In early February, the U.S Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which oversees implementation of federal Animal Welfare Act regulations and pet breeder/dealer licensing announced it was removing certain documents from its online databases for review appending litigation and to ensure full compliance with privacy requirements.
Almost immediately, the statement created confusion and the removal of the documents created a furor. A wide variety of groups using this information would no longer have easy access to it. Users of the information (just for pet dog sales alone) ranged from anti-breeding groups who sought this information as a way to target breeders, to pet shops and community groups who were using the information to ensure that the breeders supplying pet shops did not have health and welfare violations of the AWA regulations.
The American Kennel Club encourages both protection of privacy and transparency. We have been concerned for several years about the posting of personal (e.g. residential addresses etc.) information about breeders online, as well as the posting of inspection reports that contain allegations of non-compliance that had not been confirmed or finally adjudicated. We commented vociferously about such issues in 2012/2013 when the USDA retail pet store rule was being developed. We believe that temporarily taking down these reports and to ensure that they are in compliance with privacy requirements is a prudent measure.
However, we also support transparency initiatives, including some recent legislation that depends on the ability of retailers, local communities and others to have access to information about breeder compliance to ensure they are not obtaining dog from substandard breeders or other bad actors whose actions that are harmful to animals should not be condoned. The easiest way for anyone to access those reports has been via the USDA online database system. It is our hope and understanding that once the privacy issues are addressed, those reports will be adjusted as necessary and go back up online.
Representatives from the AKC met with Bernadette Juarez, Deputy Administrator at APHIS about this issue shortly after the documents were first removed. She explained that the assessments of online documents had been planned for a number of months and were being undertaken in light of litigation and concerns about protecting the privacy of USDA licensees’ personal information. Their plan is to return as many documents as possible to the online database, once a review of the documents has been completed. She advised we should expect to see the most documents return, including those referencing pet dealers.
Since mid-February new batches of documents related to research facilities, horse facilities and certain breeder/dealers have been reposted each Friday. We recognize that reviewing the large number of documents removed from the online database cannot be accomplished overnight.
The AKC supports the USDA’s efforts to protect individual privacy and encourages the timely return of pet dealer documents to the USDA online platform to ensure the transparency and credibility of responsible breeders who are subject to USDA Licensing.