For journalists, animal welfare activists and all Americans, accessing information that can help protect animals just got a lot harder.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website that keeps tabs on the treatment of animals at research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said court rulings and privacy laws were responsible for the decision, though many suspect President Trump or members of his transition team are behind it.
APHIS said the removed documents, which included records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, would now be accessible only through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Those can take up to a year or more to be approved.
The records that had been available were frequently used by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animal treatment at circuses, research laboratories, zoos and puppy mills.
“The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign.
“This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things,” the Beagle Freedom Project said in a statement on Facebook.
The lack of immediately accessible inspection reports is expected to cause problems in seven states that currently require pet stores to source puppies from breeders with clean USDA inspection reports. No longer will they have a quick way to check on that.
In a statement, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called it “a shameful attempt to keep the public from knowing when and which laws and regulations have been violated. Many federally registered and licensed facilities have long histories of violations that have caused terrible suffering.”
Whether President Trump is directly responsible for the website purging isn’t clear, but one member of his USDA transition team, Brian Klippenstein, has a long history of fighting animal welfare organizations.
Klippenstein is executive director of Protect the Harvest, a group that, among other things, has opposed legislation to regulate puppy mills. The group was started by Forrest Lucas, an oil magnate, cattle rancher and arch nemesis of the Humane Society of the United States.
The change came two days after U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, introduced a bill calling for more transparency and a reduction in testing on animals at government research labs.
The bill is backed by an advocacy group, the White Coat Waste Project, which has been using the USDA-APHIS database to gather much of its information on animal testing at hundreds of federal laboratories.
“There was already a troubling lack of transparency about what happens in government-funded labs,” said Justin Goodman, the group’s vice president for advocacy and policy. “This was a very important resource for us, and for every animal organization, in terms of tracking patterns of animal use and compliance, whether it’s in labs or other settings.”
The USDA web page where the information was located now brings up the announcement about its removal.
The Humane Society of the United States has threatened to sue the Agriculture Department if the decision to block Internet access to the database isn’t reversed.
“We intend to sue them unless they take remedial action here,” Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told TIME. “The clock starts ticking immediately.”
Up until late last week, the site also allowed dog buyers to look up specific breeders by license number and see any possible violations under the breeder’s name before buying the animal.
“I’m very concerned that there will be no incentive for breeders or research labs or any of these facilities to comply because the public won’t know,” said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society.
“It’s going to impact every species of animals,” she added. “There shouldn’t be any reason to hide inspection reports for a dog breeding facility or a research lab. There shouldn’t be any need to keep from the public how many animals you have [in] your facility or whether or not you’re complying with care standards. That alone is a big red flag for everybody.”
“The posting of these documents has been an invaluable tool in rooting out some of the worst abuses that are occurring,” HSUS CEO Pacelle said. “Essentially, this is now going to give a bit of a get-out-of-jail card to horse soring, puppy mills, delinquent roadside zoos and animals research labs that are flouting the law.”
The Humane Society says the Agriculture Department is required to make its inspection records at animal research facilities public under a court order.
HSUS sued the government in 2005 over public access to the reports and won a settlement in 2009 that directed the Agriculture Department to post certain data on its website related to research on animals. That information, the Humane Society said, was among the data that was just purged from government website.
The USDA did not comment on the Humane Society’s threat of legal action.
In a statement explaining the change late last week, APHIS cited a year-long “comprehensive review” of public information on its website.
“Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act that contain personal information,” the statement said.
“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication,” the statement added.
“In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”
Criticism of the change has not been limited to animal welfare activists.
Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports laboratory use of research animals, said in a blog post:
“When information is hidden … the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combating the public perception that they are not transparent.”
Posted by John Woestendiek February 8th, 2017 under Muttsblog.
Tags: access, administration, agriculture department, animal welfare, animals, aphis, best friends, blocked, breeders, circus, compliance, database, dogs, federal, government, hsus, humane society of the united states, information, investigations, laboratories, monitoring, peta, pets, privacy, protecting, protection, puppy mills, purged, removed, research, searchable, team, transition, transparency, Trump, usda, web page, website, zoos
Once there was a Raven, an alligator and a dog, and the latter two were allegedly abused and neglected by the former.
