agriculture, Trump Administration

USDA scrubs animal welfare data from website; Humane Society threatens to sue

A neglected horse at the Haven in Raeford, which was shut down by Hoke County officials in January 2016. More than 1,000 animals lived at the “no-kill” facility, which had operated for 10 years, with no substantive penalty from state officials. The Haven’s owners, Linden and Stephen Spear, were charged with several counts of animal cruelty. Unlike the federal government, the NC Agriculture Department makes its animal inspection records publicly available on its website.(Photo: ASCPA)

Vital public records of more than 9,000 licensed animal facilities — commercial dog breeding operators, Tennessee walking horse show participants, roadside zoos, animal research labs, and other operations regulated under federal law — disappeared late last week from the US Department of Agriculture website. Now, the Humane Society of the United States is threatening to sue the USDA, asserting that removing that information violates a 2009 settlement agreement between the two parties.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS, blogged today about the group’s intent to sue if necessary:

The nonprofit animal welfare group is challenging “this outrageous action that undermines longstanding consensus about public access to information concerning these laws, and frustrates state, local, and industry efforts to help enforce them.

The public information, scrubbed without notice, included inspection documents, annual reports from research facilities and enforcement records. Not only do animal welfare groups use these records, but also law enforcement agencies when they are investigating allegations of abuse or neglect.

In a letter dated today, HSUS attorneys notified the US Department of Justice that if the information is not restored online, the group intends to reopen the lawsuit that led to the settlement agreement. The letter goes on to cite 1996 and 2016 amendments to the Freedom of Information Act that require these records to be posted electronically. While these paper versions of these records are ostensibly available via FOIA, it can take months or even years for federal agencies to fill those requests.

HSUS said it plans to take further action unless “USDA reconsiders this bizarre reversal of the agency’s longstanding policy …”

In North Carolina, the Animal Welfare Section of the state agriculture department posts inspection reports of animal shelters, both public and private. These records alerted the public to a famous hoarding and neglect case at the Haven in Hoke County, where more than 1,000 animals lived — and even more died — on a farm outside of Raeford. The records described horrible living conditions: animals exposed to the weather, crammed into cages, and lacking adequate food and water. Although state officials revoked the Haven’s license, it never followed through on fining the owner, Linden Spear. For at least 10 years, the Haven was allowed to operate. Then in January 2016, Hoke County Sheriff’s Department and the ASPCA seized more than 600 animals; Spear and her husband, Stephen Spear, were charged with animal cruelty and illegal possession of a controlled substance, a federal offense. They have not yet gone to trial.

2 Comments


  1. Tee Scott

    February 6, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    There are many of us in Washington state gathering to take action against Trump’s decisions that threaten our constitution and ultimately our democracy. We are all concerned on behalf of our fellow Americans and are working to protect our environment, health care, public education and now animals that have no say in their lives. We are writing and calling our Congress people and our state attorney general Bob Ferguson, reaching out to strangers who appear to be likeminded and interested in keeping our democracy and standing in the world intact.

  2. Randy Janssen

    February 7, 2017 at 6:11 am

    One of the reason a lunatic like Trump won is the cavalier way Clinton blew off the coal miners in West Virginia. Everybody wants a clean environment, but if you are going to kill an industry, you better have something to replace the worker’s jobs. She also has missed the fact the Midwest is in rebellion against crazy animal rights fanatics. Ohio, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and even Arizona have or are passing laws and even constitutional amendments against the insanity of groups like PeTA, the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA’s vegan front Mercy for Animals. Another problem with animal rights crazies is in the use of animals in sport. Rodeo, dog shows, and horse shows are very large industries. Yet they are being attacked by animal rights fanatics who do not know what the are talking about. A classic case is the new rules the USDA is passing about soring. Soring is a despicable act where you use caustics to make a horse do an exaggerated walk. There is no question it is wrong. The horse people oppose it and have been able to keep it under control. There are plenty of laws against it. So why do you need new ones. The last soring case brought to court, was dismissed because the USDA inspectors did not know the difference between a caustic and a putty used to make molds of a horse’s hoof. By making more and more unnecessary regulations, you alienate the people you need to get laws passed that you do need, like gun control.

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