Mary Lahay, president of Iowa Voters for Compassion Animals, is dedicated and determined to improve the lives of needy dogs. Mary shares her thoughts in this informative piece.
“It isn’t just the national political scene that seems turned upside down this year. Just as our efforts to improve the lives of Iowa’s puppy mill dogs allowed for light at the end of the tunnel, our own government decided to cloak this wretched industry in darkness again.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), responsible for oversight and enforcement of commercial animal care standards, pulled access to thousands of documents related to organizations and businesses regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This includes circuses, zoos, and . . . puppy mills. The result? Critical information about the welfare of dogs and puppies within Iowa’s 254 commercial dog breeding and dealing facilities – gone.
Inspection reports and court documents that allowed us to identify, monitor, and take action against animal abusers – gone. Documents that allowed you, us, and the general public to distinguish reputable dog breeders from the puppy mills – gone. The USDA unveiled a new database, with critical information including kennel, breeder, and dealer names, license numbers, addresses, and photographs — all blacked out.
And we know there are dogs suffering because of it!
Iowa Voters for Companion Animals has spent the past 5 years monitoring and analyzing breeder inspection reports which verify that 40-60% of Iowa’s 250+ USDA-licensed dog breeders are cited for significant violations each year. Many of these breeders keep more than 100 adult dogs, meaning that there are potentially thousands of dogs suffering in USDA breeding facilities right now! But we’re no longer given access to this information.
In 2010 the USDA revealed that no Iowa breeder had ever lost their license due to failure to comply to the regulations. That is simply not feasible. But since our organization has been holding the USDA accountable, at least 4 breeders have either had their license revoked or were “encouraged” to allow their license to lapse. Our work is not done.
The information is still there in USDA files, and it belongs to us, the American public whose taxes fund the work of the USDA, but now we have to fight — and pay — to get it.
The USDA can’t legally stonewall us or hide public records, so it defends the change by claiming that it will provide information through formal Freedom of Information Act requests. Sounds like a great system, right? But since March, we have submitted 465 FOIA requests, and the USDA’s response time for each one averages five months! What’s worse, more than 90% of inspection reports received are simply pages and pages of blacked-out information So, the bad breeders get protection, but there’s none for the dogs they abuse!
Adding insult to injury, many of our FOIA requests now also incur hefty fees, much higher than are required to cover the USDA’s routine administrative expenses. With our last filing for information on a single Iowa puppy mill, we got hit with a fee of $250! This obstacle doesn’t have to be an insurmountable one, but it means the dogs need help from each of us more than ever.
The ‘D’ in USDA should not and must not stand for ‘Darkness.’ We are fighting for daylight, working to educate the public about puppy mills, and we will continue to lobby for legislation in Iowa to ensure all dogs and puppies are protected. But that ‘WE’ has to include YOU. We must all be dedicated and determined!
Please contact Iowa congressional and legislative representatives today and ask them to tell the USDA that this data blackout is unacceptable. The information is critical to efforts to ensure animal abusers are held accountable and the dogs and puppies of Iowa are protected!
We’ll be hosting our annual Humane Lobby Day on Tuesday, February 20 in Des Moines. Please join us! At our pre-lobby luncheon we offer information and training on how to effectively lobby your legislator. Then we go to the State Capitol as a group to meet with state senators and representatives. We’ll hold your hand through the whole process, if you want. It is truly an amazing experience. You’ll go home feeling like you’ve done something very important for the dogs. ..because you have..
Please visit our website at www.iowavca.org/lobby-day-2018 for more information and to register. For the dogs.”