Apparently that’s all the information officials think we’re entitled to as the curious case of Terrence Cody continues not to unfold.
Even with news of his indictment — the former Baltimore Raven faces 15 charges — what is alleged to have transpired in the Baltimore County home of Cody isn’t being shared with the public.
The charges include two counts of aggravated animal cruelty with a dog, five counts of animal abuse or neglect with the same dog, five counts of abuse or neglect in connection with alligator, and one count of illegal possession of an alligator, according to Deputy State’s Attorney John Cox.
But what exactly Cody is accused of doing, or neglecting to do, in connection with both animals is being left to our imaginations.
That, especially given he was in the NFL, leaves us free to picture the worst — as in staging fights between the two species, as in maybe the alligator went unfed until it tried to eat the dog, as in maybe Cody used them both to attack a girlfriend on an elevator, as in who knows what.
That’s a disservice, to the public and to Cody.
“Ban Terrence Cody From the NFL for Allegedly Feeding His Dog to His Pet Alligator!” says a headline on the website Care2. Clicking on a link to a petition, though, readers are informed “Terrence Cody did not feed his dog to his alligator as the author of the petition has falsely indicated. New info reveals that his dog passed away as a result of worms, after being severely neglected by the ex-Ravens player.”
When there is an information void, our imaginations, and sometimes our websites, are only to happy to fill it.
Once an indictment is revealed, some details should be released by authorities that go beyond “he did something illegal to this animal and to that animal.”
Imagine if law enforcement and prosecutors had taken that no-details approach in the Michael Vick case. Imagine if they had said, “We seized all these dogs because something bad was going on, but we’re not going to say what until the story unravels in court — if it even goes to court.
News that Cody, 26, was being investigated for animal cruelty came out the same day the Ravens announced he was being released from the team.
The Ravens didn’t go into the allegations, and coach John Harbaugh, in announcing Cody’s termination, said only that the “threshold of tolerance” had changed in the NFL. “It’s a privilege to play in the National Football League. It’s a privilege to be a part of the Ravens. There’s a standard to uphold there, and we expect them to.”
Cody was officially released from the team Monday — the same day the indictment came out.
The indictment says the felony aggravated animal cruelty charges (they carry a maximum three-year sentence) stem from the death of his Presa Canario.
Through the indictment, the public learned there was an alligator involved as well — though not necessarily in connection with the dog’s death. In addition to five counts of abuse or neglect of the alligator, Cody was also charged with one count of possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia and one count of possession of marijuana.
The investigation was started after Cody took his dog to a veterinarian.
Peter Schaffer, Cody’s agent, told the Baltimore Sun that Cody took the dog to a vet for treatment of worms, and that the dog died there. He didn’t share any additional details, either.
“This is all a result of the NFL allowing players to be convicted before they’re tried,” Schaffer said. “If Terrence wasn’t a public figure, they wouldn’t have ever charged him. It’s just ridiculous.”
Cody, having played in only one game last season, wasn’t too major a public figure, and maybe that’s why law enforcement and prosecutors think they can get away with providing virtually no information about what transpired.
He was a nose tackle, not a quarterback, and possibly authorities thought the case could pass quietly under the radar.
The alligator twist probably kept that from happening.
Other than informing us that Cody turned himself in and was released on $10,000 bail, and dutifully reporting the few details officials have released, there hasn’t been much digging, it seems, by the news media.
The NFL has said it would look into the case only if Cody signs with another team, according to a Baltimore Sun report.
Manwhile, the news media, and the animal welfare community, should be demanding some details.
One, because we have a right to know. Two, because animal cruelty cases shouldn’t be swept under rugs. It is through exposure that problems can be addressed and changes can occur.
What, exactly, is Terrence Cody alleged to have done? Why, exactly, aren’t law and order types letting us know? And, while the dog died, and while Cody will be a Raven nevermore, what has become of the alligator?
