Notorious roadside zoos, traveling acts, and exotic-animal auctions chronically violate the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), and the understaffed and underfunded U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) fails to take meaningful enforcement actions to protect wild animals. In just over a year from September 2022 to November 2023, for example, the USDA issued the Mt. Hope Auction exotic-animal sale in Ohio 49 citations for violating the AWA––and nearly half of them were for repeat violations. USDA inspectors have seen a ram dead in his pen, a deer frantically trying to dislodge a trapped leg from an enclosure, and animals relegated to outrageously inadequate cages at Mt. Hope. Despite it all, the USDA keeps allowing the auction to run multiple times per year.
However, bills introduced in the U.S. Congress hold the promise of boosting enforcement actions for animals protected by the AWA!
The Better CARE for Animals Act––introduced as Senate Bill S 2555 by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) and as the House of Representatives’ companion bill HR 5041 by Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.)—would effectively give the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) the same enforcement authority as the USDA under the AWA. This bipartisan effort would authorize the DOJ to penalize animal abusers, including by suspending or revoking their USDA licenses. And it would permit the agency to remove or relocate animals and allow facilities that provide them with temporary care to recover the associated costs. If passed, the bills would require the USDA to provide the DOJ with records and information about “violators who have multiple citations that seriously or adversely affect the health or well-being of an animal.”
We need members of Congress to cosponsor this crucial legislation—please ask your senators to sign on to S 2555 and your House representative to sign on to HR 5041 today.