As animal welfare advocates fight to get state inspectors and animal control officers to look inside the cages at breeding facilities, not just at them, a USDA report provides another snapshot at what we might be missing.
The USDA inspects dog breeding kennels that sell sight-unseen, such as in a pet store or directly to families online.
Under the leadership of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, the department has come under fire for weakening inspection guidelines. In 2017, it also rolled back transparency, redacting the names of pet dealers and exhibitors inspected to protect personal privacy.
Still, federal inspectors seem to be raising red flags that appear not to concern the state of Georgia.
Take, for example, an inspection performed at a facility in Rhine. Because the name of the breeder is blacked out, The Reveal Investigator Rebecca Lindstrom reviewed all of the state records from licensed facilities in that city.
None of the reports from the Georgia Department of Agriculture (DOA), provided through an open records request dating back to 2017, list any medical concerns for the animals. While the USDA inspection report for the same unnamed facility notes:
- A Great Dane that’s excessively thin
- Several dogs that need their teeth cleaned to “prevent pain and disease”
- Two German Shepherds with ear lesions
- Female Labrador with fur loss around both eyes
- Boston terrier with mucoid discharge covering both eyes
- Male pug with an enlarged eye
- Lack of bedding for dogs in outside shelters
- Dried feces inside several enclosures
- Poor pest management
“It doesn’t matter if that animal is simply a pet or you’re using it solely for breeding purposes. You still are required to treat your animal and not have your animal suffer,” said attorney Jessica Rock.
While Georgia’s animal cruelty law makes it illegal to cause physical pain, suffering or death to any animal through neglect, the USDA at least lists ‘Adequate Veterinary Care’ as an inspection point during its licensing review.
Only one DOA report from an inspection one month after the USDA visit to the Rhine location lists facility concerns. The inspector that day issued three violations for housekeeping, sanitation and structural strength after finding the grass needed to be mowed, feces had piled up under some of the kennels and some of the cages lacked resting surfaces.
All violations were corrected and cleared, according to the report, by the time the inspector went back two weeks later.
Rock travels the state training law enforcement and animal control officers how to spot potential abuse and cruelty. She said even those who aren’t animal lovers should be concerned.
“My background is a special victims prosecutor. So throughout my career, I have seen the significant connection between those who either harm or neglect animals and those who then turn around and harm or neglect humans,” said Rock.
Rock said studies show animal abuse is an indicator of human abuse.
“We know if an animal in a home is being abused, there’s a 76 percent chance -- 76 percent -- somebody else in that home is being abused as well. You can’t get past that statistic," Rock said.
Lindstrom is not aware of any reports of abuse in the homes and breeding facilities under inspection in Rhine. But the USDA inspection was enough to land that kennel on the Humane Society of the United States Horrible Hundred list, which also included two other breeders from Georgia.
Rock says there’s no excuse for breeders that don’t treat their animals humanely or for inspectors and law enforcement that fail to demand proper care.
“You’re not allowed to make an excuse for any other type of law, why should we make an excuse for laws as it relates to animals," questions Rock.
The Reveal is an investigative show exposing inequality, injustice, and ineptitude created by people in power throughout Georgia and across the country. It airs Sunday nights at 6 on 11Alive.