Posted by John Woestendiek February 4th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alligator, animal cruelty, animal welfare, baltimore, baltimore county, baltimore ravens, charged, details, dog, indicted, indictment, investigatio, law enforcement, presa canario, prosecution, public, ravens, released, right to know, team, terrence cody
That Ecuadorian street dog who befriended a Swedish adventure racing team after they tossed him a meatball is an official resident of Sweden now.
Arthur, as the team named him, followed the extreme racers for the last 50 or so miles of the 430-mile race — slogging through mud, traipsing through jungle growth, climbing up mountainsides and at one point, after race officials advised the team to leave the dog behind, plunging into a river and swimming alongside their kayaks.
The team had stopped to eat before the final two stages of the race when member Mikael Lindnord noticed the scruffy yellow stray and tossed him a meatball from the can he was eating from.
It was a simple, nonchalant gesture — one Lindnord said he didn’t think too much of at the time.
Clearly, though, Arthur did.
When the four-member team finished lunch and resumed the race — beginning a 24-mile hike through the rainforest — Arthur, named after the legendary King Arthur, got up and followed.
Adventure Racing is a form of extreme sport that combines continuous hiking, trekking, mountain biking and kayaking.
At a checkpoint before the final segment of the race — a 36-mile stretch of river — race organizers warned the team that taking Arthur along was inadvisable and posed a risk to both the dog’s safety and their’s.
Team members agreed to push on without him, but after their kayaks pulled away Arthur jumped into the river, caught up with them and swam alongside.
When Lindnord saw the dog was struggling to keep up, he pulled Arthur aboard.
Spectators standing on shore applauded.
By the end of the race, Lindnord said he had decided to try and adopt the dog and take him back to Sweden.
He admitted in a Daily Mail article that Arthur — due to living a harsh life on the streets — was in pretty bad shape even before accompanying the team on the last two legs of the race.
Once the race was over, Arthur was taken to a vet in Ecuador, and Lindnor applied to Sweden’s board of agriculture, or Jordbruksverket for permission to bring Arthur home. Arthur had already become a media star by then.
“I almost cried in front of the computer, when receiving the decision from in Sweden,” Lindnord wrote on the Facebook page of Team Peak Performance.
They flew home together this week.
“I came to Ecuador to win the World Championship,” he said. “Instead, I got a new friend.”
(Photos: Krister Göransson)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 25th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adventure, animals, arthur, bicycles, bonds, can, dog, dogs, ecuador, extreme, follows, hiking, jungle, kayaks, loyalty, meatball, mikael lindnord, pack, pets, race, racers, rainforest, river, stray, strays, sweden, team, team peak performance, trekking
A woman who didn’t want to tell a TV news team “how she felt” about her daughter being shot threw a rock at them, shook a baseball bat at them, and then sent her dogs after reporter Abbey Niezgoda of ABC 6 News in Rhode Island.
The crew was on assignment in Providence, seeking to interview the mother of a teenage girl who was shot at a graduation party over the weekend.
Instead of politely declining to speak on-camera, Melissa Lawrence hurled a rock at ABC6 photographer Marc Jackson, then went inside for a baseball bat. Seconds later, she told her dogs to attack.
As Lawrence shouted commands, the dogs chased Niezgoda into a backyard a few houses away.
Niezgoda was a treated for a bite on her forearm.
Melissa Lawrence was charged with two counts of felony assault with a dangerous weapon.
Lawrence’s daughter, who was shot in the lower back, has since been released from the hospital.
Posted by John Woestendiek June 7th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: abbey niezgoda, animals, bite, bitten, chase, crew, dogs, interview, media, mother, news, pets, providence, reporter, rhode island, shooting, team, teenager, television, tv, victim
A team of 40 vets and nurses, working around the clock for over two months, helped reassemble a three-year-old dog named Ruby after she was hit by a car.
After a series of operations at a cost of £11,500, Ruby, who remained cheerful and upbeat throughout the ordeal, is recovering, according to the Daily Mail.
Ruby suffered fractures to her two front legs, sternum and toe, a dislocated knee, ruptured ligaments and internal bleeding when she was struck by the car on January 26.
