For years now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has displayed an unacceptable pattern of insufficient enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), leading to serious harm imposed upon innocent animals. Specifically, those provisions which require commercial breeders to be licensed and provide care for the dogs at their facilities have gone alarmingly unenforced and ignored
Take the case of breeder, Daniel Gingerich, and Golden Retriever #142, who was later named Goldie by the animal protection community. When federal inspectors at the USDA first found Goldie, she was so emaciated that her ribcage and hipbones protruded. The state of the facility was horrific: the dogs were surrounded by excrement and vermin and lacked access to food and water. Despite these conditions, the USDA took no enforcement action and as a result, Goldie died on Gingerich’s property.
This was not an isolated incident, nor was the facility an underground operation. In fact, Gingerich was running a massive commercial operation involving multiple properties across Iowa and his facilities were fully licensed by the USDA. Failing to provide nutrition and veterinary care, countless dogs suffered and died in his facility.
In less than a year, the USDA documented nearly 200 violations of care, but took no substantive action to prevent further harm. It was not until the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) stepped in and filed a federal complaint asking the court to prohibit Gingerich from continuing to put his animals at risk. Eventually, Gingerich agreed to surrender more than 500 dogs to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa and the ASPCA. However, thousands of dogs across the country are subject to the same conditions and fate in similar facilities that the USDA has licensed and inspected without regard for the standards set by Congress through the Animal Welfare Act.
In a separate, unrelated incident, the DOJ again intervened with a complaint against another USDA- licensee, Envigo, after the company accumulated over 70 AWA violations at one of its breeding facilities. For months, USDA inspectors documented cruelties, including over 300 puppies who died of unknown causes, situations where dogs who were euthanized without sedatives, and nursing mothers who were deliberately denied food. The USDA subsequently renewed Envigo’s license for another year despite the seriousness of these violations.
The problem is clear: the USDA has a troubling practice of turning a blind eye to illegal and inhumane facilities and an unjustifiable record of failing to hold licensed breeders accountable for breaking the law. Despite public evidence of ongoing animal cruelty in large commercial breeding facilities, the USDA has not imposed a single penalty against a licensed dog breeder since 2017.
We firmly believe that the sensible protection of animals, including dogs, is an area where a now divided Congress can come together to enact collaborative, commonsense policies. The current, uneven state of the USDA’s administration of the AWA demonstrates the agency’s need for additional federal resources, a reformed enforcement scheme, and improved breeding facility standards.
As members of Congress, we remain committed to securing additional funding for the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at USDA and have supported legislation such as Goldie’s Act and the Puppy Protection Act.
These bipartisan bills would substantially improve the requirements of care and quality of treatment at commercial dog breeding facilities, as well as guarantee that animals who have been visibly abused or harmed are provided immediate veterinary care rather than left in the abject conditions of cruelty. Our legislative efforts would further protect vulnerable dogs from ongoing mistreatment by ensuring that AWA violations are properly documented on inspection reports, requiring those violations to be reported to local law enforcement, and deterring future abuse by fining violators.
Animal welfare is not and cannot be a partisan issue. In the 118th Congress, we must work across the aisle to end the egregious abuse, unnecessary suffering, and chronic cruelty caused by certain unchecked commercial breeders.
Brian Fitzpatrick represents Pennsylvania’s 1st District. Mike Quigley represents the 5th District of Illinois.