abuser and ex-kennel owner in the Lehigh Valley – was found to be keeping more than 225 animals on his four acre property.
Under the terms of Eckhart’s animal cruelty conviction in 2010, Eckhart was prohibited from possessing any animals (other than the personal pets he owned in 2010) for the following five years.
Subsequent to an early release from prison, probation officers discovered the 225 animals at Eckhart’s property and found it necessary to wear masks and gloves to protect themselves from an “unhealthy environment.” Ex-Kennel Owner Derbe Eckhart facing new animal allegations, The Morning Call, September 17, 2013.
The discovery of 138 birds, 23 chickens, 22 horses, 21 dogs, seven hens, five peacocks, four goats, three donkeys, three moneys, two turkeys, two large geese and “too many cats to be counted” on Eckhart’s property leads us to believe that the implementation and enforcement of the PA Dog Law has not been given a priority position pursuant to the findings in the Report.
At a minimum, Pennsylvania dog wardens should have been regularly checking Mr. Eckhart’s property to ensure he was not exceeding 25 dogs, so as to require a kennel license, and to guarantee that rabies vaccinations and the individual licensing of the dogs was taking place. Had these simple checks been implemented, it’s likely that the recent menagerie of animals and associated neglect and abuse would never have taken place.
We are curious if the Attorney General’s office has any plans to investigate the many instances detailed within the Report and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to review this matter with you further. You may feel free to contact me.
Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.
Jackie Keeney Board Member & Event Coordinator
cc: Cyndy Baxter, Esq.