Because she did not have any head injuries, the vets said if she could live through the next 24 hours she had a good chance.
“Her legs will take about five months to heal totally but in herself she is happy, sweet-natured and an inspiration to the rest of us,” said her owner, Vanessa Gillespie. “The vet said he had never seen a dog so broken still so happy. Most dogs would not have survived but Ruby is a toughie.’
Ruby was run over in the village of Cambourne in Cambridgeshire.
She spent five weeks at Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital in Cambridge, and had two major operations — first a nine-hour procedure in which her broken legs were repaired using four metal plates and screws, then a seven-hour operation to replace the ruptured knee ligaments, carry out skin grafts and amputate the broken toe. The fractured breastbone and internal bleeding were left to heal naturally.
Gillespie said most of the bill was covered by insurance. “If she had not been insured we would have had to put her down,” she said.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, broken, car, dislocated, dogs, fractured, healing, hit, injured, insurance, insured, knee, legs, news, ohmidog!, operations, pets, queen's veterinary school hospital, reassembled, recovery, ruby, severely, sternum, surgry, survival, survived, team, vanessa gillespie, veterinarians, veterinary
When two stray border collies were taken in by Meadow Green Dog Rescue in England, operators of the shelter gave them names befitting a team — Bonnie and Clyde.
Then they found out just how special a team they are: Clyde, it turns out, is blind, and Bonnie is his unofficial guide dog.
The rescue has no idea where the duo came from, but reports that Bonnie stays inches from Clyde’s side while guiding him on walks, or to food or water, and lets him rest his head on her haunches whenever he becomes disoriented.
When they are together, Clyde, estimated to be five years old, seems nearly as capable as any dog. But when Bonnie, believed to be two years old, is not at his side, Clyde refuses to move.
The inseparable pair were rescued as strays three weeks ago — found abandoned on a street in the middle of a storm, the Telegraph reported.
Meadow Green Dog Rescue in Loddon, Norfolk, is trying to find them a new home, but officials there are insisting they be adopted as a team.
“If Clyde’s unsure where he is he will suddenly go behind her and put his face on her back so she can guide him where he is going,” said Cherie Cootes. “He totally relies on her the whole time. When she walks she tends to stop and make sure he’s there – she does look out for him.
“There’s absolutely no option of homing them separately – they have to go as a pair,” she added.
A citizen spotted the two dogs running through the rain in Blundeston, Norfolk. When she opened her car door they jumped right in. The dogs have no identification on their collars, and are not microchipped.
Cherie described the dogs as “typical high-spirited collies” and said they would make ideal pets in a home with a large, secure yard away from busy roads.
Sue Cootes, 59, who runs the rescue center with her daughter Cherie, said it was amazing to watch Bonnie assist Clyde.
“It’s just instinctive with them to help each other and it’s marvelous to see animals doing this together,” she said. “Without Bonnie, Clyde would be lost. They can’t be separated, we need someone to take them both on.”
Posted by John Woestendiek July 26th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopt, adoption, assistance, blind, blind dog, bonnie, bonnie and clyde, border collies, cherie cootes, clyde, duo, england, great britain, guide, guide dog, helper, home, loddon, meadow green dog rescue, norfolk, pair, rescue, shelter, strays, sue cootes, team, uk
Nigel, the Iditarod dog who left his team and took off into the Alaska wilderness after his musher’s sled was disabled, showed up Friday.
The husky became separated from first-time competitor Nancy Yoshida on Tuesday.
While searchers had spotted Nigel from the air and were following his movements, Nigel arrived on his own at the Talvista Lodge near Skwentna, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George said Yoshida cried upon being reunited with her dog. “You could tell the two of them missed each other a lot,” he said.
Nigel was well-hydrated and was in very good condition, considering he’d been roughing it for three days. “Nancy fed him right away out there, and he’s continued to eat,” St. George said. “He’s doing fine.”
Yoshida, 58, of North Dakota, said the husky “was pretty shook up” after she crashed while trying to negotiate a difficult stretch of the route, about 200 miles into the race.